CANONBURY SQUARE 1928
You are invited to experience Christmas, 1928, with Evelyn Waugh, She-Evelyn, Pansy Lamb and her husband, Henry. But that's only the last part of what is a four-part essay on this page. Best to just go with the flow.
1928 may have been the happiest year in Evelyn Waugh's life. He published Rossetti, his first book. He wrote and published Decline and Fall, a favourite novel of a surprising number of readers today. He loved and married Evelyn Gardner and they set up house together, 17a Canonbury Square, Islington. It's that address I want to focus on on this page and the next. If that sounds a bit dry compared to what it could sound with the material to hand, don't worry. It isn't.
Henry Lamb, Portrait of Evelyn Waugh. 1928.
At the end of April, having finished Decline and Fall, Evelyn wrote to Harold Acton saying that he was staying with Henry Lamb in Poole for a few days so that Lamb could paint his portrait, which he did while talking to his sitter about the Post-Impressionism of Paul Cezanne. The portrait looks as I imagine Paul Pennyfeather does at the beginning of D&F (by the end he's grown a moustache). Poor Pennyfeather is trying to make notes on Dean Stanley's Eastern Church when Sir Alastair Digby-Vaine-Trumpington suddenly appears in his room to announce: "Here's an awful man wearing the Boller tie."
Actually, Waugh is portrayed writing with a fountain pen on the recto side of a bound book of paper, which is what the manuscript of Decline and Fall at the Harry Ransom Centre in Texas consists of. The actual painting is now lost, above is an old black-and-white photo of it. I'll come back to the loss of the painting later.
PART ONE: HOME
After staying in Dorset for a few weeks more, Waugh returned to London with Henry Lamb, Pansy Pakenham and she-Evelyn. The girlfriends had been sharing digs in Wimborne Minster, two miles from the Barley Mow where Evelyn wrote the second half of Decline and Fall, while les femmes also wrote novels. Back in London, Pansy and she-Evelyn rented a flat in Montagu Place, north of Hyde Park. Evelyn moved back in with his parents at Underhill, the house between Hampstead and Golders Green. While Henry Lamb had a studio in Maida Vale. I think it's worth keeping track of the London geography, so below I've placed a map. That's Evelyn at the top, Henry to the left, and the she-Evelyn/Pansy combo between Hyde Park and Regent's Park.
While Henry and Evelyn were the clever sons of middle class professionals, the women were something else. Lady Margaret Pansy Felicia Pakenham, daughter of the 5th Earl of Longford, and the Honourable Evelyn Florence Margaret Winifred Gardner, daughter of Lord Burghclere, together boasted (however modestly) the poshest of pedigrees.
As we can see from the above map, Evelyn was out in the sticks. So he arranged to rent a flat much nearer to Pansy and she-Evelyn. He moved to 25 Adam Street, a street where his Oxford acquaintance, Robert Byron, was already living at number 6. Byron wrote that both the Evelyns' rooms were a mess so they spent much of the time in his flat. John Howard Wilson has written an essay on this called 'A Neglected Address: 25 Adam Street.' In this he points out that Adam Street has been renamed Robert Adam Street, which is where I've marked Evelyn and Robert on the right hand side of the Google map below.
On Friday 22 June, the Evelyns bought a marriage licence, seemingly on a whim. They went round to Warwick Square to show it to Harold Acton. Then went with him to visit Alec Waugh's flat, where champagne was partaken of. Just five days later, the Evelyns were married in St Paul's Church in Portman Square, which you can see at the bottom of the above map. Robert Byron had been charged with getting she-Evelyn to the church, which he knew would not be easy. Pansy too, in letters, wrote that she-Evelyn had told her the night before the wedding that she was not sure she was doing the right thing in marrying he-Evelyn. Harold Acton (best man), Alec Waugh (witness), Robert Byron (giver away of bride) and Pansy Pakenham (second witness) were the only people that were at the wedding ceremony. What about Henry Lamb? Perhaps he joined after the wedding, when the party moved on to a club then onto a restaurant for lunch. Anyway, from Paddington the newly weds travelled to Beckley, near Oxford, to spend their honeymoon in the Abingdon Arms, a pub that Evelyn and his ex-lover Alastair Graham had spent much time in a few short years before.
The nine-day honeymoon came to an end on July 6, after which the couple spent a week at Underhill. She-Evelyn's sister, Alethea Fry, threw a party at which an ex-policeman sang, presumably at the Fry's London house in Portman Square. By attending this party the Evelyns were back at the site of their marriage vows for a night. In his diary, Waugh notes a return to 25 Adam Street. He doesn't say whether she-Evelyn was with him, but I imagine she was as it would have been a bit odd if she'd stayed on at Waugh's parents by herself. In any case, Waugh notes in his diary that Pansy had returned from the country, so when she-Evelyn got bored with he-Evelyn's company she'd have been able to meet up with Pansy in their old home. Actually, Pansy returning from the country reminds me that in May of 1928, Henry had put in an offer for a house in Coombe Bissett near Salisbury, intending to live there with Pansy when they got married that August, which they did. So perhaps that's where Henry was when the Evelyns got married.
