April 24, 2014. I wonder if anyone has ever been so pleased to be in a library. I'm so excited I can't sit down on my seat. Which doesn't bode well for actually reading anything.
What I have in front of me, resting on triangles of foam, fresh out of its protective case, is the leather-bound manuscript of Vile Bodies. It's the only manuscript of an Evelyn Waugh novel not to have been bought for a pittance from his widow by a robber called Harry Ransom (only joking, America) and taken to Austin in Texas. Where am I again? I'm in the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds. What have I got in front of me? Well, let's turn to the beginning of chapter two and see:
"Have you anything to declare?"
"Have you wore them?"
"That's all right then."
And back to the front endpapers. Oh, what a butterfly it seems!
It's been bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe. Evelyn usually got Maltby's of Oxford to do the binding of his diaries for him. But as he presented this manuscript to one of the richest couples in the country, it may have been luxuriously rebound at some point.
Let me turn over a few pages... The bookplate of Bryan Guinness...Evelyn's crashing racing car picture, at the bottom of which he's written to Bryan and Diana: 'This is the cover. Do you like it? I do.'
Actually, I've missed out a page. Overleaf from the bookplate, again on the recto, is a note written by Evelyn to Bryan and Diana, saying that the book will never be of the smallest value but he thought it should go to them as it is their book (Vile Bodies is dedicated to them). That note is dated January 4, 1930. Evelyn had a busy back end of 1929. After his day at the motor races in Belfast he went to stay with Bryan and Diana at one of their country houses, Knockmaroon, near Dublin. From there Waugh made his way to a quiet pub in Devon where he wrote the second half of Vile Bodies before returning to spend Christmas with the Guinnesses, this time in Paris. I guess it was while finishing off the manuscript in Devon that he deleted the upbeat and playful preface which had read:
'Bright young people and
others kindly note that
all characters are wholly
imaginary (and you get
far too much publicity already
whoever you are).'
The page with the note to Bryan and Diana also contains another note, written in shaky handwriting, saying that the manuscript was given to Jonathan Guinness on his 30th birthday in 1960. If I remember rightly the manuscript was sold at Christie's in 1985, when it was bought for about £60,000. (Had the 54-year old Jonathan Guinness fallen on hard times?) In 1990 the manuscript was bought by Fay and Geoffrey Eliot and in 2002 it was gifted to the Brotherton Library in Leeds. Ensuring the British public have access to this cultural gem; allowing me to be standing here now, my mind awash with adrenalin, my hands dry and disinfected: April 24, 2014.
The first part of the manuscript is made up of 68 pages. Those pages mostly concern the futile attempts of Adam, a penniless writer, to get some money together so that he can marry NIna, a bright young social butterfly. I flick through these pages, taking the odd photo for future use, but basically I'm starting my study at the halfway point of the manuscript.
Waugh writes 'END OF BOOK I' across page 68, the last line of which is 'Shucks Margot,' he said. 'You know better than to get on a high horse with me.' The 'he' is the press baron, Lord Monomark, though in the manuscript his name is given as Lord Ottercove. No doubt, Waugh decided on reflection, this was a little close to the real-life Lord Beaverbrook for comfort.
The second half of the manuscript - 66 more pages - begins with the line: 'Then Adam became Mr Chatterbox'. That is, Adam gets a job on the gossip column of The Daily Excess, Lord Monomark's paper. Nothing to do with The Daily Express, Lord Beaverbrook's title. No, nothing to do with that rag!
I have a Penguin copy of Vile Bodies with me for reference. I note that the above lines I've quoted are at the end of Chapter six and the beginning of chapter seven. The first six chapters were written at the Abingdon Arms, Beckley, Oxfordshire, when Evelyn thought he was happily married, if poor. The chapters from seven onwards were written at the Royal George, Appledore, Devon, when he was trying to cope with the fact of his marriage's collapse.
