EVIL EV v SEXY CEC
At the beginning of April, 1955, Diana Cooper invited Evelyn to stay with her in Chantilly, north France, the invite being for the Sunday after Easter. She told him that a mutual friend, Ann Fleming, would be there, and that Evelyn could perhaps stay on a little for a jaunt to 'some monument or pleasure-dome'. The house, Le Chateau de Saint-Firmin, is in the grounds of Chateau de Chantilly and I doubt if Evelyn would have needed much greater incentive to forsake Piers Court over the Easter holidays - when his children would have been around - other than the knowledge he'd be spending the time in such glamorous surroundings with a woman he adored. Alas for Evelyn's peace of mind, Cecil Beaton would be part of the party. But I'll get into that further down this page.
Who was Diana Cooper? Evelyn first met her in 1932 when she was starring in a new run of The Miracle, which was also when Cecil Beaton first photographed the actress. Diana stayed friends with both all their lives, which couldn't have been easy given Evelyn's character and the fact that Evelyn and Cecil despised each other.
Diana was ten years older than Evelyn, and in 1955 she'd been a widow for over a year, her beloved husband, Duff Cooper having died suddenly. He'd been a powerful statesman - MInister for Information during the war, then British Ambassador in Paris until 1946 - and Diana had put up with his numerous affairs. By 1955 Diana looked something like this.
Diana, Viscountess Norwich (Lady Diana Cooper)by Elliott & Fry, half-plate negative, October 1958 . Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
As we know from the last page, Evelyn had already spent a few weeks abroad that year. In February he'd been to Jamaica to stay with Ann Fleming. The house was called Goldeneye and Ann's husband, Ian, was well into his sequence of James Bond novels. In the picture below, Evelyn, Ann and Ian are seen in the drawing room at Saint-Firmin.
Group at Chantilly, by Cecil Beaton, 1955. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
It looks as if they're all missing the sunshine, the transparent sea and the humming birds. The last time the Flemings saw Evelyn he was wearing blue silk pyjamas! Don't worry, guys, things will hot up here in Saint-Firmin.
The above photo is by Cecil Beaton and so is the one below, which shows Evelyn in much the same position, having been joined by Diana Cooper (seated). Actually, Evelyn is looking towards the camera with a wary expression. Cecil Beaton was becoming one of the world's best known society photographers but Waugh, as I've already alluded to, neither liked nor trusted him.
Group at Chantilly, Evelyn Waugh, Diana Cooper and Judy Montagu, by Cecil Beaton, 1955. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
Evelyn had to put up with Cecil though, because Beaton was intimate with many of Waugh's best friends. To illustrate just how well-connected Cecil was with Evelyn's pals, I'm going to include photos of Evelyn's top three female correspondents in multiple pictures taken by Cecil Beaton. First, Ann Fleming, who in the images below is being painted by Lucien Freud:
Lucien Freud, Ann Fleming, Cecil Beaton, contact sheet, October 1950. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
There were four letters from Ann Fleming to Evelyn Waugh in 1955 and five from Evelyn to Ann. But let's up the ante by turning to Nancy Mitford. Here she is as captured by the lens of saucy Cecil.
Nancy Mitford, by Cecil Beaton, contact sheet. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
Cecil was a stage designer and draughtsman as well as a photographer. He designed covers for several of Nancy Mitford's works. Indeed, when Waugh received a copy of Madame de Pompadour in 1954, he was moved to write to Nancy in an otherwise admiring letter: 'Beaton's drawings always give me goose flesh but the wrapper is easily disposed of.'
Nancy wrote to Evelyn 16 times in 1955 and received 11 letters from Piers Court in return. Many of those letters were in July and concern something that happened at Piers Court, an incident about which I too am going to write at length on the next page. As for Diana herself...
