THE ORDEAL OF U-KNOW-WHO
From summer 1953 to spring 1954, Evelyn Waugh suffered something of an ordeal. The transformation of his own plight into Gilbert Pinfold's fictional one was begun in January 1955 but not finished until January 1957, a month or two after Waugh left Piers Court. The novel departs so little from Waugh's experience that both really must be considered together.
"What do you think, Evelyn?"
"Fuck the BBC."
CHAPTER ONE: PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST IN MIDDLE AGE
The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold begins with a precise self-portrait of Gilbert Pinfold cum Evelyn Waugh. As the book starts Pinfold was 50 (as Waugh was while undergoing the essential experience of it) and had written a dozen books. As for the real writer...
Waugh had published 14 novels by the time Gilbert Pinfold was published, as listed on the back of the original GP dust-jacket, though he was only in the middle of writing Officers and Gentlemen when the ordeal took place causing him to lay aside his war novel for several months more than he already had. And, if you want to get his output down to a Pinfold dozen, Work Suspended, fine piece of writing though it is, remains far from complete.
Pinfold was married to a wife many years younger than himself, who actively farmed their property. As was Waugh. The Pinfolds' children were 'numerous, healthy, good-looking and good-mannered'. As, one might say, were Evelyn's.
Pinfold had never employed a secretary. Ditto Waugh. For two years Gilbert PInfold had been without a manservant. Ditto Evelyn. I mean, in order to save money, Waugh had got rid of all his servants except cook and housekeeper in 1954, which was when Ellwood got the chop.
Gilbert Pinfold stayed in a village called Lychpole. It may have been that Waugh was wanting to preserve the 'i' and 'o' syllable sounds of Stinchcombe and went back to his Lancing College days to do so. Lychpole being the house where art tutor Francis Crease lived, a house that young Evelyn thought of as a sanctuary from the frustrations of Lancing College just as Stinchcombe was a sanctuary from the temptations of London.
The name Pinfold itself is associated with Piers Court. John Pynffold brought his bride to live in the house in 1640. Pynffold was a rich man who owned all of Stinchcombe and whose family dwelt in Piers Court for 150 years. The Pynffold coat of arms is as below, and when Evelyn and Laura moved into the house this was carved in the triangular space that tops the front elevation of the house.
Below is the Waugh coat of arms that Evelyn discussed with his brother Alec back in 1937. That is, their father's arms, quartered with their mother's - the wheatsheaf.
I'd thought it was pure snobbishness that had prompted Waugh to have his own coat of arms ratified and carved on the tympanum at Piers Court. Now I reckon it was the presence of someone else's coat of arms up there that intimidated him into the act. Why buy a house and leave someone else's mark on it?
I'm informed by an estate agent's brochure for Piers Court that Evelyn added his coat of arms to the centre of the shield, leaving the Pynffold surround unchanged. Just as in 1955/57 Waugh poured his personality into the frame of Gilbert Pinfold, having modernised the name only slightly.
But all was not well with 50-year-old Pinfold/Waugh. As Waugh wrote in his diary for January 2 1954: 'Clocks barely moving. Has half an hour past? No, five minutes.'
While for Pinfold: 'At intervals during the day and night he would look at his watch and learn always with disappointment how little of his life was past and how much there was still ahead of him.'
Pinfold had trouble getting to sleep. For 25 years he had used various sedatives and for the last ten he'd relied on a combination of chloral and bromide. The drug ensured Pinfold got the required six or seven hours of oblivion before having to face the next idle day. I think the situation for Waugh was similar.
Towards the end of the opening chapter, Waugh describes an event that was to take on significance in Pinfold's life. The BBC sent down a team of three youngish men to interview him. Their leader's name was Angel. They set up their microphone in Pinfold's library. Despite the politeness of their questioning, PInfold thought he could detect an underlying malice. He answered as best he could, succinctly and shrewdly. When the BBC van finally disappeared down the drive, Pinfold's son observed: "You didn't like those people much, did you, papa?" On the day the interview was transmitted, Mr and Mrs Pinfold listen to it on the cook's radio which they'd carried into the drawing room. Pinfold's conclusion was that they'd tried to make an ass of him but that he didn't believe they'd succeeded.
A sequence of real events inspired this fictional one. In the summer of 1953 Evelyn agreed to be interviewed by BBC Radio. The program was called Personal Call and it was aimed at non-British listeners in South-East Asia, not a British or American audience. It should have been a safe enough gig.
The BBC team drove down to Piers Court on 18 August. The interviewer was Stephen Black and his conversation with Evelyn took place in Waugh's library. Bron, Waugh's 13-year-old son, listened to the interview outside, standing by the recording machine in the BBC van whose cable ran into the house. I haven't heard the interview or read the whole transcript, but a chunk of it is reproduced in David Cliffe's website. The extract doesn't seem too offensive and ends:
"Tell me, Mr Waugh, when the war ended and you came out of the Army had you only one idea - to come back to this very lovely house and settle down again as a writer, or had it in any way disturbed your vision of the world as you wanted it for yourself?
"Oh not in the least. I just wanted to come back here."
Of course, the war had changed Waugh's vision of the world, as he was in the middle of setting out in his Sword of Honour trilogy. But clearly he felt this insulting interview wasn't the right time to go into that. As David Cliffe's intro to the transcription tells us, Waugh had already been asked the question: "Does your wife fit in with your demand for interesting or beautiful people that you want to have around you?" A pretty damned rude question, I'd say. But, as Martin Stannard informs us, no acrimonious correspondence followed.
Perhaps that's because the show's producer, Hugh Burnett, was there as well. As Burnett remembers it, Waugh, clearly in good humour, stated that he was worried that the BBC's cable would electrocute Laura's cows who were chewing the cud in a field a hundred yards away. He also tells us that Waugh sat behind his desk in the library wearing a grey suit, waistcoat, watch-chain and a Brigade of Guards tie.
