FAMILY GUY

From the summer of 1955 to the summer of 1956 Evelyn turned into something of a family guy. Do I mean that in the traditional way the phrase is used, implying a wholesome relationship of a man to his wife and children? Or do I mean it ironically, invoking Peter Griffin, the affable egotist who dominates
Family Guy? Stay tuned to find out.

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Evelyn Waugh with his family by Mark Gerson

On July 22, Evelyn wrote in his diary that it was the start of the school holidays. Harriet and Meg arrived from St Mary's School, Ascot, a boarding school for girls, looking pretty and loving. Bron from Downside, tall and polite. They enjoyed a gay family dinner with speeches and charades, first the children, then Diana Cooper - who was visiting from Chantilly - joining Laura and Evelyn in the acting, singing and dressing up.

Alas, just a few days later there was trouble. Bron had left early in the morning to travel to London to stay with a school friend and go to a Downside dance. At 2 o'clock Evelyn and Laura took the rest of the children to the cinema in Dursley. They were greeted by the cinema manager who told them that Stroud police wanted to see them. Bron had been intercepted on a train, drunk, and with a three-quarter full bottle of gin about his person. When arrested he'd tried to give a false name and address. 'An evening of ineffable gloom,' Evelyn wrote. Teresa and Meg were told about what had happened, but the younger children and the servants were kept in the dark. The next day, Evelyn and Laura attended the magistrate's court where they saw their 16-year-old son apologise for his behaviour and be fined ten shillings. A whole day of gloom at Piers Court this time. As we'll see, Bron would prove to be the most difficult of Waugh's children during this period.

On August 10, after several days in Folkestone where he'd been unsuccessfully trying to get back into the writing of
The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Evelyn returned to Piers Court. He was irritated to find Bron still there, as he'd been promised his absence. However, it wasn't all bad because the children greeted his return with 'illuminated addresses' and Septimus, in fancy dress, presented him with the key of the front door in a silver casket.

Once Bron was back at Downside, a boarding school for boys, the household became happy once more. With Laura, Teresa and Margaret, Evelyn travelled to Birmingham to see Pre-Raphaelite pictures at the art gallery. They went to the basement to see the gallery's version of
The Lost Child by Arthur Hughes. But that proved to be just a small sketch for the painting that Evelyn already owned. Here is the version that graced Piers Court:

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The Lost Child by Arthur Hughes

And below is the version that the family were considering in the bowels of Birmingham Art Gallery.

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The Lost Child by Arthur Hughes, Birmingham Art Gallery

Evelyn: "See any differences, children?"

Meg: "There's no mother in this version."

Teresa: "This lost child doesn't have stockings on."

Evelyn: "I'm much relieved to see that the child still reminds me of Septimus, not Bron. And that the lamp that the child has its eyes on has not been turned into a bottle of gin."

In the evening, the Waugh family went see
Titus Andronicus. And after the performance, Evelyn presented the children to Lady Olivier. A cultural outing then, no doubt Waugh saw it as a vital part of their education.

Towards the end of September, with Bron back at Downside, The Waughs went to a wedding in London. Laura took Harriet and Septimus to Hyde Park Hotel to dress them in the 'bridal fripperies' they'd been fitted for during an earlier visit to the capital. While Evelyn took James and Meg to the Ritz for lunch. After the wedding itself, Laura and Evelyn drove the girls to their school at Ascot in Buckinghamshire, north of London.

In October, Waugh learned from Christopher Sykes that Bron had been boasting at school about his drunkenness and imprisonment. On the 28th, Waugh noted in his diary that there were presents from all his children except Bron and Teresa, and that Meg in particular had been thoughtful and generous.