Diana, Countess Norwich (Lady Diana Cooper), by Cecil Beaton, bromide print, 1930. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
In 1955 Diana wrote to Evelyn six times (it looks as if Cecil has captured Diana just after she's released the carrier pigeons...) and got as many as 15 letters in return. One might think that Evelyn didn't do much writing other than to lady friends that year. In fact, he was working on the Gilbert Pinfold manuscript.
Back to the drawing room at Chantilly. Let's speculate that one of the reasons that Evelyn is looking with furtive dislike towards Cecil Beaton, is because he's found a copy of his least favourite book in Diana Cooper's library and has been flicking through the volume, now surreptitiously tucked away between himself and the side of the chair.
The book in question, Time Exposure, is by two of those people he called 'the fuddy-duddies'; text by Peter Quennell, photos by Cecil Beaton. Here is the wrapper that Evelyn is itching to bin. Or to burn a hole in...
The book, first published in 1941 and expanded and reissued in 1946, is full of photos by Cecil Beaton, many of which first appeared in Vogue. None are of Evelyn Waugh, but Peter Quennell's text contrives to comment on Waugh's career for a full two pages, lamenting the move from satirical author to what he calls the sentimental supporter of the upper classes and of the Catholic Church.
Why did Evelyn go to a house which he knew might include Cecil Beaton and Peter Quennell as fellow guests? In the thank-you letter he wrote to Diana when he got back to Piers Court, he made clear that his chief pleasure had been the hours spent alone with Diana: her kindness to his story telling, her tremendous indiscretions about their friends.
Evelyn really did have a soft spot for Diana. He'd been most anxious that she visit him at Piers Court. Such a visit was arranged in September 1951. Evelyn sent her careful directions written in big letters ('Big writing for Baby's big dim eyes.') In the aftermath of the visit, Diana wrote in her breathless style: 'I adored the visit – including organ, ivy resistance – the silver fruit tantalus and the wallpaper Betjeman bought and funked – love to Laura – thanks for lovely meal, come back to Chant.'
To which Evelyn's reply was that her kingfisher flash had brought him joy. He urged her to come again when the sun was shining and she had time to look at some books.
In February 1953 there was another brief meeting, this time in London. After it, Evelyn wrote, wondering if their shared evening had been hell. He'd got pissed that day, for which he was sorry and ashamed. He had no idea what they had talked about. All he could remember was a candle-lit upper room somewhere and then arriving back at the Hyde Park Hotel in the middle of a Caledonian Ball with pipers in the lift and Diana telephoning his room and Evelyn thinking it was the pipers. He'd had so many things to tell her as well. Oh dear, oh dear.
Diana had written back from Saint Firmin. She'd thought their dinner delightful. Evelyn had been 'tremendously foxed' at Time and Life and Diana had feared for their evening together. But a docile Evelyn had allowed himself to be led to Wheeler's, where he'd quietly ordered a sole pavé and a bottle of Traminer. The meal had sobered up Evelyn, but alas Diana couldn't remember what they'd talked about either. As ever, things were in one ear and out the other with her. During the meal Diana had cried only once, she reported, when Evelyn had told her how many people, dead and alive, were praying for her.
After the meal, Waugh had suggested, apparently without much enthusiasm, having a bottle of pop at the Hyde Park. But Diana didn't like the atmosphere of respectable gloom - as of a cruise ship - and so declined the invitation. However, she'd phoned Evelyn in his rooms and had received a sharp: "These are Mr Waugh's apartments," and an instruction to "Hang up", said so viciously that Diana had laughed. Ten minutes later, pride successfully swallowed, she'd tried again, only to get, "Put me immediately onto the manager". "It's only BABY," Diana had whined and pleasant good nights had been at last exchanged.
There was a longer meeting at Chantilly in April 1953. In fact, Waugh was there for a period lasting nine days and experienced outbursts of rage and hate from Duff Cooper. Subsequently, there was an exchange of letters between Waugh and Duff, the gist of which was that Duff resented being told that Waugh had never been able to stand him. Or at least had only put up with his company in order to enjoy the company of his wife. However, the quarrel was patched up after a month or two. Just as well, because Duff Cooper died suddenly on New Years Day, 1954.