In chapter seven, Waugh introduces Adam's rival in love. Adam and Nina are at the horse races in Manchester, watching Indian Runner canter home unexpectedly in first place, when Adam spots in the crowd the drunk Major (who had promised to put £1,000 on Indian Runner on Adam's behalf, money that Adam had won on the toss of a coin). Adam tries to track him down, in vain, and when he returns to Nina, she is talking to a young man with a curly red moustache.
'This is Mr Broughton,' she said. 'He and I used to play together when we were children. He's just come back from Kenya.'
The character has had to be 'brought on' by Waugh, so perhaps that was the reasoning behind the name. Though Richard Jacobs, in the notes to the Penguin I have in front of me, suggests that it's a 'not very sly hint at sexual excitability'. In any case, Waugh was obviously not happy with the name, as he immediately deleted the line, and had another go at introducing Adam's rival. Here is a close-up of the relevant paragraph. I'll transcribe and/or paraphrase below:
The young man says he is fed up with the horse racing, Adam says he is fed up too, and the three return to London together in the newcomer's racing car. Over dinner Nina explains to Adam '...that the young man used to play with her as a child, and that he had been growing coffee in Kenya for the last five years.' This is not deleted in the manuscript (as you can see in lines 5 and 6 of the above reproduction) but by the time it got into print, Evelyn had changed the young man's background to 'doing something military in Ceylon' for five years. Then Waugh tells us that the young man's name was Eddy Saxon. Now John Heygate, Waugh's rival in real-life, was perhaps perceived by Evelyn to be more of a Saxon than himself. Waugh in A Little Learning, points to two Scotsmen, one Welshman and one Irishman among his eight great-great-grandfathers. But he deletes Saxon and inserts the name Littlejohn (see line 6), a name which he sticks with for the rest of the book. Well, no, the young man is most commonly referred to by his nickname, 'Ginger'.
In chapter eight, Adam, Nina and Ginger go to a party together. Or rather they go to parties together. First, on a captive dirigible in the suburbs of London. Then to St Christopher's Social Club near Leicester Square, where they can't get a drink. Then to the flat of an old friend of Ginger's, where they drink whisky sitting on a bed while Ginger's old pal is sick next door. Ginger sums up this part of the proceedings with 'There's nowhere like London really, you know.'
In chapter nine (I read the second half of Vile Bodies while travelling to Leeds this morning, so this stuff is all at the top of my mind, I'm not reliant on peering at the manuscript) Adam goes to see Nina's father for the second time. Colonel Blount is busy playing a bit part in a film that is being made on his property, a scene which draws heavily on Waugh's experience of making The Scarlet Woman at his own father's house. Adam fails to extract any money from the crafty old man. When he returns to London, it's to the realisation that he has lost his job. This is thanks to Nina, who had written and filed Adam's column that day, mentioning the fictitious fashion for green bowler hats that Lord Monomark had specifically asked not to be mentioned again.
Chapter ten is the one where Adam goes to the motor races with three chums. Because of the big race, rooms to rent in the unnamed town are hard to come by. No luck at the Imperial Hotel. At the Station Hotel they are told that they might get rooms at the Royal George. At the Royal George, the landlady does her best to fit them in. This involves ejecting Mr Titchcock from his bed onto the floor. In fact, Adam gets Mr Titchcock's room. In it there is a dressmaker's dummy, which reminds Adam of one that used to be in his family home that he had stabbed with a chisel.
Now this is strange stuff, especially when it's recalled that it's a pub called The Royal George where Waugh is writing the second half of the book. Is 'Mr Titchcock' another cheap jibe at 'Little' John Heygate? Or is the Titchcock suggestive of low sexual self-esteem on Waugh's own part? After all, it's Evelyn that has been found somehow wanting in the love department by She-Evelyn, is it not? When shortly after She-Evelyn's desertion, Eleanor Watts told him to try and put it all out of his mind, Waugh replied 'I can't, I can't'. And when telling Harold Acton about his 'cuckolding', Acton wrote back asking 'are you so very male in your sense of possession...?'.
