In 1938 the Waugh coat of Arms was carved into the front pediment of the house. It’s still there now, or at least it was when my partner Kate and I dropped by in 2006. The house was for sale and we were interested in buying it. Well, no we couldn’t possibly have afforded to buy the Georgian mansion that is Piers Court, but I was interested in taking a look around and downloading the particulars from the estate agents’ website. I knew they’d come in handy one day. And that day has come: March 26, 2013.
The library is the left half of the ground floor at the front of the house. In the photo below, all three of the windows to the left of the front door look into the library. Not a library now, of course. Nor was it in 2006. But one hell of a library in Evelyn’s day.
The plan below was taken from the estate agents’ details. Obviously Evelyn couldn’t spend all day in the library. For instance, he had to leave the room whenever he wanted to relieve himself. He’d walk out of the library, over the marble hall, through the inner hall, into the cloakroom. All the time his mind eager to get back to his desk, his books, his work.
Below is Evelyn standing at his desk. The picture isn’t from 1938, but let it be. Behind him is the east end of the room, where a window has been blocked in to make way for the shelves. One can see the fine carved pedestals that he’d bought before moving into the house and with this kind of arrangement in mind. What became of the pedestals? First, they were successfully transplanted from Piers Court, Gloucestershire, to Combe Florey House, Somerset, by Evelyn and Laura in 1956, but moving them from Somerset to Texas wasn’t so successful. Apparently, in the years before the Harry Ransom Centre was built, the pedestals were stored in a basement that flooded. And so, sad to say, the fine carved pedestals rotted away. Can that be a common occurrence in the dry heat of Texas? As for Evelyn’s desk, I’m reliably informed that it’s sitting in a hallway - accessed only by staff - with a velvet rope around it. Can you sense Evelyn’s outrage? I can. But is it directed at Laura, Harry Ransom or Fate itself?
Let’s ask a more practical question. What did Evelyn do in 1938? Well, he didn’t keep a diary, which lapsed from 10 January, 1938 to 28 June 1939. There are only six letters from 1938 in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh. Basically, we know that he finished Scoop (which had taken ages, so many interruptions were there in 1937 because of settling into the house and writing reviews for Night and Day). He went to Mexico with Laura for three summer months and on his return he wrote Robbery Under Law, the political book that he’d been commissioned to go to Mexico in order to research.
What did he read? That we have a better idea of, thanks to the continued existence of the Waugh Library at the HRC in Texas. So let’s get down to it. There are 38 books in Waugh’s library that were printed in 1938. The HRC holding is echoed by the Evelyn Waugh Library on Library Thing, which was put together by John Burlinson who had/has access to the HRC. The link to the 1938 books is here: Library Thing But here is the beginning of the list for 1938:
As you can see, many of the covers are missing from Library Thing’s list. (Why? These books, the precise editions, all come up from time to time on abebooks, so the covers of the appropriate editions could have been grabbed by now.) So the listing is not as complete as it might be. By all means explore the the bare listing, and the one at HRC, but come back to Our Evelyn’s Library if you want a point of view. And we all want that. It’s why we read Evelyn’s books in the first place.
Of the 37 books from 1938, seven are Dickens books (inherited from Arthur Waugh on Catherine’s death in 1954). Three books relate to Mexican research. Nine are biographies and five are books written by Oxford chums.
The biographies are a diverse bunch and speak of an interest in history and geography, as well as people. A biography of Arthur Rimbaud, Nineteenth Century French poet, and one of Robert Burns, ranting dog of Eighteenth Century Scotland... The Letters between a couple of Nineteenth Century ladies of Alderley and The Letters of TE Lawrence.. A portrait of the Reform Club’s chef and The travels and sufferings of Father Jean de Brebeuf among the Hurons of Canada... A biography of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury from the Middle Ages, and one of Edward Lear, landscape painter and nonsense poet of Victorian times. The ninth title is a Dictionary of National Biography from the earliest times to 1900.