Perhaps Teresa had other things on her mind than her father's birthday. Based in a flat in London, she'd been preparing for Oxford entrance. She returned to Piers Court before taking the exam which Evelyn presumed she was going to fail. However, on December 13, Waugh noted that she'd been elected a scholar of Somerville College. Waugh further reported that on December 21 Teresa went to London to try on clothes. On the way back, she missed the station that someone had been sent to collect her at, which meant she'd to get a bus from Stroud to Dursley and walk home in the bitter cold. But when she arrived she set to (Laura was ill) and cooked supper and then made Xmas cards. 'A laudable girl', Waugh concluded, evidently pleased with his first born.

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So pleased was Evelyn with 17-year-old Teresa that he agreed to contribute £500 (inflation adjusted, that's £9,000 in 2015) so that she could share the ball of two girls who were also due to 'come out' that summer.

On January 11, the last night of Bron's holidays from Downside, Meg insisted of making a celebration of the occasion, carrying it through with champagne, speeches and one-woman charades with 'touching vigour'. So, as 1956 began, that was two laudable girls in the Waugh household.

At the end of January, Evelyn wrote a letter to Meg at her school in response to one she'd written him. It ends with father telling daughter that he'd made a bonfire of the property that was left in the drawing room by his untidy children. There was an album of picture postcards that burned well and Evelyn wondered whether it had been Meg's or Hatty's. But he ended the letter by writing: 'Do you believe that? If so you are a donkey.'

But in February, Evelyn was having to write in a different key to Bron. While Evelyn had sympathy with his son's restlessness at school, he didn't think it would be a good idea for him to leave school and go into the hotel trade. Evelyn had made his long-term friends at Oxford and in the army, and Bron, he felt, was in danger of ending up with second rate associates if he left school without qualifications. Waugh told his son that he had a sense of humour and a good gift of expression (the 16-year-old had got a story accepted for publication by a literary magazine in the summer of 1955). But that he was imprudent and had a defective sense of honour. Below is multi-faceted Bron as he lined up to b photographed with the rest of his family a year or two after the year in question.

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While not encouraging Bron re the hotel trade, Evelyn did go to the trouble of writing to the manager of the Hyde Park Hotel asking at what age they took on trainees. Also, in the hope of understanding his oldest son better, Waugh read his own Lancing diaries and was appalled at their vulgarity and priggishness.

Before the end of February, Evelyn had cause to write again to his oldest son, congratulating him on winning the debating prize at school. His advice was still that he should stick it out at Downside. He could transfer to Stonyhurst, but as it seemed to be school in general that was the problem, rather than Downside in particular, he didn't think that it would be a good idea to change schools yet. The father encouraged his son to do his Oxford entrance but saw no reason why he shouldn't spend the last two terms - before going up - at a foreign school learning a language.

In March, Waugh was writing again to Meg at St Mary's, Ascot. He reported that he'd taken Teresa to a debutantes cocktail party in London where 250 'pimply youths' mingled with 250 'hideous girls'. That was the last anyone had seen of Meg's sister. Evelyn supposed his daughter had been crushed to death and the corpse was too flat to be recognised. 'About 100 girls were taken out and buried in a common pit.' This time Evelyn didn't trouble to say that he was joking. Hadn't he trained his 13-year-old daughter's sense of humour by this time? His judgement was that he had.

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The family was all at home for Easter. Bron behaved well and Evelyn had been hearing good accounts of him from all at Downside. Meg was in great beauty except for huge feet. Evelyn was less enamoured with 'poor Harriet, very uncouth and shabby'. In a letter to Nancy Mitford, her godmother, Evelyn was even harsher, writing 'my poor spastic Hatty is not able to express herself'. Think Peter Griffin (Family Guy) and the horrible way he treats his daughter, Meg, in private and public. Think Peter Griffin and how the people behind him have a sophisticated sense of humour and a finely developed sense of the absurd.