Evelyn was at 25 Adam Street from Saturday July 14 to Monday July 23. Obviously the flat in Adam Street wasn't suitable for the pair, because he/they then moved back to live with Waugh's parents at Underhill. However, and happily, by the end of August they'd moved into a first floor flat in Islington, 17a Canonbury Square. But before they moved, they attended Henry and Pansy's wedding on August 21. At least I think it's fair to assume they did. I haven't seen it written with any authority that the Waughs were at the wedding of the Lambs, but then the main source for all things Evelyn Waugh is his diary, and for most of 1928 he didn't keep one, or destroyed it in retrospect.
Canonbury Square had been offered to the newly weds by Joyce Fagan, a friend of he-Evelyn's from Oxford days, who no longer lived in it having just married Donald Gill, an American businessman. It came unfurnished but the Evelyns were happy to buy furniture from second-hand shops, with he-Evelyn making use of the carpentry skills he'd learned the year before. They also had some 'practical' wedding presents, such as the cut glass chandelier that sits on the dining table in the photograph below. Another wedding present was wineglasses with coloured animals in the stems, some of which would seem to be on the table, for example the two glasses nearest the camera. In this photo, the table has been set for two but has room for four. Henry, Pansy, and the Evelyns? I'm not sure if the Lambs were early visitors to the flat at Canonbury Square, they were possibly too busy setting up their own house in Coombe Bissett. But Pansy and Henry were there in spirit: the portrait over the fireplace is of she-Evelyn by Henry Lamb, while the sketch to the right is of he-Evelyn by Henry. Both now as lost as the portrait that heads this page. Sad, sad and thrice sad; but the sadness is largely confined to 1929 and the essay to follow.
See note 1.
Harold Acton was an early visitor to the flat. He had been sent a letter by Evelyn giving him details of how to get there using a number 19 bus from the corner of Theobald's Street. The blue line on the map below shows the bus route (the number 19 follows the same route now as it did then), with Harold then having to walk a short distance (along the red line) to what Waugh described as a dilapidated Regency Square.
What did haughty Harold find when he got there? Hang on, he's not there yet! Superior Harold has got lost after getting off the bus in such a down-at-heel part of town. He could have done with the following bird's eye view which shows Canonbury Lane coming in from the left edge of the frame. Upon reaching the Square, Harold needs to turn right and make his way along the southern flank, cross Canonbury Road which passes through the middle of the Square, and find number 17 on his right (I've marked it with a blue plaque, as it were).
Now Harold has to try and remember whether 'first floor' means the ground floor or the floor above. The outside of the first floor flat would have looked similar to how it does today. Just get in to the building and announce your presence, Harold. Evelyn will hear you even if you don't use the megaphone you were famous for employing while being such a leading light at Oxford.
Inside the flat there were five rooms. That's two bedrooms, a dining room, a living room and a kitchen. In Memoirs of an Aesthete, written in 1948, Acton says that the flat had a 'sparkling nursery' atmosphere and evoked Alice in Wonderland. He mentions that Evelyn had covered a coal skuttle in stamps which he'd then protected with a layer of varnish. It looks as if the light shades on the chandelier in the photo several above have been covered with bits of maps, which Waugh may have been responsible for.
On October 4, Acton turned up for lunch with a copy of his latest book, Humdrum, staying until 5. In his diary, Waugh notes that his friend talked with his usual opulent luminosity but with every sign of a deranged mind, a tendency to muddle that did not make its way into Humdrum which Waugh thought was considered and competent. What about Acton's view of Decline and Fall, which he read in manuscript and had no doubt by then received a printed copy of as it had been published on September 18 and was dedicated to him? In Memoirs of an Aesthete, Acton writes of his friend: 'All his friskiness bubbled over into the pages of Decline and Fall. It was as if he had been rolling in the early morning dew, so light, so fresh, so mischievous were the sentences that rippled off his pen.'
Is it possible to reconcile this pen-portrait with Henry Lamb's painted one? Not quite, as Lamb seems to have portrayed Pennyfeather rather than Pennyfeather's creator. Two different kinds of lightness, I would suggest.
Another early visitor was Tony Powell. On October 4th he arrived after dinner, full of scandal about the Sitwells. But he was probably there quite often given what he writes in Messengers of the Day, the second volume of his memoirs which came out in 1978. According to Powell, 'Bobbie' (Cecil Roberts) introduced Waugh to John Heygate in the early days of the Canonbury Square flat, something that would have great significance come the summer of 1929.
Also in the first week of October, the Waughs threw a dinner party which was attended by Tom Balston of Duckworth's. Although that firm had turned down Decline and Fall (ostensibly on the grounds of the book's obscenity, but probably because Gerald Duckworth was an uncle of Evelyn Gardner and knew how badly her mother thought of her engagement to Evelyn Waugh) they had published Rossetti and no doubt wanted more from this bright young author.