Towards the end of the afternoon Waugh asked Burnett if he'd like a signed book as a souvenir of his visit. The producer said that he'd like a copy of Waugh's own favourite book, whatever that was. So Evelyn signed the following copy of Helena for him.
Delighted with their coup (I mean the voice recording, not the signed book), the BBC approached Waugh again a fortnight later and the author, in return for a large fee, agreed to be the guest on Frankly Speaking. This time the interview took place in London on 28 September 1953, Stephen Black being joined by two other interviewers.
After the London recording, Waugh felt he'd dismissed certain questions too abruptly and had let himself be drawn too far into politics and sociology. He requested and was granted a second chance, also at Broadcasting House. And it was a composite recording, containing lively exchanges from the first conversation inserted into the second that was transmitted on 16 November, Laura and Evelyn listening to it in the drawing room of Piers Court. Thus, as far as Piers Court is concerned, the following diagram summarises the interaction with the BBC.
Again, some of the transcript can be read on David Cliffe's website. I suspect this is an important exchange:
Interviewer: "You are in favour of capital punishment?"
EW: "For an enormous number of offences, yes."
Interviewer: "And you yourself would be prepared to carry it out?"
EW: "Do you mean, actually do the hangman’s work?"
EW: "I should think it very odd for them to choose a novelist for such tasks."
Interviewer: "Supposing they were prepared to train you for the job, would you take it on?"
EW: "Well, certainly."
Interviewer: "You would?"
Second interviewer: "Would you like such a job, Mr Waugh?"
EW: "Not in the least."
Given how the main action of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold sees the author being persecuted by voices while he tries to maintain his composure, the above exchange seems significant. Not only did Waugh take part in the dialogue and hear the resulting public broadcast, he was sent transcripts of the first recording, the second recording and the composite. Oh, yes he would have known that interview well. I know it pretty well myself, having ordered from the British Library the CD shown below which contains the 27-minute recording. And having listened to it several times over the last few days.
Reverting to the plan view of Piers Court (see above) where Evelyn and Laura sat listening to the broadcast in the drawing room. Actually, it's Gilbert Pinfold and his wife that sat in the drawing room listening to the transmission on the cook's radio. It's just that the similarities between EW and GP are such that one suspects that the description in the novel tells us more or less exactly what happened at Piers Court. Perhaps Laura and Evelyn managed a lighthearted discussion of the interview in its immediate aftermath:
LW: "You're in favour of capital punishment for an enormous number of offences?"
EW: "That's what I said, dear."
LW: "You would do the hanging yourself?"
EW: "If given the training."
LW: "You would hang your own children?"
EW: "Well, certainly."
LW: "You would?"
EW: "If you didn't feel up to the task."
LW: "Would you like such a job, Mr Waugh?"
EW: "Not in the least."
CHAPTER TWO: COLLAPSE OF ELDERLY PARTY
That year of the radio interview, winter set in at the end of October and Mr Pinfold's spirits sank. He began taking more of his sleeping draught in his preferred way, which was with crème de menthe. He found himself disagreeably flushed particularly after drinking his usual quantities of wine and brandy. Crimson blotches appeared on his hands. All this got worse over Christmas when he had to suffer the presence of his whole family. During that dreadful week he made copious use of wine and narcotics and when Pinfold caught sight of himself in a looking-glass, he took fright at the empurpled thing he saw there.
What he needed was a holiday in the sun. A cruise to Ceylon would give him an opportunity to finish his book but first a trip to the doctor who gave him pills for the rheumatic pains he was feeling in his joints, particularly in his feet, ankles and knees. The doctor also supplied a new sleeping draught in ignorance of the existence of the bromide-chloral which Pinfold was getting through an old prescription in London.
It's sometimes difficult to bear in mind that GIlbert Pinfold was only 50. The artist who produced the cover picture for the Penguin I read when in my teens can hardly be blamed for portraying GP as a very old man. This depiction of age means more to me now that I'm 57 than it did forty years ago when I first read the Penguin, so forgive the digression.
PInfold's wife was very concerned about her husband, but was too busy with her farming to accompany him abroad. She did go with him to the London station from where Pinfold got a train to Liverpool. He dropped his ticket and his sticks on the platform but eventually made it on board and then to the northern port. From the ship, SS Caliban, Pinfold sent a telegram home saying that he'd safely embarked. He was then shown to his cabin where he had great difficulty communicating with the black steward.
After sending a second reassuring telegram home with the help of the purser, Pinfold crept back to his cabin. There he took one of his rheumatic pills and a swig of his sleeping draught. 'Then, prayerless, he got himself to bed.'
Waugh's diary tells us that in January 1954, when he himself embarked on the equivalent cruise to Ceylon in the Staffordshire, his customary prayer was: 'Here I am again. Show me what to do. Help me to do it.'
Pinfold must have been in a pretty bad state not to have been able to mutter even that.
CHAPTER THREE: AN UNHAPPY SHIP
When PInfold woke the next day the ship was at sea. The ship's hooter advised him it was noon and the steward told him the sea was rough and that many passengers were sick. Pinfold drank a brandy and ginger-ale and before lunch talked to Glover, the manager of a tea plantation in Ceylon. Pinfold then had a glass of wine with his curry and retired to his cabin where he was puzzled by several noises. First, it was a jazz band, then a dog, and finally a religious service after which a clergyman tried to bully a boy called Billy into admitting he'd been having licentious thoughts. Pinfold found listening to the forced confession unbearable and so left his cabin again.