In Mr Titchcock's bedroom of the Royal George, Waugh describes the female bust as being chopped off short, at neck, waist and elbows. Then Adam brings to mind the stabbing of his own dressmaker's dummy, 'Jemima', with a chisel, scattering stuffing over the nursery floor. As a reader, one wonders what it has got to do with a day at the motor races. However, it has everything to do with Waugh's despair at She-Evelyn's treatment of him. And yet those words towards the beginning of chapter ten - the violence against a symbol of womanhood, the insulting of himself and/or a sexual rival - could almost go unnoticed, so different is the key in which this passage is written compared to the tightly controlled, butterfly-winged majority.
In The Letters of Evelyn Waugh there is a single one written from The Royal George, Appledore. It's to fellow novelist Henry Yorke and tells him that Waugh came to this pub to make a final effort at finishing his novel. He reports that it's been very difficult and that it all seems to shrivel up and rot from the inside. Waugh says that he is relying on a sort of cumulative futility for any effect it may have. He ends by suggesting that as soon as he has enough pages covered to call it a book he shall join Bryan and Diana in Paris. Certainly, Waugh gets the most out of his day at the motor races in Belfast. It's the longest chapter in the book, yet essentially it's a set-piece, a stepping away from the love triangle that the book is on the point of becoming.
Chapter eleven is the very short one, where, on the phone, Nina tells Adam she is engaged to be married to Ginger. In the manuscript, Waugh gets it onto a single page - it's over a double page of my Penguin Classic - by setting the end of the dialogue into the right side of the page. But initially the end of the call was written on the back of a page, as reproduced below. In this deleted section, Waugh seems to have lost track of who is speaking. The last line 'Goodbye, Nina,' has to be changed to 'Goodbye, I'm sorry, Adam.'
As for the deletion itself... It's not the vertical blue margin in the above image. It's a single stroke of the pen that starts up at the top right corner, where the page number is ringed, and ends up there after an elaborate zig-zag through the words written. Presumably the same hand that waylaid the dressmaker's dummy with a chisel has dealt with this dialogue - the aftermath of the revelation that Nina was going to marry Ginger - with the sharp nib of a fountain pen.
Chapter twelve is where Adam visits Agatha Runcible at the nursing home following her crash while at the wheel of a racing car. The visit turns into a party to which Nina turns up. Adam persuades her to spend the night with him, but the sleeping together doesn't work out and so Nina goes home in the middle of the night. However, Ginger, unable to contact NIna and realising who she was with, turns up to berate Adam the next morning. Adam persuades GInger to buy Nina from him for the price of the hotel bill that he has run up. Next thing, Adam phones Nina, thinking he may be able to buy her back with money he still hopes to get from the drunk major, only to be told that Nina and Ginger have just got married.
Chapter thirteen presents the third and final visit to Colonel Blount. The newly wed couple, Nina and Ginger, are to spend Christmas with her father. Only Ginger has been called up to his regiment, and so it's fair-haired Adam that's presented to Colonel Blount as 'Ginger'. Together they enjoy a surreal Christmas that ends with the local vicar informing the household that War has been declared. I wonder if Adam's Christmas card to Nina's father was anything like the Christmas card that Evelyn sent out a month or two after writing this scene.
Almost any line in the collage can be related back to Vile Bodies in one way or another (or is that just a fancy of mine?). Note 'Vicar calls police', and 'alcoholic excess' and 'Bile Beans' (an ideal snack for vile bodies?) and 'Women with venom of a serpent'. Note too the sad little word in the top left corner...
Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
However, I prefer to take from Evelyn's Christmas card of 1929 the sentiments that nearly everyone can write (and be a successful artist). In summary: there is joy and profit in creative art.
In the last chapter of Vile Bodies, called 'Happy Ending', we learn from a letter from Nina to Adam, being read on the front line of the biggest battlefield in the history of the world, that Nina and Ginger are together again. Nina is pregnant with Adam's child, but that's fine, she says, because GInger thinks he's the father.