In May of 1954 there was a moving exchange of letters between Diana and Evelyn. She wrote to him saying that she suspected he'd never known real grief. In fact, she wasn't sure that Evelyn knew human love in the way she did. Evelyn had faith and mysticism - intense inner interests - a diverting, virile mind - gusto for vengeance and destruction if necessary, a fancy - a gospel. But what Evelyn couldn't imagine was a creature with a certain iridescent aura and nothing within but a beating frightened heart built round and for Duff.
She went on to say that the instinct that Evelyn called false: 'to keep life as it was', was to her protective against madness and despair. Diana had had a lot of solitude since January, thank-you very much. Her 'reflection' in this period had been morbid, unedifying, vain and dangerous unless made healthy by the company of friends.
Diana had summed up by saying that one survives as best one can - either by spiritual ways or worldly ones. Her way had always been friends and distraction, a strategy that she knew Evelyn condemned.
Evelyn's reply has to be quoted verbatim. 'Written in heart's blood. O Darling, O God, what a shit I am! How I don't want ever to hurt you! I am an insensitive lout. Please forgive me. Of course I have never experienced real grief or pain or for that matter 'panics or night sweats'. I am irritable and melancholy but a dull clod and I can't sympathise with high delicate creatures like you.'
I think perhaps Evelyn is forgetting his experiences in the jungle. Forgetting too, the grief for his dead marriage that sent him to the other side of the world, but no matter. Let's take Evelyn out of the drawing room and onto the terrace where a party of guests has gathered at the Chateau de Saint-Firmin..
The photo below shows Evelyn on the terrace wearing a hat of Diana Cooper's. Remembering Lord Brownlow's hat and Jamaica, borrowing hats when staying with other people was clearly a habit of Evelyn's. Oh, and Diana's sunglasses as well.
Before getting to the heart of Waugh's interaction with Beaton at Chantilly in 1955, Let me go back to 1934, when both Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton would visit Lady Diana and Duff Cooper at their holiday house in Bognor Regis on the south coast of England. I've been to that house while researching Evelyn!, because it's where Waugh wrote NInety-two Days after getting back from his heart-broken, hair-raising adventures in the Amazon rainforest.
Here is the house as painted by Rex Whistler, an intimate of Cecil Beaton.
Rex Whistler was not as conservative an artist as the above scene might suggest. He was as avant garde as they come, and that's him in the photo below, second from the right, beside Cecil Beaton, on the far right:
At Wilton House. By Cecil Beaton, 1927. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
Below is Evelyn having a drink on the lawn at Bognor Regis. I don't think the photograph was by Cecil Beaton, but from the disapproving look in Waugh's eye it might have been.
What is Evelyn saying?
"Go on, Beaton, stick your lens up the cow's arse. You know you want to."
The above photo indeed shows Cecil Beaton in the process of photographing a cow being milked by Diana Cooper. For below is the resulting photo that Beaton took.
Diana, Viscountess Norwich (Lady Diana Cooper), by Cecil Beaton, bromide print, 1941. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
What justifies my making the cow's arse remark? If anything does, it's that which crops up in the Selina Hastings biography of EW. At a party of Ann Rothermere’s (so this would have been before she became Ann Fleming in 1952) Ann reported to a friend how rude Evelyn Waugh had been to everyone. When Cecil Beaton came up to him, Waugh exclaimed: ‘Here’s someone who can tell us all about buggery.' That night, Evelyn was carried into a taxi at 3 o’clock in the morning. 'Good-night, sweet prince,' I can see the rest of the party saying facetiously, and waving ironically, as the taxi slipped off into the night with its precious cargo.
In a letter to Diana written in June 1934, Waugh wrote: 'I think it was wrong of me to get as drunk as I did in your house last week. It did not in any way diminish the delight I always have in staying at Bognor but I think it may have added to the distress of having me as a guest. Talk it over with Beaton and I’m sure he will sympathise.'