In the bar, sipping a cocktail, PInfold had a brief conversation with Glover who had the cabin next to Pinfold's. Glover denied having a gramophone or a dog and he had overheard no religious meeting. Puzzled PInfold returned to his room to change for dinner, finding the jazz music to be going full blast. At the captain's table, Pinfold found himself sitting next to a Mrs Scarfield who knew he was a writer. Pinfold deflected her literary overtures but embarrassed himself when the table's conversation turned to politics. After his wine he mixed brandy with creme de menthe but suspected the others were thinking that he had a drink problem. Getting up from the table, he initiated the following exchange with Glover:
"I don't know anything about politics."
"Tell them I don't know anything."
"He's just behind you over there."
"Oh well, it doesn't matter."
And Pinfold stumbled off to his room where he heard members of what was obviously a live jazz band talking to each other in between bouts of loud music. Pinfold emptied what was left of his sleeping draught down his throat and lapsed into unconsciousness.
I wonder if the following exchange about politics that took place in Frankly Speaking, swirling round the back of Waugh's mind for several months, might have led to the abject exchange above:
"Could you tell us, Mr Waugh, what your views are upon the contemporary tendencies in this country...For example, organised charity in the form of a welfare state."
"Well, I think that's a pure fraud. Both parties in parliament have to keep the fraud up as the means of vote-catching. And both parties jolly well know that it's no good."
"You think social services of one sort or another are genuinely popular but are a fraud."
"And yet you yourself believe in the family as a unit in society."
"But when the family becomes large into a nation then it's a fraud?"
"Well, you see there is a broad sense in which we are all brothers. In the same sense that I'm a brother of the pygmy in the Etoli Forest. And I'm a brother of the Russian in Moscow. In that sense we are all one family descended from Adam. But just because some wretched person has come and settled here in England I see no reason why I should have to be made to support them."
"But you say that you feel that the welfare state is a fraud. In what way?"
"Because it is promising what it can never do! It tries to promise, for example, security for old people. It tries to promise that lunatics will be segregated from sane people. It tries to promise that people will be healthier. And it tries to promise that they will be educated. In all these things it is noticeably and obviously failing."
"But I'm not sure that it does promise that, does it? It merely says that it will try and improve on the conditions in which the state didn't intervene at all."
It seems to me that the difference between this exchange and the capital punishment one I quoted earlier, is that Waugh is stating his real views. He's not deliberately exaggerating them for comic effect. And the result is not particularly edifying. The questioner was getting at the parallel between helping 'weaker' members of a family with helping 'weaker' members of a state. Waugh sidestepped that by invoking immigrants.
The next day Pinfold awoke before dawn. He heard every sound of a violent altercation on board. There was a great crash and he understood that someone had been badly hurt. Later, Pinfold heard the captain telling the crew that the injured sailor had been taken to hospital in England instead of going on to the 'filth of a Wog hospital' in Port Said. Waugh then heard a separate conversation between the captain and a cynical woman that showed the captain has been lying to the rest of the men. He was not acting in the crewman's interests at all.
With much to think about, Pinfold got up and went on deck. Nobody else seemed to be aware of the disturbance of the previous night. Instead he had to listen to a Norwegian woman alluding to his books by mentioning that the library had two of them in stock.
"I have taken one. It is called The Last Card.
"The Lost Chord, said Mr Pinfold.
(The Lost Child was a painting that Waugh owned, a smaller version of which he went to see at Birmingham Art Gallery in August 1955, between Waugh's trip to Ceylon and the writing up of Pinfold's identical trip.)
"Yes. It is a humorous book, yes?"
"Some people have suggested as much."
"I find it so. Is it not your suggestion also? I think you have a peculiar sense of humour, Mr Pinfold."
"That is what you are known for, yes, your peculiar sense of humour?"
"May I have it after you?" asked Mrs Scarfield. "Everyone says I have a peculiar sense of humour too."
"But not as peculiar as Mr Pinfold's."
Apparently upset by this conversation, Pinfold excused himself from the table, and made his way to his cabin where he lay down with a cigar. As Pinfold smoked, he heard two voices discussing his drink problem. The voices went quiet eventually but as Pinfold smoked the last inch of his cigar he realised he could hear what was going on in the captain's cabin. The captain and his cynical female sidekick, who Pinfold called Goneril, were in the process of torturing the wounded seaman from the earlier incident. Goneril accused the seaman of attempting a sexual offence against her and the captain intended to punish him for it. It seemed that the captain went too far and may even have killed the man. They took the body to the sick bay where a nurse called Margaret helped them. Margaret was sympathetic to the sailor's plight, which Pinfold was pleased to note.
Pinfold roused himself and went up on deck again, but there was no-one else about as it was half past three in the afternoon, always a quiet time on ship. Feeling better in himself, suddenly confident that he would be able to handle whatever difficult situation he'd stumbled across when the time was right, Pinfold walked round and round the decks.
For most of chapter three, the noises and voices PInfold could hear in his room were not directed at him. From this point on, Pinfold is targeted and he can increasingly hear them all over the ship, not just in his cabin. But let's continue to take the novella one step at a time.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE HOOLIGANS
That evening what he now thought of as a mysterious wireless effect in his cabin came to life. The BBC Third Programme had someone talking about literary matters. The presenter, a man whom PInfold knew, went on to criticise Pinfold's books in the most insulting way. When the program changed it was only for a female singer to croon:
'I'm Gilbert the filbert
The knut with the k
The pride of Piccadilly
The blasé roué.'