If all this would seem to represent wishful thinking on the author's part (there was a little to-ing and fro-ing of She-Evelyn between Evelyn Waugh and John Heygate in the summer of 1929, but not as much as might be implied by the closing chapters of Vile Bodies) at least the book has the realism to end on a down note. On the battlefield, Adam ends up in the back seat of a Daimler beside a man and a woman who are making love. Not Ginger and Nina, rather the drunk major (who is now a general) and Chastity (who, thanks to Margot Metroland, has become a prostitute and has been passed from soldiers training at Salisbury Plain, to Canadians, to an American doctor, to soldiers serving in the East).
Throughout the second half of the manuscript of Vile Bodies there are few changes in the manuscript itself or between manuscript and printed book. Evelyn has been bashing it out without going over it much. However, in the last page or so he does go back into the manuscript to tell the reader what Chastity's name was when she was with various parties. Evelyn Gardner's name was She-Evelyn when she was with Evelyn. What was it when she was with John? Could it have been 'Bunny', the name that Chastity earned on Salisbury Plain?
With Chastity fingering the medals on the general's uniform, the story ends:
'And presently, like a circling typhoon, the sounds of battle began to return.'
That's how the manuscript ends. And that's how the printed book ends. Having told Henry Yorke that he would stop writing as soon as he had enough pages to call it a book, he wasn't going to devote a great deal of time editing a typescript. Evelyn was going to spend Christmas with Bryan and Diana in Paris. He had somehow produced the book he'd promised his publisher and he was moving on. He was checking out of the Royal George.
Well, not quite. I walk away from the manuscript to another part of the Brotherton LIbrary where they have computers. I've been given a temporary code so that I can get onto the net if I want to. And so I google The Royal George, Appledore. This is what it looks like today:
In Vile Bodies, Adam wakes in his room to find rain beating on his windows. He looks out on a canal from which rise islands of scrap iron and bottles and a pram. Well, here he's looking out on where the River Torridge meets the River Taw. That's Lundy Island, in the middle distance, where Evelyn had been on holiday, in the spring of 1925, with the Plunket Greenes.
Happy memories? No, not particularly, that's where Olivia Plunket Greene (second from left in the picture below) would have nothing to do with him, physically. Waugh's diary of the holiday records, several times, his regret that he is not able to cure himself of his love for Olivia.
Why is Evelyn sitting down while everyone else is standing in the photo below? Perhaps because the Plunket Greene was a tall family. David (holding the dog) was six-foot-nine, so why would Evelyn, at five-foot-six, want to be measured against him? So Evelyn sat down on the ground. Smooth move, Titch.
At one stage in their relationship, Evelyn stubbed a cigarette out on Olivia's arm, to show her just how much her rejection meant to him. Maybe that's why the stabbed dressmaker's dummy came to mind while scribbling away in the Royal George.
That's Terence Greenidge, smoking, second from right. Evelyn's close friend from Oxford who directed Evelyn in The Scarlet Woman. Yes, it's a significant photograph this. I can't help wondering why - when it was used in Evelyn's autobiography, A Little Learning - the two end figures were cropped off. Because that's Richard Plunket Greene and his wife Liza, very good friends of Evelyn from Aston Clinton days, with Richard being the 'reserve driver' at the Belfast TT, the event that inspired such a long chapter in Vile Bodies. I expect the cropping was the publisher's doing and not Evelyn's, the picture being made more into a portrait shape so that it could nearly fill a page.
But it's something that points towards Evelyn's future rather than his past that I want to flag here. The map below shows that just along from the Royal George (marked with a red cocktail glass) is another pub called The Beaver Inn (marked with a knife and fork).