Waugh doesn't sound too sorry about his behaviour, does he?
Before getting back to Chantilly in 1955, I'll just go a little further back in time, to when Beaton and Waugh first encountered each other as adults. In May 1930, Waugh's diary mentions going to Cecil Beaton's for a cocktail party. Actually, Waugh already knew of Cecil Beaton by then. The photographer in Decline and Fall, David Lennox, who takes a photograph of the back of Margot Beste-Chetwynde's head, does so because Cecil Beaton had taken a well-known photograph of Margot, Lady Oxford, from the same angle.
In 1930, Waugh and Beaton were obviously talking to each other, because Waugh wrote in his diary in June 1930 that Cecil Beaton had told him that a journalist called Gilbert Frankau had written an attack on both of them.
And in July 1931, Beaton invited Waugh to Ashcombe House, the grand home in Wiltshire that Beaton leased from 1930 to 1947. I only know about that from matching up a single line in a Waugh letter with two photographs that were taken the same day, one of them identifiably at Ashcombe House.
Here is Evelyn Waugh, on the left, with three other guests, named in the caption.
Evelyn Waugh, Sibyl Colefax, Phyllis de Janze and Oliver Messel. By Cecil Beaton, 1931. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
Therefore, the picture below is clearly of Evelyn (same jacket, same tie, same haircut) at Ashcombe House, guest of Ceil Beaton. Evelyn in his 27-year old prime. He had just written up his African trip as a travel book and was getting ready to write Black Mischief at, amongst other places, Madresfield, with the Lygon set he was truly chums with.
Evelyn Waugh. By Cecil Beaton, 1931. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
Great photo; nice one, Cecil.
So Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton were friends for a while? Cecil Beaton also kept a diary. And in a volume published in 1973 (after Waugh's death), he wrote:
'In our way we were both snobs, and no snob welcomes another who has risen with him. My particular snobbery was more in the nature of wanting to become part of the world of the culturi. I was magnetised towards the Sitwells, Gerald Berners, Lady Ottoline Morrell and certain of the Bloomsbury set. Evelyn was attracted by the foibles of those who lived in large aristocratic houses. He cultivated the Lygons at Madresfield, got elected to the best clubs, and fostered a fascination for the highest echelons of the army and military etiquette.'
Oh, come on Cecil. There's not really a distinction between the culturi and the country house set. Art and literature was a class thing in these days. They all wrote books. So get back on track...
'We seemed to have certain friends in common and, since we met quite often, it was expedient to put the old hatchet away. Evelyn seemed to find me amusing, laughed full-bellied at my jokes, while I found his observations about people and general perspicacity quite wonderful. His novels were written in a prose of which I was never tired. Ostensibly we were friends, Evelyn sent me inscribed messages of goodwill on the front pages of his latest works. But I was always aware that I must not let him find a chink in my armour.'
As it happens, those diary entries were written in April 1955, when Cecil was at Chantilly with Diana. The entry begins:
'Evelyn has arrived for a few days. Diana admires him immoderately. She is a true friend of his, though I cannot imagine how she, the most straightforward, unpretentious person, puts up with Evelyn's snobbery. When I criticize Evelyn - whom I find intolerable - Diana defends him, but admits she can't bear his 'showing off', being so boringly pompous and pretending to be deaf.'
Later in the entry Cecil writes: 'As fellow guests of Duff and Diana at Chantilly, we played a subtle game of cat and mouse.' This suggests that the diaries were rewritten for publication as Duff was dead by the time of the 1955 visit. In fact, I've read that CB used a ghost writer to turn his diary entries into the elegantly phrased volumes that were published. EW's diaries are, in contrast, the real deal.
But Waugh wasn't keeping a diary in 1955, so let's return to the cat and mouse game that Beaton mentioned.
'I flattered Evelyn by taking him around the precincts and photographing him in every conceivable posture. The most significant snap was of Evelyn scowling, with outsize cigar, as he leant on a gate marked 'Defense d'entrer'.