As for Evelyn's Meg, she was unquestionably the favourite. While Piers Court was being used by Teresa for a house party, Waugh took Meg to Paris for a week. First, to stay with Diana Cooper who met them in Paris and drove them to Chantilly. They also had lunch with Nancy Mitford and went to Notre Dame. They stayed in a Paris hotel for a night or two, meeting Graham Greene in the process. Waugh took Meg may places: to lunch at Malmaison, up the Eiffel Tower, to Nancy's again, to Versailles (which they saw privately) and to Napoleon's tomb. Not a bad holiday for Meg. There are no photos of it as far as I'm aware, but here's one taken a few years later when Evelyn and Meg stayed with Ann Fleming.

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Evelyn Waugh and his daughter Margaret

In April, Teresa's social season began. Her sisters missed out on this as they were back at school. Laura and Evelyn went to see them in June, Waugh playing ping-pong 'with the little girls'. He took them to London the next day and they lunched at St James's Club. The 'little girls' ate great quantities of crab, gulls' eggs, asparagus, strawberries, etc. I suspect the memory of that day in 1946 when Evelyn ate her banana was a distant memory of Meg's, if not forgotten altogether under the force of Evelyn's generosity with food, advice, travel and education. After the meal they went on to the National Gallery where Meg apparently showed great taste, intelligence and memory.

On July 5, Waugh's diary tells us that he travelled from Piers Court to London by train for Teresa's ball. The weather was not promising and so Evelyn had paid money to the Poor Clares at Looe in order that they might pray for fair weather as they had two years earlier in advance of the Piers Court fête. The rain did stay off, which was lucky as there were far too many people for the tents and the house and Kensington Square Gardens. The mother of one of the other debs had 'arranged the tents brilliantly'. Waugh tells us that photographs were taken in the tent in the afternoon. I suspect this was one of them:

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(Maria) Teresa D'Arms (née Waugh); Evelyn Waugh by Madame Yevonde, matte bromide print, 1956

Note the doting father (and his beautiful brogues). The same man who had eaten Teresa's banana in 1946 was paying for her coming out ball, accompanying feast and all.

Laura and Evelyn gave a dinner party at the Hyde Park Hotel. We know that this was for 18 people, as the letter to the hotel manager is reproduced in
The Letters of Evelyn Waugh. Dinner for eighteen! Evelyn sat between Maimie, his favourite Lygon sister, and Nell Stavordale, whoever she was. Evelyn had specified that the menu should be Cold Madrilène, Lobster Newburg, Vol-au-vent of chicken, Salade, Strawberry and ice. With non-vintage champagne for all but himself. Not sure that Maimie would have been impressed with that last instruction. After all, she had been married to the wine merchant who'd commissioned from Evelyn the book about wine that had been written in return for 100-plus bottles of vintage champagne in 1946, and was used to quaffing top-notch bubbly with Evelyn when they met, usually to the tune of a bottle each. According to Evelyn, Ed Stanley was very jolly at dinner and all the young people looked seedy. One 'dreadful youth' was in a dinner jacket as were also many others at the ball.

Evelyn reports that he spent most of the evening in the house requisitioned for the ball, fairly cheerful at first but with deepening boredom. By 3.30am it was obvious that the party was a great success and that no 'untoward incidents' were going to occur, so he slunk away to the hotel.
'The rest danced on until after five.'

I suspect Evelyn had his memories of the day and that this would be one of them, in the tent with his laudable Teresa:

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(Maria) Teresa D'Arms (née Waugh); Evelyn Waugh by Madame Yevonde, matte bromide print, 1956

On July 8, Evelyn wrote to Hatty and Meg to tell them about the night. It seems that Meg had first written to him, wanting to see press cuttings of Teresa's ball. Well, her father was the one that would tell Meg (and Hatty) all about it. The rest of the letter amounts to a string of jokes, so here they are:

1) Teresa wore a dress of emerald green calico trimmed with zebra skin and a straw hat, button boots of patent leather and woollen gloves. Her appearance was much complimented.

2) Teresa was given a black eye by another girl who was 'coming out', though she was bandaged up and managed well with a single eye.

