Three years on from when these scenes of Evelyn Waugh and Elsa Lanchester (aka Lord Borrowington and Beatrice de Carrolle, cabaret queen) were shot, Evelyn wrote in his diary for April 7, 1927 that he had met a very nice girl going by the name of Evelyn Gardner.
She-Evelyn and Pansy Packenham had rooms in a bed and breakfast house in Ebury Street, not far from Buckingham Palace, as befitted such a pair of high-born young ladies. By then Alastair Graham was working for the foreign office in Athens, though Waugh still saw plenty of him when he was back in the UK.
As 1927 unfolded, Evelyn started a book called Rossetti, a biography of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, which he wrote between Oxford, Beckley (near Oxford), Barford and Underhill. On 1 July, Waugh wrote in his diary that he escorted Evelyn Gardner to lunch at the newly opened Green Park Hotel. Later in the entry he wrote that he’d given Evelyn Gardner a pipe. Whatever could he have meant?
In autumn of 1927 Waugh began his first novel, Decline and Fall, and dedicated Rossetti to Evelyn Gardner. She-Evelyn told him she was thinking of emigrating to Canada. A few days later he dined with her at the Ritz and proposed marriage. The next day she accepted. There’s a six-month gap in Waugh’s diary at that point, but it’s a good place to pause. Actually, the still below doesn’t show He-Evelyn putting a ring on She-Evelyn’s finger, it shows Lord Borrowington teasing Beatrice de Carolle having got hold of her little pot of cocaine. Neverthless, I still say: “doesn’t She-Evelyn look like she’s enjoying herself?”
In February 1928, the Evelyns and another couple, Pansy Packenham and Henry Lamb, moved down to Dorset. Lamb lived in a house in Poole, Pansy and She-Evelyn found digs in Wimborne Minster and He-Evelyn lodged at a pub called The Barley Mow, where he continued to write Decline and Fall. She-Evelyn was only two miles away and we must assume there was a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing between the various lodgings (as demonstrated in EVELYN!). Not sure that Evelyn would have been the ideal lover at this time, his head was so into his own book. But he would have been high as a kite thanks to the creative juices that were flowing, and I dare say everyone in his orbit was buzzing.
By April or May the book was finished and the Evelyns moved back to London, he to Underhill. Evelyn’s mother’s diary reveals that the pair would visit Alastair at Barford that summer. Alastair took photographs of the Evelyns on one of these occasions. These are the images that Alexander has generously allowed me to include in EVELYN! (so if everyone could be patient that would be most appreciated!).
In the meantime, because why should everyone be patient - below we can almost see the Evelyns and Alastair on that day in June 1928, a few weeks before the Evelyns got married. Alastair is either saying hello to the delicious creature that’s replaced him in Evelyn’s affections, or he’s impaling himself on the sundial. You decide.
I don’t know how relaxed She-Evelyn would have been during her weekends at Barford House. After all, this was where Evelyn and Alastair had spent so much time together, deeply immersed in each other. And what did she make of the fact that Evelyn chose a pub in Beckley for their honeymoon, a pub in whose car park Evelyn and Alastair had lived together in a caravan?
Never mind, because that summer the Evelyns moved into a flat in Islington, 17a Canonbury Square. Just the two of them. A photograph of the dining room appears in several of the Waugh biographies, where the room is dominated by a table, supporting a candelabra, set for dinner à deux. Oh yes and there’s a portrait of She-Evelyn made by Henry Lamb on the wall. There is also a companion photo, which Alexander Waugh brought to my attention, which I don’t think has been reproduced before, showing the Evelyns’ much smarter living room at Canonbury Square. On top of a coffee table is a pile of books, and by greatly enlarging the image it can be seen that the topmost one is Living by Henry Green, a book Waugh stated his admiration for in June of 1929. And on the wall? What I take to be an early cover for Vile Bodies drawn by Evelyn Waugh, featuring a top hat, a bowler and the word ‘BOGUS’. Look out for the bowler in the page after next.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the autumn of 1928 the Evelyns went on a Mediterranean cruise on the Stella Polaris. She-Evelyn was sick from the start and she was extremely ill once the cruise got going. The Evelyns had to leave the boat at Port Said so that she-Evelyn could be looked after at a hospital. Evelyn sent for Alastair, who explored Port Said with him, an exploration that makes its way, oddly, into Waugh’s first travel book, Labels. When She-Evelyn was better, the Evelyns visited Alastair in Athens. Not sure what She-Evelyn made of being back in the company of Evelyn’s old flame again. Not sure what Evelyn made of this marriage of hers one year down the line. How positively sick-making?
So what happened next? With the help of Elsa Lanchester - who shared a high forehead, large eyes, turned up nose and a leggy physique with she-Evelyn - I’ll tell you in that page after next already alluded to.