The book I bought for Our Evelyn’s Library was the part fiction, part autobiography by Evelyn’s contemporary, Malcolm Muggeridge, who read natural sciences at Cambridge and, in the late Thirties, was an active journalist with left-wing leanings. There were no 1938 copies of the book for sale, perhaps because, as Muggeridge states in the introduction to the 1978 edition that I bought, unsold copies of the first edition were destroyed in a warehouse fire in London during the Second World War. But, happily, the 1978 edition features the review that Evelyn Waugh wrote in a May, 1938, issue of The Spectator. Indeed, the back of the dustcover is dominated by an extract from it:
In his introduction, Muggeridge makes clear how much respect he has for Evelyn Waugh’s opinion. He goes on to quote from the Spectator review words to the effect that what Muggeridge is trying to explain is that Lust and Love are antithetical and that the former is boring
Muggeridge comments on the observation and ends by admitting: ‘I can only say of this passage that no author could hope to have his intentions more luminously expressed and expounded.’
Muggeridge, writing in 1978, concedes that of all the reviews his book had, Waugh’s was the one that interested him most: ‘I had always assumed we should be in different camps, and his warm praise of the book surprised and delighted me. During the war I found myself sitting next to him on a bench at a party given by the Duff-Coopers on an archeological site outside Algiers, and attempted to thank him. The attempt was a failure; nothing came of our encounter, and now he, too, is dead. It would be rather silly and pretentious to add a dedication to In a Valley, but were I to do so it would be to Evelyn Waugh, who understood what I meant as I think I understand what he meant, with deep esteem and admiration for what he failed to be and do.’
Of course, by the time Muggeridge wrote that, he’d converted to Christianity and was a practising Catholic. Clearly the religious dimension, which shines through in the book, even if it puts the emphasis on religious doubt, overcame the political gulf between the two. Both authors, soldiers, Catholics: so what if one one dressed on the Right and the other dressed on the Left. So what if one was an Oxford man and the other was from Another Place.
Waugh mentions staying with Duff Cooper at the British embassy in Algiers in a letter to Laura of July 6, 1944. He lists some guests at a party but there is no mention of Muggeridge. The entry in Waugh’s diary for the next day mentions a trip to ruins by the sea an hour’s drive away where there was a large Anglo-American-French party enjoying songs under moonlight in the ruins. I think maybe, between the romantic setting, the fact that Evelyn had just finished writing Brideshead Revisited and had embarked on a secret mission to Yugoslavia with Randoph Churchill, would all have distracted Evelyn from the subtle compliment that Malcolm Muggeridge was trying to pay him.
The Oxford books that came Evelyn’s way in 1938 include Pillar to Post: the pocket lamp of Architecture by Osbert Lancaster. Lancaster was a cartoonist and his dates are 1908-1986. He went to Charterhouse and Magdalen College, Oxford. A close friend of John Betjemen, he was one of the illustrators of Continual Dew and he’s one of the illustrators in An Oxford University Chest, which also entered Evelyn’s library in 1938. What sort of book is the latter? Curious about it (I’ll catch up with Lancaster in 1939), I bought it for a pound.
It’s a fairly conventional guide to Oxford, illustrated with lots of pics taken from the top of the Radcliffe Camera, as well as with Osbert Lancaster’s cartoons. There are sections written by Betjeman on undergraduates, dons and college servants, before he embarks on a full architectural tour of the town. Betjeman does mention - and quotes from - Decline and Fall in respect of the Bullingdon Club. But his description of college life is restrained for the most part. His own teddy-bear, Archibald Ormsby-Gore, doesn’t even get a mention! I suspect his brief wouldn’t have allowed him to do justice to his wit or that of his contemporaries. But paying too much attention to a dull brief makes for a mediocre book. An Oxford University Chest has little of the zest of Continual Dew. When will little John Betjeman grow out from under Evelyn’s shadow? That’s what I was asking myself as I stuck a OEL bookplate on an OUP paperback, bought for £1.00 from a secondhand bookshop.