The pubs were both so called back in 1929. Perhaps Evelyn did indeed drink at the Royal George and eat at the Beaver Inn. Or vice versa. In any case, whenever Waugh took a stroll along the front in a westerly direction, the pub name, Beaver Inn, would be in sight. The name 'John Heygate', always at the back of his mind, and the pub sign, 'Beaver Inn', suddenly in front of his eyes.
And on the way back from his stroll, Evelyn, still thinking about whether his manipulation of Nina and Ginger was the most he could get out of the She-Evelyn/John Heygate business, saw this:
Day after day of his writing routine: Heygate-Beaver. Or Hate Beaver for short.
The association probably didn't reach Waugh's conscious mind then. He was happy with the names 'Ginger' and 'Littlejohn' for John Heygate, and he wouldn't have wanted to change his manuscript. But, just a few years later when it came to sitting down and writing A Handful of Dust, the love rival, referred to by Waugh to friends as 'the basement boy', is given his ultimate name: John Beaver.
In other words, when in Fez in January, 1934, he thinks: 'John Heygate', his mind comes up with 'John Beaver'. Actually, though I haven't seen the manuscript of A Handful of Dust myself, Robert Murray Davis has discussed it in Evelyn Waugh, Writer. The first chapter of Waugh's novel, called 'Du Cote de Chez Beaver' in print, was called 'Beaver's Way' at an early stage in the writing. A reference to Proust, but also a reference to Appledore? Davis tells us that Waugh systematically changed 'John' to 'Beaver' in the opening pages, speculating that this was to distance the reader from the character. Either that or because he'd realised how appropriate the name was.
Yes, it has to be emphasised that the name - Beaver - is perfect. Not only is there the juxtaposition of words during the painful writing of Vile Bodies, as just described, but the word 'Beaver' had been used in Britain as a slang reference for a woman's pudenda since 1927. And from that date there is a limerick that demonstrates such basic use. Perhaps Evelyn Waugh even knew it. In which case, I can see Waugh, his day's work at the Royal George done, sitting down in the Beaver Inn for a nightcap, singing to himself:
'There was a young lady named Eva
Who went to the ball as a diva,
But a change in the lights,
Showed a tear in her tights,
And a low fellow present yelled "Beaver!"'
Yes, Evelyn singing to himself - and the next day, pen in hand, singing to posterity - in a bid to keep his spirits up.
1) Thanks to The Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, for generously allowing access to the manuscript of Vile Bodies and for permitting me to take photographs of it.
2) Evelyn Waugh, Writer by Robert Murray Davis, is a valuable study of the manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas. It was published in 1981 when Vile Bodies was still in private hands. Hence the chapters go straight from Decline and Fall to Black Mischief, missing out Waugh's second novel. In his concluding chapter, Davis comments that: 'In manuscript Waugh tended to skip endings, whether of scenes, chapters, or whole books, and again and again, in looking over what he had written, he took the opportunity to augment.' This is not the case with Vile Bodies. Waugh seems to have meant what he said in his letter to Henry Greene from the Royal George. So as soon as he had enough pages covered to call it a book, he called it a day. From what I've observed (in a single afternoon's perusal of the ms), as far as the second half of the book is concerned, what Waugh wrote in inspired haste at the Royal George, is what was printed by Chapman and Hall when they published the book in February, 1930. Certainly, the last three pages of manuscript passed into print with only a few insignificant deletions.
3) The second line of the 1927 limerick actually reads: ''Who went to the ball as Godiva". But Godiva scans so badly with Eva that I've substituted my own line. Apologies to purists.
4) At the end of the Vile Bodies ms, Waugh wrote: 'THE END THANK GOD,' as he did at the end of his first book, Rossetti.
He wrote simply 'THE END' on the last page of Decline and Fall which he enjoyed writing (after all it was composed in joyful personal circumstances).
I will always be a Decline and Fall man, though I'm impressed by the attempt made in Vile Bodies to transform experience (failure in marriage) into art ('Good-bye... I'm sorry, Adam.')
The End thank Evelyn. DMcL.