But on October 7, when Evelyn got back from a long lunch at the Savile with Harold Acton and others, including Rayomd Mortimer who had praised Decline and Fall in a review, he found she-Evelyn ill with a temperature. The next day she became worse, her temperature rising to 104 degrees. It was October 12 by the time a diagnosis of German Measles was arrived at. Lady Burghclere, having been told that her daughter was poorly, probably by another daughter, Alethea, called round to the Canonbury Square flat for the first time, with grapes and chicken for the invalid. A nurse was moved in to the Canonbury flat. Actually, it was Evelyn's Gardner's former nanny and Evelyn Waugh's mother who looked after she-Evelyn, both staying there while he-Evelyn, in the meantime, moved back to Underhill to live with his father.
On Friday October 12, while still at the Canongate flat, Waugh noted in his diary that the sales of Decline and Fall for the week were 157, making a total of 1093 since publication on September 18. On Friday, October 19, while staying at Underhill, he was pleased to record that sales for the week were a much increased 827 and that a second edition had 'gone to bed'. So that was both his wife and his book gone to bed.
According to Selina Hastings, it was on October 21 that Evelyn returned to the flat after nine days absence. In his diary he notes that she-Evelyn was able to go for a short walk round the square. On Monday, he met Evelyn's sister, Alethea, for lunch, possibly in order to get the keys to Oare House from her. Alethea and Geoffrey Fry, as well as providing a hamper of Fortnum and Mason delicacies for she-Evelyn in her sick bed, were now making available their splendid house for her convalescence. Which came as an immense relief to he-Evelyn who'd thought he might have to fork out for an expensive hotel.
No surprise surely, that the bright young author of Decline and Fall had fallen on his feet. Indeed, everybody was just falling over themselves to help this brightest of bright young couples.
PART TWO: AWAY
On Wednesday, 24 October, the Waughs travelled to Wiltshire, getting to the house when it was cold and dark. She-Evelyn went up to bed while Evelyn found his way around, ending up in a small study full of illustrated books on architecture.
On waking in the morning (he writes in his diary), he found there was a beautiful vista from his windows across the bathing pool to the downs. Below is what Evelyn would have seen. Though the building in the distance wouldn't have been there then, the avenue would and so would the swimming pool, both created by Clough Williams-Ellis in the early Twenties.
Evelyn wrote in his diary that he went for a walk on the Downs. No doubt he felt great, what with she-Evelyn being on the mend and with Decline and Fall selling so well. Indeed, he may have felt fantastic. There he was at Oare House, which crops up as King's Thursday in the second part of the novel if my analysis on this page is correct. Unlike his protagonist, Paul Pennyfeather, Evelyn had proved himself to be a dynamic figure, not static. Evelyn hadn't been duped by his lover, as Paul had been duped by Margot, going to prison for her crimes instead of marrying the woman. No, he'd married she-Evelyn and now was part of a decidedly upper class circle. Just look at his present surroundings! And Evelyn would have looked back down the avenue at the fine house (marked with a red tack in the photo below), his sister-in-law's mansion.
Where have we got to? Ah yes, he, Evelyn, hadn't gone back to the safety of an Oxford quad and a life of academia, as Paul Pennyfeather had. He, Evelyn, was striding over Downs that reminded him of his school days at Lancing. He, Evelyn, was about to draft an article 'Too Old at Forty' for the Evening Standard for which he would get very well paid. Indeed, for an article on censorship he was about to be paid four times his original weekly salary at the Daily Express by the very editor who had sacked him from that paper fifteen months previously! I wouldn't be surprised if Evelyn resorted to singing verses from a favourite book of his while walking back to Oare House over the Downs
"The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad."
Quote from review in the Evening Standard by Arnold Bennett: 'Decline and Fall is an uncompromising and brilliantly malicious satire, which in my opinion comes near to being first rank."
"The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them knew one half as much
As intelligent Mr Toad!"
Quote from the Observer: 'Mr Waugh is an important addition to the ranks of those dear and necessary creatures - the writers who can make us laugh.'
"The animals sat in the Ark and cried,
Their tears in torrents flowed.
Who was it said, 'There’s land ahead?'
Encouraging Mr Toad!"
Quote from Cyril Connolly in the New Statesman: 'In Decline and Fall there is a love of life, and consequently a real understanding of it.'
"The Army all saluted
As they marched along the road.
Was it the King? Or Kitchener?
No. It was Mr Toad!"
Cyril Connolly: 'The humour throughout is that subtle, metallic kind which, more than anything else, seems a product of this generation.'
"The Queen and her Ladies-in-waiting
Sat at the window and sewed.
She cried, 'Look! who’s that handsome man?'
They answered, 'Mr Toad.'"
Cyril Connolly: 'A delicious cynicism runs through...though not a great book, it is a funny book, and the only one that, professionally, this reviewer has read twice.'