At dinner, Pinfold got some respite (and a pint of champagne) but on returning to his cabin to smoke he was disturbed by the conversation of two young men outside his room. They were talking about Pinfold in an exceptionally negative and aggressive way. One was called Fosker, a tall shabby young man who Pinfold had thought he'd noticed in the lounge after dinner. The other, the leader, was nameless and a voice only. rather a pleasant, well-bred voice for all its vile utterances. Among other things, they were accusing Pinfold of being queer and that he'd locked himself in his room through cowardice. PInfold went out on the deck to confront his tormentors, but there was no-one there - they must have given him the slip.
The father, sister and mother of the unnamed hooligan then turned up to give him advice. The sister, Margaret, was sympathetic to Pinfold but couldn't change her brother's mind about him. The elaborate farce went on until dawn.
In the morning, Pinfold heard that Margaret had left a present for him in his room. Returning to his cabin, he searched for it but found nothing. At breakfast, the voices emanated from the light that stood in the middle of the table. It was Fosker and the brother again, sober now, but both just as anti-Pinfold as before. They were itching to give Pinfold a thrashing. PInfold used the light as a transmitter to tell them to meet him in the lounge at 9.30am for a confrontation. They didn't turn up. Their voices told Pinfold that he would have to wait for his thrashing, wait until they were quite ready to hand it out.
Walking the decks, Pinfold heard the BBC again. This time the programme was about letter writing. The first letter chosen by the female presenter was by Gilbert Pinfold. Her co-presenter said something insulting about Pinfold which she joined in with gleefully. She couldn't read the handwriting on the letter, so she chose another, which was by... Gilbert Pinfold!
In a corner of the lounge, Gilbert heard the father giving advice to his son. The son must be careful because Pinfold was quite capable of going to the law. Otherwise, the father was supportive of his son's brutal intentions towards Pinfold and suggested that if he happened to come across Pinfold when the latter was on his own, he should give him a smack.
Noon. Pinfold noted that they'd rounded Cape St Vincent and were well on the way to Gibraltar and the Med. End of chapter four.
At this stage in Waugh's own cruise, he wrote to Laura that it was Feb 3rd and the ship was not yet in the Mediterranean. He told her that his nut was clearing but feeble. He wrote that it was obvious that he'd been cumulatively poisoning himself with chloral over the last six months. He reminded her that it was at the age of 50 that Rossetti's chloral-taking involved him in a suicide attempt, blindness and paralysis. Evelyn reckoned he would avoid all that. It's an affecting letter and it goes on to say:
'I find it hard to keep sentences connected even in a little letter like this. It is 3 nights now since I had the last dose of sleepers and have had little continuous sleep as a result... When I wake up which I do 20 or 30 times a night I always turn to the other bed and am wretched you aren't there and puzzled that you are not - odd since we usually have different rooms.'
The letter goes on to say that the ship was pretty empty and the passengers pleasant. The chief trouble was the noise in his cabin. All the pipes and shafts in the ship seemed to run through his room. He claimed that there were intermittent bits of BBC 3rd programme talks played in his cabin and that two had mentioned him faintly and that his persecution mania took it for other passengers whispering about him.
In the letter, Waugh uses the initials 'p.m.' instead of writing 'persecution mania' in full. This suggests that Laura would have known what her husband meant by the abbreviation. In other words, Evelyn's persecution mania must have been something they discussed so often that it literally didn't have to be spelled out.
In the introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Richard Jacobs tells the reader that Waugh had thought that a painting by Francis Bacon would make a suitable cover. Alas, Chapman and Hall did not follow this advice and went for a rather fuddy-duddy image of an old man leaning on sticks.
Evelyn thought this dull. As for his own preferred cover, he must have had in mind some Bacon painting from the 1940s or 50s. But Bacon went on to paint pictures possibly even more apposite and I'm going to use a few of those in this essay.
How about this one for Waugh bravely trying to write a letter to his wife as the ship rounds Cape St Vincent? The voices have stopped for the moment, but the black all around him, and especially the black shadow that Waugh casts on the carpet of his room - or on the deck, whichever it is - does not bode well.
Francis Bacon, Study for portrait, oil on canvas, 1977.
CHAPTER FIVE: THE INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT
Lying in his cabin after lunch, Pinfold heard two elderly generals discuss the difficult situation the ship was in. Spanish officials were on board insisting that the ship put into Algeciras for an examination of cargo and passengers. It was something to do with the Spanish having taken Gibraltar. How would the captain deal with the problem? Pinfold could hear every word in the captain's cabin and he was impressed with the man's resolve.
Towards the evening, Pinfold went on deck and gazed at the sea. He got a gin and bitters from the bar and took a seat in the corner of the lounge that he thought of as his listening post. He learned that the Spanish were really intent on kidnapping one of the passengers, a quiet man that ate on his own and who the captain explained to his crew was important to the British government. The captain had a plan to foil the Spaniards but was going to have to take half a dozen British passengers into his confidence in order to do it. Pinfold assumed he would be taken into the captain's confidence but there was no communication from him over dinner and he retired to his cabin disappointed.
In his cabin, Pinfold overheard that he was part of the plan. He was going to be disguised as the target passenger, a sacrifice to the greater good. Why Pinfold? Because he looked like the other man. Because he was ill and expendable. And because as a Roman Catholic he might manage better in Spain than most. Hearing all this, Pinfold sat paralysed with fear and horror.
Francis Bacon, Study for portrait, oil on canvas, 1977.
But thinking it over, Pinfold realised that he was going to co-operate, with one proviso. It must be made clear to all that he was volunteering his services as a man of honour and not being duped or under orders. Mrs Pinfold must be kept fully informed of the circumstances.
Francis Bacon, Study for portrait, oil on canvas, 1981.
Just before midnight there was a hail from the bridge. The Spanish ship was alongside and the Caliban was alive with voices. PInfold picked up his stick and made his way to tell the captain his terms.
Francis Bacon, Study from the Human Body, oil on canvas, 1981.