Sorry, Cecil, the sign didn't quite say that. And I wouldn't say Evelyn was scowling, he's looking the camera straight in the lens with an open expression on his face. But you're right about the outsize cigar:
Evelyn Waugh. By Cecil Beaton, 1955. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
Below you can see the edge of the chateau de Saint-Firmin. And the gate by the bridge may well have been where Evelyn posed for Cecil's camera.
It's a very exclusive area, as the aerial photograph below shows. The bridge in the above shot is on the north side of the Tete du Rond, the circular water feature near the right edge of the aerial view. From the ground of the chateau de Saint Firmin, looking west over the water, the Chateau de Chantilly (marked with a red tack 'A') would dominate the skyline.
Indeed, the chateau de Saint-Firmin is in the grounds of this fabulous house, now a gallery which houses the best collection of pre-1850 pictures in France. Apart from the Louvre, that is.
The photo below was also taken by Cecil Beaton that day. It was taken quite close to where that last photograph of Evelyn was posed, I would guess, perhaps in those trees by the bridge. As I'm sure Cecil and Evelyn would have shared no more than a one-cigar walk.
Evelyn Waugh. By Cecil Beaton, 1955. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
The camera seems to be pointing at Waugh's midriff. I suspect it was taken when Cecil was bending over looking vertically down through the viewfinder. I say this, partly because of a remark that Evelyn made in the letter he sent Diana Cooper to thank her for his stay. He wrote: 'Beaton's sneak eye was creepy and his poor bare head.'
Funny that the last page on this site, like this one, is essentially a love-hate triangle. Evelyn loved Ann/Diana and he hated Peter/Cecil. Both the love and the hate being reciprocated
Actually, it's the existence of the next photo, taken a few months later, in February 1956, that makes me pretty sure I'm visualising the taking of the above photograph in the right way.
Marilyn Monroe. By Cecil Beaton, 1956. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
Yes, 'fudddy-duddy' Cecil Beaton had the privilege of a day's shoot with Marilyn Monroe. Most of the shots taken that day feature the same wallpaper.
Marilyn Monroe. By Cecil Beaton, 1956. Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.
In order to get the above expression from Marilyn, I can imagine Cecil telling her of his childhood experience of being bullied by Evelyn Waugh. They both went to Heath Mount School in Hampstead. Cecil was one year younger than Evelyn, and on Cecil's first day at school, Evelyn, already an experienced bully and the leader of a gang - according to the adult Cecil who was writing this diary entry in 1955, though it wasn't published until after Waugh's death - singled out Cecil as an obvious mummy's boy and ripe for torture. 'My arms were turned back to front and my face spattered with spit from the pea-shooters.'
In A Little Learning, which was published in 1964, Waugh makes no bones about it:
'There is a professional photographer (and theatrical designer) who sometimes crosses my path when I go to London. His hair is sparse and his smile wry; his clothes rather flashy. I remember him as a tender and very pretty little boy. The tears on his long lashes used to provoke the sadism of youth and my cronies and I tormented him. Our persecution went no further than sticking pins in to him and we were soundly beaten for doing so.'
Evelyn doesn't mention the pea-spitting. Perhaps it wasn't tears sparkling in Cecil's eyelashes but other boys' saliva. What do you think, Marilyn?
I'd better give Evelyn the right of further reply. I mean with mask off.
'Written in heart's blood. O Cecil, O God, what a shit I am! How I don't want ever to hurt you! I am an insensitive lout. Please forgive me. I am irritable and melancholy but a dull clod and I can't sympathise with high delicate creatures like you.'
Back to Marilyn:
"Oh, Mr Beaton, who is this Evelyn guy? I sure would like to meet him."
And Cecil Beaton has his photograph. The money shot. Though I prefer the picture five up, where Evelyn is about to tap ash onto Cecil's 'poor bare head' in order to thwart his 'creepy eye'.