Arriving back at the house, Evelyn might have had time to reflect that it wasn't just Grimes that was of the immortals. It was Grimes, Margot, Toad and himself. An open-air toast may have been called for: 'To Fortune, a much-maligned lady!'
The next day, Friday, Evelyn wrote 'Too Old at Forty' extolling the virtues of his own generation, ending with a promo for five exciting new writers, all chums of his from Oxford. Their host Geoffrey Fry arrived by the evening train, accompanied by Holden the butler who was later employed at 10 Downing Street. No mention of she-Evelyn that day.
No mention of she-Evelyn on Saturday either. Alethea Fry turned up with a young Mr Weyman who got through four sets of clothes in one day: riding gear, tennis kit, shooting tweeds and evening dress. A chance for Evelyn to compare the real life woman with the one that he'd transformed into the mercurial and elusive Margot Beste-Chetwynde in the pages of Decline and Fall.
Mrs Geoffrey Fry, one of a diptych. by Curtis Moffat. Courtesy of the V&A.
As the previous night, talk at dinner was of architecture. No doubt Evelyn stayed quiet about King's Thursday. Or perhaps he didn't. Perhaps his contribution to the conversation was that he knew of this house in Hampshire where the original Tudor had been demolished and replaced with something clean and square, with rubber furniture and octopuses in tanks.
"Well, we considered that here," pipes up Geoffrey. "Luckily our man, Williams-Ellis, was able to square the circle. We have the original Eighteenth Century vision plus we have hot and cold running water and room to swing a cat."
"But no octopuses?"
"Evelyn I think you're taking the metaphor that dominates Clough-Ellis's work too literally. Enough about the octopus, you can see it's making she-Evelyn feel queasy."
Perhaps what was making she-Evelyn feel queasy was the sight of her husband recklessly teasing the prime minister's personal secretary, her sister's rich and powerful husband.
On Sunday, Alethea and some servants disappeared. No mention of she-Evelyn. On Monday, Alethea's young man went off. Finally, Geoffrey and the PM's butler-to-be took off. That evening, the Evelyns dined with Robert Byron at Savernake, his family home, a house Evelyn considered barbaric after the refinement of Oare.
One diary entry covers the first 11 days of November. They didn't see Geoffrey and Alethea again while at Oare. Evelyn got a lot of work done. No mention of she-Evelyn.
PART THREE: HOME AGAIN
When they got back to the flat at Canonbury it was to find that the electrician hadn't called round to fix the bell or the chandelier. And none of the furniture they'd been expecting had been delivered. But November, 1928, with she-Evelyn seemingly fully recovered from her illness, was to prove an entertaining month. I must now try and catch its flavour. What better way than to take a stroll through the gardens in the middle of Canonbury Square, sitting down in front of number 17. Me on one bench, my copies of the first volume of Martin Stannard's authoritative biography, Selina Hastings equally essential take on Waugh's life, the Diaries, the Letters, et al, on a neighbouring one.
'Bobbie' brought round Henry Williamson to see the Evelyns. He'd won a prize with Tarka the Otter and was receiving considerable acclaim with a follow up novel. Evelyn felt that Williamson was quite elderly (born in 1895 he was only eight years older than 26-year-old Evelyn) and 'wholly without culture'. But apparently he was up for a laugh and that counted for a lot. He took away with him a signed copy of Decline and Fall.
Around this time, after November 3 when his positive review of Decline and Fall appeared in the New Statesman, Cyril Connolly was invited round for lunch and stayed all day. He later recalled: 'It was a very small spick and span little bandbox of a house, and his wife was like a very, very pretty little china doll, and the two of them were this fantastic thing of the happily married young couple whom success has just touched with its wand.'
Connolly went on to say that the Evelyns had had Arnold Bennett around for dinner the previous night. What fun for he-Evelyn to be talking to these prominent critics both of whom loved his work!
To celebrate the publication of Decline and Fall (if it needed more celebration) and as a house warming, the Evelyns gave a cocktail party in late November. Apparently, the invite that he-Evelyn designed provided a map of how to get to 17a Canonbury Square from Buckingham Palace. According to Alec Waugh, Buckingham Palace was marked on the map's left hand side and the caption read 'Routes from Buckingham Palace to 17a Canonbury Square.' I expect the number 19 bus was one of the marked routes, but I've not managed to trace a copy of an actual invite, so here's one I made two minutes ago. Taking the party animal from Buckingham Palace, bottom left, to Canonbury Sqaure, top right, as the crow flies.
The image below is from Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation by D.J Taylor. I see it as the Evelyns meeting their guests at the doorstep of number 17.
The flat was heaving with people that night. It was there that Alec Waugh met Diana Mitford for the first time. As he says in the essay 'My Brother Evelyn', published in 1967. 'She was then, on the brink of marriage to Bryan Guinness, in the full rich spring of her flowering beauty.' Diana is someone who would go on to be very important in he-Evelyn's life, though not for a few months. I think a photo is called for:
Brother Alec goes on: 'I have seldom been to such a genial party. Everyone was so happy for the Evelyns' sake. They had gambled on one another and they had "brought it off".'