(I'm beginning to think that Francis Bacon heard about the near-commission and spent the rest of his working life trying to do justice to it.)
Outside his cabin the lighted corridor was empty and silent. There was no ship alongside or anywhere in sight. For an instant, PInfold feared for his sanity. Then, on hearing Goneril's laughter, he realised he had been a victim of a hoax perpetrated by the hooligans. That was something he could cope with. He might be unpopular. He might seem ridiculous. But he was not mad.
He returned to his cabin, realising he'd been awake for thirty or forty hours and that he was ready to fall asleep naturally. Six hours later, when he went on deck, the sun was up and the ship was steaming into the calm Mediterranean.
In chapter four, Pinfold was put under a lot of bullying pressure by two young hooligans. In chapter five, it was his sense of honour that was tested by the' international incident'. What else do the voices have in store?
CHAPTER SIX: THE HUMAN TOUCH
While shaving PInfold heard Margaret saying that she was glad that the joke had fallen flat. Her brother suggested that Pinfold had been 'jibbering with funk', while their mother suggested that he'd been drunk. Goneril cut in to suggest that Pinfold had been trying to screw up his courage to jump overboard.
Leaving the nagging voices behind, PInfold went on deck. His sleep had refreshed him. He was glad to be in the Mediterranean, 'which held all the world's history and half the happiest memories of his own life; of work and rest and battle and aesthetic adventure and young love.'
Francis Bacon, Sand Dune, oil on canvas, 1981.
But as he walked the decks he realised that the other passengers were talking about him, loudly and unashamedly, and not in praise. Again he was described as a homosexual, not of the dressy kind but as a 'butch'. The insults rained down on him. That he was impotent. That he had ideas about himself well above his station. That he was drunk. One passenger suggested they set up a petition demanding that Pinfold be excluded from dining at the captain's table.
Pinfold stayed on deck to show that he wasn't phased by any of this, but he was glad to escape to his cabin in due course. There, Margaret engaged him in conversation, lamenting that he hadn't talked to her on deck. At her suggestion he had his hair cut and then she prattled on to him in an admiring and gentle way all afternoon and evening.
Pinfold didn't dress for dinner or dine. He got into bed and slept until he was awakened by Margaret's mother. She urged Pinfold - despite her daughter's protests - to tell Margaret that he loved her. How could Pinfold do that when he hadn't even met her? The conversation went on until PInfold finished it with an impatient 'Oh, shut up, you old bitch.'
This brought Margaret's father into the scene. He admired Pinfold's pluck and persuaded Margaret to go to her room and get ready to visit PInfold's cabin, the suggestion being that Pinfold would have her. Pinfold wasn't sure how he felt about this but did tidy his room in preparation for her arrival. More words from the mother and father, urging their daughter to love and be loved. However, Margaret delayed:
"Gilbert. Gilbert. Do you want me? Really and truly."
"Yes, of course. Come along."
"Say something sweet to me."
"I'll be sweet enough when you get here."
"Come and fetch me."
"Where are you?"
"Here just outside your cabin."
"Well, come along in. I've left the door open."
"I can't. I can't. You've got to come and fetch me."
"Oh, don't be such a little ass. I've been sitting here for goodness knows how long. Come in if you're coming. if you're not, I want to go back to bed."
This is more like a father talking to his child than an older man and his would-be lover. And there may be something in this. To Evelyn Waugh at this stage in his life, the name Margaret would principally have conjured up his second daughter. Margaret was his favourite child, and in a letter to Ann Fleming in September 1952, he wrote: 'My sexual passion for my ten-year-old daughter is obsessive... I can't keep my hands off her.'
That was a year or two before his ordeal by cruise ship. In May 1954 (a month or two after the cruise) Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford: 'My unhealthy affection for my second daughter has waned.'
I'm sure these comments can't be taken at face value. But Waugh is perhaps admitting to complex feelings for his daughter and it seems he was unable to resist using The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold to explore them. I mean the book would have been a less interesting object without this layer.
In addition, one gets the feeling that Margaret's father and mother pairing can be read as Evelyn and Laura. One part of Evelyn, aided by his wife, urging another part of himself to sleep with their daughter, his favourite child.
To justify this assertion we need to look at an important passage in chapter one, 'Portrait of the artist in middle-age'. We are told how Waugh (sorry, Pinfold) developed from a sensitive, fastidious boy to an over-rewarded, still diffident young man. To protect his sensitive side, PInfold had gradually assumed a character of burlesque, a combination of testy colonel and eccentric don. When he ceased to be alone in his library, when he entered his club or walked up the nursery stairs to see his children, he left half of himself behind (the sensitive side) and the other half (bluff old soldier) swelled to fill its place.
Here's a few quotes from chapter seven which seem to fit this scenario: Waugh/Pinfold as testy old colonel, the father of Margaret, a child he loves deeply but can only express his love coarsely and obliquely.
"Oh, my darling, my own. You're so young. Are you quite sure you love him? You can always turn back. It's not too late. I shall never see you again as I'm seeing you now, my innocent daughter."
And shortly after:
"That's my beauty. Go and take what's coming to you. LIsten, my Peg. You know what you're in for, don't you?"
Three times in the book, Waugh shortens Margaret's name to Meg, the name he regularly called his daughter. And three times to Peg, though it was Pig he often referred to his actual daughter as.
"It's always a surprise. You may think you know it all on paper, but like everything else in life it's never quite what you expect when it comes to action. There's no going back now. Come and see me when it's all over. I'll be waiting up to hear the report. In you go, bless you.'
And after Margaret had burst out weeping:
"What the hell's going on? You ought to be in position by now. Haven't had a Sitrep. Isn't the girl over the Start LIne?"