Another Oxford book that came Evelyn’s way in 1938 was Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly. I’ll get into Evelyn’s coruscating review of that book in a minute, but first I’ll offer this perspective by way of an old Oxford University chestnut. In 1937 and 1938, Evelyn and ten Oxford chums published books that made there way into Evelyn’s library in those years. I don’t know what class of degree Harold Acton, Brian Howard or Bryan Guinness got, but I don’t suppose it was impressive given what the rest achieved. None of the others got a first. Terence Greenidge and Graham Greene got seconds. Robert Byron and Cyril Connolly got thirds. Waugh would have come away with a third in History but his father didn’t think such a poor degree merited going up to Oxford for another term to satisfy the residency requirements. Osbert Lancaster got a fourth in English, so goodness knows what his father thought. While John Betjeman didn’t even get that: he was awarded a Pass Degree. Lastly, Christopher Sykes left Oxford without adding to his formal qualifications. What an unacademic lot! Well, yes, these were students of independent minds. Ultimately, writers, not readers.
Well, Evelyn was a reader as well as a writer and he did enjoy Cyril Connolly’s book. At least he enjoyed tearing it apart in the pages of Tablet after reading it! In the copy in the Harry Ransom Centre, Waugh has stuck his review to to the back pastedown. The dustjacket isn’t mentioned, so I guess Waugh got rid of it, as he often did. Below is an image of the dustjacket. Picture Waugh slipping it off and binning it before getting stuck into the book and binning its poor author.
At this point I should say I’ve not read Enemies of Promise. I could buy the 1938 edition (without dust wrapper) for twenty quid. I’d like a cheaper copy, but even the tatty Penguins available are priced at a tenner. But that’s all right, for now I can concentrate on Waugh’s take on the book.
He begins by saying that Cyril Connolly is the only man under 40 who aspires to the Art of Criticism. Waugh wants to know what seems to be holding him back from durable work.
Well, for a start (according to Evelyn) Connolly pays too much attention to fine phrases and not enough to the ‘architectural’ structure of his work. Enemies of Promise is one-third autobiography, one-third an essay on the distinction between literary and popular writing, and one-third a handbook of practical advice to the aspiring author. Waugh suggests that Connolly comes close to dishonesty in the way in which he fakes the transitions between these aspects and tries to pass them off as one theme.
Waugh criticises Connolly’s use of cliché and claims that the books analysis of the relationship between writers and their patrons is plain wrong. But these are trivial complaints, Enemies of Promise is more seriously flawed, writes Evelyn, warming to his task.
Two long complex paragraphs follow. First, according to Waugh, all the writers that Connolly admires are ‘epicene’. Waugh suggests effete writers band together rather than stand apart from society and explore their talent alone. Thus Connolly sees his own career as a battle against ‘intrigue and repression.’ Waugh suggests that Connolly uses this as an excuse to write about his adolescence and his time at Eton, which Waugh finds highly embarrassing. He suggests that a thousand boys had the same education as Cyril Connolly and none have turned out like him. In fact, suggests Waugh, Cyril had a pleasant and privileged upbringing. The fact that he was and is an unhappy bunny was the result of other factors.
What other factors? Waugh suggests that Connolly has a split personality. On the one hand, he is an elitist who thinks that artists should live in luxury and be applauded. On the other, Connolly fears that society is rotten and crumbling and the artist must hope for a fundamental change in regime for the existence of an artist to be at all possible. Waugh puts Connolly’s fear like this: ‘The names have been made up for the firing squad. He must shoot first if he does not want to be shot.’
The review is just one ambitious quote after another at this point, but I’ll choose just one to make the point: ‘And it is into claws of this later bogy that Mr Connolly finally surrenders himself; the cold dank pit of politics into which all his young friends have gone tobogganing; the fear of Fascism.’ An inspired stream of writing goes on to suggest that Connolly’s politics was the most insidious enemy of promise. Connolly needed to get away from the smart cafés full of chatter, to meet some of the people who were engaged in governing the country and by doing so work out what Fascism actually was. Waugh reckons that Britain would become Fascist before it became Communist, though it was unlikely to go either of these unfortunate ways. However, if anything was calculated to provoke a move to the far Right, it was the behaviour of Connolly’s hysterical friends of the far Left.