Again, the photo below is from Bright Young People, courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive. It's not of the party at Canonbury Square but seems entirely appropriate.
However, also at the party were Alethea and Geoffrey Fry, and at the end of the evening, when getting into his car, Geoffrey was overheard saying: 'And when they buried her the little town had never seen a merrier funeral."
Who had overheard this remark? Selina Hastings, who provides the anecdote, doesn't say. What was Fry trying to suggest? Simply that his wife's sister still seemed ill, yet was surrounded by such merry-making? Or was he alluding to some impending split in the relationship, the implication being that she-Evelyn was going to come a cropper?
The diary stops on November 23, 1928, and does not resume until May, 1930, so the party is not discussed by Waugh himself. I could say more about the partying of the bright young things but I think the time to really go into that is the summer of 1929. In other words, on the next page.
In December, 1928, she-Evelyn was not well again. She fell ill with a bad sore throat, and in January of 1929 went into a clinic in Wimpole Street where she underwent an operation.
What were they going to do for Christmas of their fabulous year? Ha! - the bright young couple had plenty of invites, all they had to do was choose who to bless with their shining presence!
PART FOUR: AWAY AGAIN
The Evelyns spent Christmas with the Lambs in their new house at Coombe Bissett. I almost feel I was there in December 1928. Well, seven years ago I was there. My partner Kate and I had been to the Barley Mow to research the Decline and Fall chapter of Evelyn! I knew Evelyn had spent time in the village with the Lambs, so thought I should check it out while we were in the neighbourhood. There was no-one at home in Brook House (formerly called Brookside). But Kate got talking to a neighbour. He took us into his garden so we could see the most distinctive thing about the houses on Homington Road, which is that their northern boundary is marked by the River Ebble. Tony then pointed downstream to where the garden of Brook House was similarly cut off from open fields.
All of which makes sense when you look up the property in Google. Actually, Brook House is now (December, 2013) offering Bed and Breakfast, so anyone wanting a break in Waugh territory could consider staying here. Fairly handy for the Barley Mow, though it doesn't say that on the B&B's website.
On the aerial shot below, I've marked the river in blue and the circumference of the property with a red line. Who is that standing at the bottom of the garden? It's Pansy Lamb, perhaps looking up at the glider that's flying over her property (you can see its outline against the tennis court).
But a better picture of Pansy at the bottom of the garden is the one below, painted by Henry Lamb in the summer. In the summer of 1928? Yes, why not. What a sumptuous painting. Is that a glider Pansy is staring up at again? Or the plane carrying the Google camera?
Henry Lamb, The Garden, Coombe Bissett, Wiltshire. Oil on hardboard, 31 x 41cm.
In contrast, below is how the Waughs came across in the summer of 1928. The photograph was taken by Olivia Wyndham a few days after the Evelyns' wedding. It has none of the warmth of the painter's feelings for the subject that's shown by Lamb's painting. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much warmth between the two subjects in the photograph either. If only he-Evelyn's arm was actually touching she-Evelyn's shoulders. If only there was eye contact. Evelyn may appear to be looking at his wife's profile but he's not, he's gazing into the middle distance.
Olivia Wyndham. Portrait of the Evelyns, 1928
The photograph hung on the wall of the dining room at 17a Canonbury Square. As you can see from the reflection in the photo's glass in the image below, there is another painting on the wall, one that is more elaborately framed. Could this be the oil portrait, now lost, of Evelyn Waugh by Henry Lamb that heads this page? Well, it might be, there are already three images of he-Evelyn and three of she-Evelyn on the walls of this heavily self-referencing room. None of them survive the fallout of what happened in 1929.
See note 1.
The dining room at Canonbury Square was empty over Christmas, 1928. But the dining room at Brookside was surely full of life. He-Evelyn, she-Evelyn, Pansy and Henry were friends, after all. And the friends had shared a fantastic year. Let me recap. The Evelyns married in June; the Lambs married in August. Chapman and Hall, the publishing firm ran by Arthur Waugh, Evelyn's father, published Decline and Fall in September and The Old Expedient by Pansy Pakenham in October. Who was responsible for the dustjackets? Why Evelyn Waugh, of course. So it wasn't just Henry Lamb who could come up with striking images. And it wasn't just Evelyn Waugh who could write books.
©Alexander Waugh, Waugh Family Archive, Milverton.
Again, above is the image of the Canonbury Square dining room, empty and cold. To contrast with the dining room at Brookside that Christmas, full of life and laughter. Now I know what follows is a fictional scene and I'll say more about that when I get to the end of it. For the moment, suspend disbelief if you will:
He-Evelyn wants to give The Old Expedient the first sentence test. Pansy goes in search of a book but the only one she can find lacks its dust-jacket.