Yes, on hearing impatient words from Pinfold (Lover-Evelyn), Margaret had begun to weep. Her father (Papa-Evelyn) admonished Pinfold, urging him to track her down and to lure her to his cabin. Pinfold went in search but couldn't find her. Wearily he returned to bed.
Final joke of the chapter. PInfold was lying in bed in his pyjamas with the blankets pulled up to his chin. He heard a scurrying sound in his room. Before he could open his eyes Margaret was wailing to her parents: "I did go to him. I did. I did. I did. And when I got there he was lying in the dark snoring."
Well, no, the final joke of the chapter is the character Goneril's. She declared that Pinfold was shamming because he knew he wasn't up to it. That he was impotent.
I'm wrong again, the last joke of the chapter is Evelyn Waugh's, again at Pinfold's expense, when he has Pinfold say into the darkness of his lonely room that it hadn't been him snoring, but Glover in the next cabin.
Poor old Pinfold.
Poor old Evelyn. Having left his better half in the library at Piers Court. Having let his belligerent, ridiculous, funny, very-funny-but-completely-bonkers half take over.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE VILLAINS UNMASKED - BUT NOT FOILED
The next morning, Pinfold woke to hear his own telegram messages being read aloud for the amusement of the ship's passengers. Emboldened by the knowledge that his persecutors had stepped outside the law, Pinfold went in search of the ship's captain.
The conversation did not go well for Pinfold. The captain took him to the wireless room where it was shown that Pinfold had only sent one innocuous telegram since coming on board. Changing tack, Pinfold complained to the captain about the behaviour of a family of four. Together, they looked through the list of passengers, the captain noting that there was only one family on board, the Angels, and that he didn't think they were the kind to make elaborate practical jokes. The interview ended with Pinfold feebly asking to be excused from further attendance at the captain's table for meals.
On his own, the voices - of Margaret and her brother - were soon at it again.
At noon, drinking his cocktail in the lounge, Pinfold had a breakthrough. He remembered that Angel had been the name of the man who'd interviewed him for the BBC. He possessed the technical skill to use the defects of the Caliban's communication system for his own ends. In this case the persecution of Pinfold. So was Goneril his colleague? There was much that Pinfold still had to work out but he was confident he'd made the fundamental breakthrough.
With the agreement of the captain, Pinfold had changed cabin, but he now found that Angel was just as capable of communicating to him there. Indeed in the following days, wherever Pinfold was in the ship he could hear everything that was said in Angel's mobile HQ.
The tormenting voices of two older men (the generals of earlier in the voyage) subjected Pinfold to a kind of radio interview/interrogation. They wanted to know where he'd been in January 1929. They had a letter from Pinfold written in a Cairo hotel in 1929. Had Pinfold been in Egypt in 1929? Pinfold confirmed that he had been travelling there. "What were you doing in Egypt in 1929?" was asked again, with sinister overtones.
Of course, what Evelyn Waugh had been doing in Egypt in 1929 was attending the bedside of his first wife, She-Evelyn, who'd been very ill. And when not at her side at Port Said hospital he'd been doing some exploring with Alastair Graham, who he'd persuaded to come over and help out from Athens. This exploration involved a tour of Port Said's red-light district. Egypt, 1929, was a mental and moral minefield for Waugh/Pinfold and it's hardly surprising that his sub-conscious would work on it.
The nearest thing to it in the radio interview for Frankly Speaking is when Waugh is asked about his war experience. His interrogators ask if he saw any action. Waugh replies that he was shot at a few times but never shot at anyone.
"Were you afraid?"
"Did you expect to be afraid?"
Pointless asking Waugh about his war experiences, he had nothing to be ashamed of there. Waugh himself knew where his 'weak' spots were as might anyone who'd read his diary. At the end of December 1925, following his first term's teaching at Aston Clinton, 22-year-old Waugh went to Paris with an old Oxford pal, Bill Silk. At a gay club, a 19-year-old boy dressed as an Egyptian woman sat down beside Evelyn, admired his check trousers and started to kiss him. Later Waugh arranged a tableau whereby this boy was to be enjoyed by a large negro, but just as the boy was lying waiting for the negro's advances, the price proved prohibitive. Waugh left Bill to it, and took a taxi home to bed in chastity.
Interviewer: "You are in favour of male brothels?"
EW: "For an enormous number of my Oxford generation, yes."
Interviewer: "And you yourself would be prepared to go to one?"
EW: "Do you mean, actually pay to have sex with a boy?"
EW: "I should think it very odd behaviour for a happily married man."
Interviewer: "Supposing an old friend with such tastes was prepared to subsidise you for the night, would you go along with him?"
EW: "Well, certainly."
Interviewer: "You would?"
Interviewer: "Is this what happened when you were with Alastair in Egypt in 1929, Mr Waugh?"
Interviewer: "While your first wife lay close to death in a Port Said hospital of dubious hygiene?"
I think now is the time to use an unembellished Head VI, the famous image of Francis Bacon's often known as the screaming Pope.
Francis Bacon, Head VI, oil on canvas, 1949.
It was exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in 1949 and (as Richard Jacobs points out) might well have been what Waugh was referring to when he suggested using one of Bacon's 'existing horrors' for the cover of GIlbert PInfold. The figure both suggests the interviewer's aggressive voice coming out of a box - the radio - and the suffering of a man imprisoned by his own self-accusing thoughts.
At night, Pinfold lay down expecting little rest, as Angel had in his HQ an electric instrument which showed Pinfold's precise state of consciousness.
Francis Bacon, Figure in Movement, oil on canvas, 1976.
In the night, Pinfold disclosed for the first time that he knew Angel's identity. This brought an immediate aggressive response, confirming Pinfold's deduction.