Why was Evelyn so hard on Cyril Connolly as opposed to Malcolm Muggeridge? The Muggeridge review was written before Waugh’s three-month stay in terrible Mexico, so perhaps political considerations seemed more urgent. And Muggeridge, although left-wing, leaves that out of In a Valley of this Restless Mind, concentrating on religion instead. Thus Muggeridge’s politics don’t come over as a challenge in the way Connolly’s do.
Of course, there is almost certainly something personal behind the review. Waugh knew Connolly at Oxford. Humphrey Carpenter, in his fine book, The Brideshead Generation, suggests that Connolly played some part in stealing away Waugh’s first lover, Richard Pares. Carpenter writes:’Some time during 1923 he [Connolly] drew a map of friendships and enmities in which Pares and Waugh’s names were linked with a red line that indicated love, but Waugh was listed among the ‘bad-hats’ who included Harold Acton, Robert Byron and Terence Greenidge. Waugh is alleged to have said: ‘I was cuckolded by Connolly.’ Connolly admitted, in a letter written during his second term that he was ‘rather gone’ on Pares.’
Connolly, like Waugh, went from having male lovers while at Oxford to establishing heterosexual affairs thereafter. However, Connolly didn’t turn away from homosexuality as forcefully as Evelyn did, perhaps, subconsciously, leaving Waugh feeling vulnerable on that front. Would that explain why Waugh comes close to stating that all the writers that Connolly admired were gay? Was it blustering sexual bravado on Evelyn’s part?
It’s also true that Cyril Connolly was a huge admirer of Evelyn Waugh’s work and perhaps Evelyn took advantage of Cyril’s cap-doffing. Connolly gave Decline and Fall a very good review in the New Statesman. Later, in January 1936 he wrote of Waugh:
‘I regard him as the most naturally gifted novelist of his generation... but his development has taken him steadily from the Left towards the Right. A Handful of Dust is a very fine novel, but it is the first of Evelyn Waugh’s novels to have a bore for a hero.’
As Humphrey Carpenter points out, Waugh himself, in Connolly’s eyes, was anything but a bore. Connolly records of a meeting in 1934, their first for two years; ‘Evelyn very crusty and charming... so mature and pithy, and religion apart, so frivolous. Made most of the people we see seem dowdy.’
Perhaps Evelyn, knowing Connolly was such an ardent admirer of his work and his wit, knowing also that Connolly had done him personal injury at Oxford, could not resist showing off in the review as he let poor Cyril have it with both barrels: “Can’t think, can’t write.”
Bookplate, prior to annotations, courtesy of Alexander Waugh.
Take that, Cyril Connolly! Yes, the names have been made up for the firing squad. And, as Fortune, that much-maligned lady, would have it, Evelyn Waugh is both Top Gun and Head of the Pride.
Christ, I can’t believe I’ve just done that! I’ve book-plated In a Valley of this Restless Mind under the impression I was book-plating Enemies of Promise. That’s what comes of removing the dust-jacket, as I did in order to make a neat job of sticking down the bookplate. Malcolm Muggeridge will be spinning in his grave!
Oh well, here at Our Evelyn’s Library we don’t even have a bookcase yet and we just have to go with the flow.
Thanks to John Howard Wilson for information and advice.
Thanks to Alexander Waugh for not minding my annotations to Evelyn’s bookplate and to the Harry Ransom Center for double checking the humidity and temperature of the hall in which Evelyn Waugh’s desk is sitting.
If any copyright holder wants an item removed from this site, or for a more formal credit to be given, please let me know. If any reader has an unwanted copy of a book that was in Waugh’s library in 1938, then please consider donating it to Our Evelyn’s Library where it will be book-plated and, in due course, shelved. All donations to:
132 Perth Road