"Good God," says he-Evelyn. "In our flat there is a pile of Decline and Fall, each with it's lovely jacket. A chap called Henry Williamson was the last person to take one away."
"He was such an old man," adds She-Evelyn.
"In it I wrote: 'To Tarka the Otter from Otto the Architect'. Trouble is, I don't think Tarka can read. His master certainly doesn't."
"He was such an old, old man," repeats she-Evelyn. "Thirty-six if he was a day."
"What does that make me at forty?" asks Henry.
"You are an old, old man, Henwy, and I wuv you for it," says Pansy, kissing her husband. (I've read that Pansy had a lisp, but I don't think I'll persist with that. She was a more mature person than she-Evelyn and I don't want to give a different impression.)
Henry doesn't know it, because the article didn't come out in the Evening Standard until January, 1929, but in 'Too Young at Forty', Waugh includes the line 'Cezanne died long before we were born and still his imitators proclaim their paintings as 'Modern Art'. Perhaps a riposte to what Evelyn had to listen to from Henry while posing for his portrait back in May. The whole article reads like a bid to get those of one generation, Henry's, to make way for another generation, Evelyn's. It ends with a list of five authors, each of whom has published more than two works, who represent this rising new generation. The list is headed by Harold Acton and Robert Byron, two of the four guests at Evelyn's wedding. To say that at this stage in his life Evelyn Waugh was fizzing with self-belief is putting it flatly.
All right, so Pansy has sat down at the table with her book and is charged with reading out it's beginning. First, she turns to the title page and lifts the book aloft, turning it so that her friends could see that, yes, she was the author of the book full of such thick, creamy, printed paper.
Then Pansy turns the page, clears her throat, and reads in her sweet voice: 'As Owiver Gaunt walked up the gwanite steps which wed to the fwont door of 67 Buwton Pwace he twied to cowect all his enegies for the momentous intewview befow him.' Sorry, I will now cut that out.
'Oliver Gaunt as in Evelyn Waugh?" asks Henry.
"Ol-i-ver Gaunt as in Ev-e-lyn Waugh?" asks she-Evelyn, giving nothing away.
"Coincidence!" says he-Evelyn, "Read on, Pansy."
"Finding the effort too great for his vague and rather slip-shod brain, he fell to imagining himself as a mediaeval hero assaulting an impregnable stronghold."
"Evelyn, I appreciate that Paul Pennyfeather is effectively you," says Henry. "But can I ask if all the books published by your father's firm have to have you as the protagonist?"
"Ask Pansy what happens to Oliver in the end," says she-Evelyn, perkily.
"What happens to Oliver in the end?" asks Henry, who surely knows.
"He gets shot."
"What a shame!"
"He takes a bullet meant for the woman who he's told to her face is the most beautiful woman in the world," says Pansy.
"Some kind of dwarf isn't she?" puts in Henry, getting his revenge on she-Evelyn for the old, old business.
"She certainly lacks the stature of her older siblings," admits Pansy. "But as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and Pansy gives her friend's hand a squeeze under the table while desperately hoping that she's not being patronising.
Am I going anywhere with this? I am. But first we have to know more about Henry. The best written source for this is Tony Powell and his Messengers of Day. Tony married Violet Pakenham, one of Pansy's three sisters, and he and Violet often visited the Lambs in Coombe Bissett. According to Powell, Henry Lamb was witty, unpredictable and fractious. He had a tremendous physical wiriness and even in his sixties would perambulate round the garden on a pair of stilts.
If that's a strong image, Powell gives us two strong stories, one of which concerns the chat Henry had with Lady Longford, Pansy's mother, after their engagement had been announced. Lady Longford, who had brought up four girls and two boys on her own after their father, Lord Longford, had been killed at Gallipoli, drew him aside and said: "I have to be father and mother both. It is a clean sheet, Mr Lamb?" Henry didn't know what to say as he had no idea what he was being asked about. Illegitimate children? Venereal disease? If he and Pansy had had pre-marital sex? If Pansy was pregnant?
Yes, it's a good story. But let's go back to that lovely image that Henry painted of Pansy, a painting that is full of his love for her and for the life that they were going to share in Coombe Bissett (where Henry is now buried).
Henry Lamb, The Garden, Coombe Bissett, Wiltshire. Oil on hardboard, 31 x 41cm.
And let us imagine Evelyn admiring this picture for the first time, those mounds of warm-coloured flesh.
"Tell me, Mr Lamb, it is a clean sheet, isn't it?"
Yes, it was a clean sheet, and green, green grass, and a river flowing past that whispered of ...s...e...x...
According to Tony Powell, Lamb had many stories of medical, military and intellectual life that deserved to be set down on paper. He recalls the one of Lamb coming up before a medical board while he was in the army. Before leaving the room, one of the board said, 'Perhaps we'd better see your Rhomberg, old boy.' Now the Rhomberg Test is a tap below the knee given to test reactions. Lamb should have known this, as he had been a medical practitioner. But in the months away from practice his mind had filled with thoughts of painting, music, war and literature and he'd forgotten the meaning of the term. Making a guess he began to undo his fly-buttons...