The next day Pinfold wrote a long letter to his wife saying that he was going to get off the Caliban at Port Said and finish his journey to Ceylon by plane. (An eerie echo of the Evelyns' getting off the Stella Polaris at Port Said in 1929.) He told her about Angel and what he called his 'Box' and the psycho-analysis that had been going on. Pinfold admitted that what he was writing sounded absurd, and that there was still much he didn't understand about the whole business. But by leaving the ship he would save himself much torment.
Waugh's equivalent to this letter was sent from Cairo. It refers to two letters from Laura that he picked up in Port Said and which he says he was so happy to receive. He writes that her prayers have been a great help to him in difficult times. He tells her that he has left the ship (at Port Said, like Pinfold) and that he is waiting for a plane to take him to Columbo. He repeatedly uses the word telepathy in reference to the torments he's suffered. He admits that it sounds like acute persecution mania (again he abbreviates to p.m.) but assures her it is real and true. 'A trick the existentialists invented - half-mesmerism - which is most alarming when applied without warning to a sick man.'
Meanwhile, the battle went on. Pinfold was obliged to listen to everything that Angel and co. said. While every thought that took verbal shape in Pinfold's mind was audible in Angel's HQ. Pinfold got the upper hand at times by reading a copy of Westward Ho for hours on end. 'Gilbert, for God's sake stop' was Angel's request at one point.
At Port Said, Pinfold disembarked and posted the letter to his wife. He then travelled by road to Cairo feeling ecstatic that he had escaped the ship. At dinner he was having a conversation about a mutual acquaintance when a familiar voice chipped in claiming that Pinfold was a liar and a snob. Goneril went on to say: "You only pretend to know him because he's a lord."
CHAPTER EIGHT: PINFOLD REGAINED
Pinfold arrived at Colombo three days later, still being pursued by the voices. Through discussion with Margaret, Pinfold had established that there were just three of them: Margaret, her brother Angel and her sister-in-law, the woman that Pinfold knew as Goneril. What about Margaret's parents? What about the generals? Margaret explained that her brother was very good at imitations which was how he'd first got taken on by the BBC.
Waugh says just enough here to implicate another threesome (the first threesome being Stephen Black and his two colleagues who interviewed him twice for Frankly Speaking, as explored above), that is his three oldest children: Teresa, Bron and Margaret. So the very three individuals who'd had their bananas scoffed by Evelyn in January 1946 got their revenge (at least in Waugh's self-punishing mind) eight years later, did they? Well, let's see...
First, Teresa. Waugh wrote the opening of Gilbert Pinfold in Folkestone in January 1955. He returned to the book in September 1956 and that's when the persecution scenes on ship were written. In February 1956, Waugh had been to see KIng Lear. Now Goneril is Lear's eldest daughter and she has no reservations about seeing him go homeless after he's given her half his estate. Throughout much of 1956, Waugh was paying for the coming out year of Teresa, his own eldest daughter. There is much talk of dinner parties at Piers Court and balls in London. On 28 September, Waugh wrote in his diary: 'The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold progresses. A bill of a further £250 for Teresa'a ball was a crippling blow.'
Second, Bron. 1955 was the summer Bron got into trouble for being drunk while having with him a bottle of gin stolen from Piers Court. Later in 1955 Bron wrote a long letter to Evelyn describing his glee ('the Great Fire was immense fun') the night that part of his school burnt down ('The whole of the prefabricated area of the school - about 2 acres, is now a pile of rubble with twisted bed frames here and there. The fire was definitely a good thing.')Diary entries for 1956 show Evelyn Waugh being concerned about his son's personality. Waugh even re-read his own Lancing diaries to try to get onto Bron's wavelength but usually seems to have been very relieved when his son left Piers Court at the end of the holidays.
The second hooligan was called Fosker. Presumably, his voice was produced by Angel/Bron. The name Fosker is no doubt significant but I can't decode it.
Third, Margaret. Well, I've already discussed both Waugh's attraction to his daughter and his intense liking of her in the context of Gilbert Pinfold. But I should add that on Waugh's 52nd birthday in October 1955, he received nothing from Teresa or Bron, whereas he received a collection of coloured inks from Margaret, which he reckoned would have taken all her pocket money. Pinfold's searching of his cabin for a present that Margaret said she had left him in chapter four may be a comic referencing of this.
So on one level, Waugh/Pinfold was being persecuted by his own children. Does that ring true? I'm not saying Waugh despised and feared Teresa in the way that Lear did Goneril, of course not. Waugh loved all his children, in his own way. But he took essences of irritation and impatience and magnified these and subjected them to a black sense of humour. And it may not have been all under his control. Perhaps Waugh's own persecution, the voices in his head, were the payback, not just for the Waugh family banana outrage, but for all the brushing off of his children at Piers Court, especially when they were infants. By insisting that his children stay out of the library while he was working, indeed for all the time he was in there, he was asking for them to take revenge by creeping into an even more personal space.
Mark Gerson, Evelyn Waugh with his family (detail, showing Margaret, Evelyn, Bron and Teresa), 1959.
Bron and Teresa do look a bit sinister in the above pic. Let's test out some of the lines from 'The Hooligans' chapter:
Bron: "We'd better wait til he goes to sleep."
Teresa: "Then we'll pounce."
Margaret: "He doesn't seem very sleepy."
Bron: "Let's get the girls to sing him to sleep. Come on Margaret, give Gilbert a song."
Margaret: "Aren't you being rather beastly?"
Bron: "No, of course not. It's all a joke. Gilbert's a sport. Gilbert's enjoying it as much as we are. He often did this sort of thing when he was our age - singing ridiculous songs outside men's rooms at Oxford. He made a row outside the Dean's room. That's why he got sent down. He accused the Dean of the most disgusting practices. It was all a great joke."