3) The Stinchcombe Silver band had been hired to play for the night.

4) For supper there was 'stout and kippers and bread and margarine and blancmange and plum jam' - although it soon ran out.

5) Laura insisted on bringing all 14 of her cows and they took up most of the ballroom (but there was a little tent in the garden).

6) The other two girls who were coming out smoked clay pipes all the time and the little tent grew rather stuffy.

7) A lot of criminals managed to gain entry and began stealing from everyone so the police charged with truncheons and arrested Alec Waugh and Alick Dru by mistake.

8) Alec and Alick were still in chokey but it was hoped to get them out on bail in a further day or two. Unfortunately, Alick had five watches, six diamond rings and some silver spoons in his pocket when arrested, so he might be sent to prison for a year or two.

9) One of the cows escaped into the Kensington Square Convent. The nuns had been milking her ever since.

10) Polly Grant (one of Laura's sisters) was murdered by a black man whom Auberon Herbert (Laura's brother) had brought along.

11) Otherwise the ball was an enormous success.

What is the book that Evelyn and Teresa were photographed with in the tent in Kensington Square?

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(Maria) Teresa D'Arms (née Waugh); Evelyn Waugh by Madame Yevonde, matte bromide print, 1956

Evelyn's choice, I bet. It may be an illuminated manuscript of some kind, possibly a religious book brought from Piers Court. But I like to think it's something else, and that the page that father and daughter are reading from contains a slightly adapted form of a well-known Edward Lear poem. Which goes like this:

King and Queen of the Pelicans we;
No other Birds so grand we see!
None but we have feet like fins!
With lovely leathery throats and chins!
Woffskin, Wuffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Waffskin, Waughskin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Does this scenario make sense? Well, let's see:

We live at Piers Court. Piers Court we love.
By night we sleep on the cliffs above;
By day we fish, and at eve we stand
On long bare islands of yellow sand.
And when the sun sinks slowly down
And the great rock walls grow dark and brown,
Where the purple Severn rolls fast and dim
And the Ivory Ibis starlike skim,
Wing to wing we dance around,--
Stamping our feet with a flumpy sound,--
Opening our mouths as Pelicans ought,
And this is the song we nightly snort;--
Woffskin, Wuffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Waffskin, Waughskin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

I'm sure that Evelyn would have introduced the poems of Edward Lear to his children. Lear was a favourite of his own (he'd reviewed a biography of Edward Lear for The Spectator in 1938, in which he shows an intimate knowledge of his work) and the best of Lear's nonsense poetry is suitable for people of all ages. And doesn't the wordplay bring to mind the charades, the fancy dress, the key-to-the-house presentation ceremony that had gone on that year at Piers Court? Oh yes, and Teresa's coming out ball:

This year came out our daughter, Ter
And all the cost fell on her père.
To do her honour, a feast was made
For every bird that can swim or wade.
Herons and Gulls, and Cormorants black,
Cranes, and flamingoes with scarlet back,
Plovers and Storks, and Geese in clouds,
Swans and Dilberry Ducks in crowds.
Thousands of Birds in wondrous flight!
They ate and drank and danced all night,
And echoing back from the rocks you heard
Multitude-echoes from Bird to bird,--
Woffskin, Wuffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Waffskin, Waughskin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

Evelyn Waugh always said that he'd take more interest in his children when they reached the age of reason. And that's what he did, to the advantage of Teresa, Bron and Meg in 1955/56. True, he was still pretty dismissive of 12-year-old Harriet, James, 10, and Septimus, 6. But their time would come, so cheer up guys. (Anyone would think someone had stolen their bananas.)

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Waugh didn't do much writing in the year I speak of. He meant to carry on with the ordealing of Gilbert Pinfold but never quite got round to it. Partly because being a father to his children was taking up much of his time. And partly for a reason that I'll go into on the next page.

As for 'the lost child', don't go to Piers Court looking for him or her. He or she is not there. Only cherished individuals.