I can imagine the story being rolled out that Christmas of the Evelyns visit, and I can see everyone enjoying the good humour.
He-Evelyn pipes up with: "Reminds me of an incident that took place at our cocktail party. Now I'm not in the habit of locking the door of the loo in my own house, and while I was peeing towards the end of what had been a most jolly evening, the door opened and the vision that is Diana Mitford entered boldly. I carried on with my business while turning my head round to her and saying: "There must be some mistake, Diana, I'm a happily married man."
More laughter. But then She-Evelyn says: "Oh, listen to them, Pansy. One willy joke after another. They'll go on like this all night now. It's too shattering."
No doubt they did go on drinking, eating and talking. They would have discussed where they would go on Boxing Day. I can imagine She-Evelyn saying that the four of them had been invited by Alethea and Geoffrey to a house party at Oare.
"The last person I want to see is Geoffrey bloody Fry," says he-Evelyn. "I've been told recently that the day I went for my interview at the BBC with a note of support from him in my pocket, the man I was about to speak to had been handed another note by Geoffrey saying that I was not to be given a job under any circumstances. If I'd known that when I was writing Decline and Fall I'd have made Maltravers a much more sinister character."
"Sounds very Margot Beste-Chetwynde to me," says Pansy. "Accepting a proposal marriage on the one hand, while sabotaging the chances of it ever taking place on the other!"
"Yes, perhaps I have to take the rough with the smooth. And Decline and Fall is going down very smoothly at the moment."
"Tell me, Evelyn," says Henry. "What have been sales for the week leading up to Christmas?"
"Suffice to say that the third impression has gone to bed."
"Shall we drink to that?" asks She-Evelyn.
"To Fortune, a much-maligned lady," says he-Evelyn as they all knew he would. He goes on to suggest that, instead of going to the party at Oare House, they have a knees up at the Barley Mow. Either of these options would have been practical as the map below shows, Coombe Bissett being roughly equidistant from Oare House to the north, the Barley Mow to the south.
Suddenly, he-Evelyn stands up from the table and begins singing, a song that the four had developed when they'd been living in Dorset earlier in the year, when they'd been in the habit of meeting up at the weekend to share the progress that each had made in his or her respective work. Though basically it had been to listen to he-Evelyn blowing his own trumpet, boasting about the brilliance of Decline and Fall, as I can quite imagine he did over Christmas 1928:
"One man went to Mow, went to Mow a novel."
"One man and and his dog - woof! - went to Mow a novel."
Then Henry stands, knowing exactly what is called for (and accepting that he-Evelyn's book is special):
"Two men went to Mow, went to Mow a novel.
Two men, one man and his dog - woof! - went to Mow a novel."
Then Pansy stands (perhaps wishing her own work had a fraction of Decline and Fall's panache) and sings:
"Thwee men went to Mow, went to Mow a novel. (In this scene, the lisp seems fine.)
Thwee men, two men, one man and his dog - bow-wow! - went to Mow a novel."
She-Evelyn does't mind joining in. It is all good fun after all, just as it was all good fun in the spring. She stands and holds forth:
"Four men went to Mow, went to Mow a novel.
"Four men, three men, two men, one man and his dog - woof! - went to Mow a novel!"
They remain standing as they carry on the song which was perfected in those glory days of May, when he-Evelyn and Pansy had both finished their novels.
"He-Ev went to Mow, Barley Mow a novel.
He-Ev and his muse - Paul! - Barley Mow a novel."
"He-Lamb went to Mow, Barley Mow a novel.
He-Lamb, He-Ev and his muse - Paul! - Barley Mow a novel."
"She-Wamb went to Mow, Baway Mow a novel.
She-Wamb, he-Wamb, He-Ev and his muse - Paul! - Baway Mow a novel."
She-Evelyn isn't that keen. But when Evelyn is in his cups you just have to go with the flow:
"She-Ev went to Mow, Barley Mow a novel.
She-Ev, She-Lamb, He-Lamb, He-Ev and his muse - Paul! - Barley Mow a novel."
Obviously, it has been decided: tomorrow they will go to the Barley Mow for the day. Henry would do the driving. He didn't mind driving after a drink or two.
I imagine a conversation about The Old Expedient took place between the four at some stage over Christmas, 1928. After all, she-Evelyn was living with Pansy when she was writing it, while he-Evelyn may have read the book before designing the dust-jacket. Perhaps he was intrigued that Oliver Gaunt's brother-in-law was the Prime Minister, while his own brother-in-law, Geoffrey Fry, was the Prime Minister's private secretary. In Pansy's novel, Oliver leaves London on the instructions of the PM, going to an island off Ireland called Inismark. Now Inismark as a word seems to be derived from 'Guinness' and 'trademark', since it's stated that: 'It never irked him [Mark Finnigan, the 'King'] to think that the Kingdom of Inismark rested on bottle openers, in fact he felt a thrill of pleasure every time he saw "Finnigan's Patent" printed on the lever which released his beer.' The Pakenhams and the Guinnesses were two powerful Irish families, Pakenham Castle - now called Tullynally - being the largest privately owned house in Ireland.