Was Waugh aware of this interpretation of what was going on in Gilbert Pinfold? Of course he was. The naming of Margaret is just as deliberate and significant an act of labelling as that of Pinfold and Lychpole. And the Lear referencing too pinpoints Waugh's familial intent.
However, I'm not aware of other commentators having discussed this dimension of the work, so it can't be obvious. Only from the angle that I'm approaching Waugh's work it does seem obvious! Either that or I'm deluding myself, in classic Pinfold-style.
Voice 1: "Shame on you, McLaren."
Voice 2: "Go and chuck yourself overboard."
Voice 3: "Good riddance to self-opinionated rubbish."
Francis Bacon, Seated Figure, oil on canvas, 1974.
From Columbo, Pinfold wrote again to his wife. The letter said that the psycho-analysts and their infernal box could still get at him though there was the whole of India between him and them. (Margaret had told Pinfold that they got off the ship at Aden.) In the equivalent letter from Evelyn to Laura he wrote: 'I hoped that they would lose this art after I went ashore but the artful creatures can communicate from many hundreds of miles away.'
The letters go on in parallel.
Pinfold: 'I think it might be worth consulting Father Westmacott when I get back.'
Waugh: 'No doubt I shall be able to find some rival telepathist who will teach me how to ward these people off.'
In Columbo, Waugh hooked up with an American, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, called Monroe Wheeler. They went off together for a few days looking at ruins. In the novel, Pinfold also met an American, a New York art collector and visited ruins. Later, when Pinfold was sitting alone in his room, the voices broke through again: 'You've never stayed at Rhinebeck. You've never heard of Magnasco. You don't know Osbert Sitwell.' Clearly these - a village in New York state, an Italian painter from the eighteenth century and a contemporary English man of letters - had come up in conversation between Waugh and his cultured American acquaintance. And Pinfold's response to the bullying voice? The complacent "Oh God, how you bore me."
From then on the Angels were on the back foot. Angel himself was desperate for Pinfold not to tell the BBC what he'd done. He made a proposition, that If PInfold said nothing to his employers, then they would leave him alone for ever. Pinfold told them he would think about it and let them know when he got to London.
The answer was no deal. Angel was livid. Margaret was sad.
Pinfold's wife was already at the hotel when Pinfold arrived. (In reality it was, of course, the Hyde Park Hotel where Waugh met Laura after returning from Columbo via Bombay, Karachi and Rome.)
As the Pinfolds talked, the voices hectored Pinfold: 'How you hate her, Gilbert! How she bores you!'
Mrs Pinfold told GIlbert that enquiries had been made of Angel. He had been in the UK throughout the cruise. Pinfold used the telephone in order to make his own enquiry and received the same information. Pinfold took this to mean that the operation had been worked from England. Mrs Pinfold scoffed at this and told Pinfold that he'd been imagining it all, as simple as that. She'd talked to Father Westmacott and there wasn't any such Box as he'd described in his letter to her. At first Pinfold could hardly believe that everything he'd heard might have emanated from his own self-hating mind. But within a very short time he did believe it.
A third revelation then. The first revelation had been Pinfold's, that it was the radio people that had been behind everything. The second revelation Waugh had kept from Pinfold's conscious mind, that it had been his children who'd set everything up. This third had been granted to Pinfold courtesy of his wife - that waking up from a dream moment. And this breakthrough was the significant one. Almost straight away, the voices faded to nothing. Margaret's voice was the last to go, her final words: 'Goodbye... Love...'
Back at Piers Court, Pinfold's doctor confirmed that mixing the rheumatic pill with the bromide and chloral mixture could have produced the hallucinations. That things should settle down now that Pinfold had finished the sleeping draught mixture and did not intend to consume more.
And so PInfold went back into his library ready to write up his ordeal. Actually, Waugh returned to the manuscript of Officers and Gentlemen, finishing that off in 1954 before beginning Gilbert Pinfold in January, 1955.
In his post-war time at Piers Court, Waugh wrote no travel books as such, but three novels based on his experiences abroad. As follows: Scott King's Modern Europe. Following a trip with Douglas Woodruff to Spain to celebrate the anniversary of the death of a Sixteenth century Spanish theologian. Key-word: dimness. The Loved One. Following a holiday with Laura in Hollywood, where Waugh became fascinated by American funeral customs. Key-theme: the obscenity of the American way of death. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Following the cruise to Port Said and the flight from there to Ceylon, by far the most personal effort of the three. Key abbreviation: p.m.
As well as those, he wrote two of the three volumes of Sword of Honour, all the travel for which he'd done in 1939-1942. And he wrote Love Among the Ruins, which is described here.
What Waugh didn't write (and never wrote) was the book of Piers Court. I mean a book reflecting his time at Piers Court just as Brideshead is the book of his Barford, Oxford and Madresfield periods. And the war trilogy is the book(s) of his World War Two. In a way, as a poor substitute, I'm writing a 'book' that describes his time at PIers Court. Because with this eleventh essay, the word count in this part of the website alone is up to 70,000. Which is to say, longer already than Scott-King, The Loved One or Gilbert Pinfold. Words aren't everything, of course. They have to be combined in a way that, ultimately, enchants, which is far easier said than done. Hence all the fuss about Brideshead.
Ah, well, back to Piers Court once more. This time to see how Evelyn Waugh is 'at home' in the summer following the second near-disastrous cruise of his life. I'm talking about 'A Weekend with Waugh' which you're cordially invited to read as soon as it's written. Meanwhile, let's end this illustrated essay with an everyday scene at Piers Court:
EW to LW: "Darling, is it my p.m. coming on again or are you making an arrangement to fuck with Prewitt?"
LW to head gardener: "God, how he bores me."