Perhaps, in writing about the Finnigans, Pansy wanted to explore her own past. After all, she spent Easters and summers at the Irish castle during her childhood. In the book she focuses on Lydia, who is short, slow-thinking and ugly, though Oliver comes to see her as beautiful. She-Evelyn was the youngest of four sisters, with no brothers. Pansy was the oldest of four sisters, with two brothers. Lydia was the oldest sibling, with all the boys born after her but soon outgrowing her in all respects. Presumably, high-born she-Evelyn and Pansy talked a lot about their upbringing - both having three sisters, strong mothers, intimidating pedigrees - and what impact all that had on their psyches. She-Evelyn was engaged nine times before the engagement to he-Evelyn, always to the most unsuitable men, according to Pansy. What did that say about she-Evelyn's desperation to get away from her domineering mother? What did that say about her relationship to members of the opposite sex? She hadn't grown up with boys, so in her mind they may have been romantic figures and potential saviours, as Oliver certainly is to Lydia in The Old Expedient. Alas, the culmination of the plot means that Oliver has to throw himself in front of a British bullet meant for Lydia. He saves her life in two ways. First, literally, by stopping that bullet. Second, by the fact that, thanks to the success of the British mission that he was a part of, the senior members of the Finnigan family choose to leave the island, allowing Lydia to begin to feel comfortable in her own skin.
Late at night, perhaps after a conversation along the above lines, no doubt after much drinking, I imagine he-Evelyn asking she-Evelyn what she was bringing to the Christmas table. A comment that (in my mind's eye) would elicit puzzled looks all round.
"What I mean is. There is a novel from Pansy. Thus. A novel from me. There. And pictures of all of us from Henry. What have you contributed to this feast of culture, darling?"
See note 2.
"Evelyn, that's not nice," says Pansy.
She-Evelyn doesn't look happy. She doesn't know what to say, having abandoned the novel she'd been writing on and off throughout the year. Indeed, perhaps she looks a bit like she does in the portrait that Henry made of her in 1928, as it hung in the spookily quiet dining room at Canonbury Square that Christmas.
See note 1.
He-Evelyn realises he has been insensitive, and that he has hurt his wife. He tries to defuse his remark by commenting that what she-Evelyn brings to the table is beauty. As far as he-Evelyn is concerned, she-Evelyn is the most beautiful woman in the world.
"Is that what you think, Evelyn? Or are you just being clever again? Pansy, would you read out the last sentence of The Old Expedient?"
She-Evelyn herself lifts the book from the table, having pushed aside Decline and Fall to get her hands on it.
"'He thought I was the most beautiful woman in the world.' Yes, Pansy, your book ends with the deformed girl taking comfort from the fact that Oliver, before he was shot, had said that she was the most beautiful girl in the world. If you think it gave me pleasure to read that, or to now hear those words out of the mouth of my husband, then you are wrong!"
"But, darling..." say he-Evelyn and Pansy together.
"My throat is sore and I'm going to bed."
After she-Evelyn's departure there is a silence. Broken eventually by Henry, raising his cocoa mug while saying, gently: "To Evelyn, a much-maligned Evelyn."
In 2011, a few months before my Evelyn! was due to be published by Beautiful Books, I asked Alexander Waugh if he knew of any photographs of the Evelyns with the Lambs. He didn't, but suggested I try Henrietta Phipps, the daughter of Henry and Pansy. So I did that, and Henrietta kindly replied that she'd gone through old albums but had found nothing along the lines of what I'd asked for. However, she added:
'I do remember my father (much older than the other three) saying that when he drove Evelyn through the New Forest on the way to Wimborne, Evelyn noticed the delicious smell of bog-myrtle, and that "he was a good companion in the old days before he became so bitter."'
Why and when did he-Evelyn become bitter? He became bitter in 1929 because of events which I'm going to explore on the next but one page of this site. Do I have anything new to add to what's been said before about the break-up of his first marriage? Of course I have. Otherwise I wouldn't Evelyn well bother.
1. Shortly before the intended publication of Evelyn! in 2011, Alexander Waugh generously provided me with a good scan of a photograph of the Evelyns' dining room at 17a Canonbury Square. This scan is shown above in its entirety (six images up from the foot of the page) and is the source of several crops throughout the text. Under what circumstances was the original photograph taken? I'll say quite a lot about that on the next page but one.
2. Of course, the copy of Decline and Fall used in this illustration really should have its dust-jacket, as designed by Evelyn Waugh. Unfortunately, the only one I've come across is priced at £7,500.