THOSE PARTIES AGAIN
In 1975, John Heygate wrote to Christopher Sykes, thanking him for the inscribed copy of Evelyn Waugh, A Biography that the latter had sent him. Heygate told Sykes that he'd taken out a press-cutting subscription so that he wouldn't miss any reviews of the book, which he thought was very kind to both himself and Evelyn. She-Evelyn, I presume he meant. John went on to write:
'I wish I hadn't lost the photo of the two Evelyns, myself and sister sitting at the Brokenhurst New Forest Hunt Ball.'
I too wish he hadn't lost that photo. It was taken in mid-June, 1929, when John was chaperoning She-Evelyn, while He-Evelyn spent the weeks writing the early chapters of Vile Bodies at Beckley. The three of them would meet up for parties at the weekend.
'Or the one taken of us on Olivia Wyndham's "Departure for Cythera" party on the Friendship. It was this photograph that bust things up.'
It was the letter from She-Ev to He-Ev that threatened to bust things up. After that, She-Evelyn was required by He-Evelyn to steer clear of John Heygate, but a photo of John and She-Ev appeared in a 'popular newspaper' around the end of July, and this would have completed the bust up. This is how I put it in an earlier essay:
'According to Selina Hastings, it was while He-Evelyn was in Cheshire that She-Evelyn (she could not have been in Italy more than a day or two) was photographed with John Heygate at a party (a photograph I would love to trace).'
Have I traced any of these photos? Yesterday, I finally tracked down one of them. I'm still reeling from the quality of the detective work involved! Indeed, I'm seriously thinking of promoting myself from detective inspector to chief inspector of Evelyn Waugh Studies. But I dare say that side of things can wait. First, let's get the story down in black and white (and colour). Though if you wait a bit for the photograph in question, I'll try and make it worth your while.
Several years ago, Richard Heygate, John's son, alerted me to the fact that at least one such photo existed, but when he looked for it he couldn't find it (or remember anything about it). Then when I recently came across the mention of such a photograph in the Sykes-Heygate correspondence, I realised I really should take another look. And now it feels like I'm ready to tell a story in full.
TUESDAY, JUNE 25, 1929.
Evelyn Waugh was ensconced at Beckley writing the opening chapters of Vile Bodies. On Saturday, June 22, he told Henry Yorke by mail that he'd written 25,000 words in the 10 days or so that he'd been in the pub. He was wondering if Henry was going to Bryan and Diana Guinness's party on Tuesday, June 25. He-Evelyn would go himself but he thought the people there would be too like the characters in his book... You should have gone to that party, Evelyn. You really should.
On the day of the party, Evelyn wrote to Harold Acton, telling him he'd been in London on the Sunday and Monday and so wouldn't be going to Bryan and Diana's party. Shame, Evelyn, because everyone else went. And it set things up for quite a night for She-Evelyn and John Heygate.
Below is the Buckingham Street venue for Bryan and Diana's party. The windows may be small but the interiors are large. The entire first floor may have been a ballroom, for all I know. For sure, Diana and Bryan would have made certain the house worked for them, both domestically and as a setting for parties.
Below is a photograph of She-Evelyn at the 1860 Party. Apparently, she is dressed like a trousered Victorian child, hence the hoop that she's holding.
Harold Acton later wrote to He-Evelyn saying that he'd danced blissfully with her that night. I wonder if it was the presence of the hoop that made the dance so blissful for him.
As for the other guests, below is a double-page from The Sketch showing some of them. The same set of bannisters crops up in several of the pictures, obviously part of the interior at 10 Buckingham Street. That's Bryan and Diana in the bottom right corner of the left page, Diana wearing a dress copied from that worn by Mademoiselle Yvonne Printemps in Mariette. That was a stage production based on an 1857 book, Les Aventures de Mademoiselle Mariette, by Champfleury. Which tells us that Diana Guinness (born Mitford, died Mosley) was a cultured soul. Next to the hosts is Robert Byron dressed as a Victorian angel. That's the Robert Byron that gave away Evelyn Gardner the day she married He-Evelyn in June 1928, a year before the night in question.
Also at the party were John Heygate and Diana's sister, Nancy Mitford (who was sharing the Canonbury Square flat with She-Evelyn while He-Evelyn was staying in Beckley). Apparently, John escorted Nancy and She-Evelyn to their second party of the evening on the Friendship which had that year docked at Charing Cross where it would remain as a venue for private parties for a few summers.
Below is a map showing the relevant part of central London. Which may help those of us who know the centre of London to imagine the scene back in 1929. Indeed, when I lived in London in the 1980s, there was a boat moored at the Embankment, Charing Cross, which was licensed.
The red tack marks the site of Diana and Bryan's party on Buckingham Street in the bottom left corner of the map. The Friendship was moored in the top right corner. Basically, John Heygate could have taken She-Evelyn and Nancy via Buckingham Palace and along the Mall, or via Westminster and along the river. True, he could have hailed a cab, but I like to think that they made a bit of space between the two very different party venues of that night.
Below is a photo of the Friend Ship, alternatively called the Friendship.
As the map and aerial view combo below shows, the white stone building that can be seen in the above photo is still in existence, thus the ship was moored just to the north of the various bridges that now cross the Thames between the Embankment and the Southbank Centre, as seen more clearly in the above map.
The photographer of The Sketch clearly followed our heroes from one party to the other, and below is his or her spread of pics from the Watteau party, 'Embarkation for Cythera', also appearing in the July 3 edition.
In his letter to Christopher Sykes of 1975, John Heygate specifically refers to a compromising photograph from that night, obviously one that must have appeared in the press, so let's bear that possibility in mind.
The bottom paragraph tells us that invitations to attend this party at The Friendship were issued anonymously, but Miss Olivia Wyndham was one of the organisers. Guests were asked to wear Watteau costumes, he being the painter of Embarkation for Cythera.
First, a note about the party's co-host, Olivia Wyndham, who is dressed as a pierrot in the bottom left picture in the above page from The Sketch.
From an aristocratic background, she brought together many of the different cliques that constituted the bright young things. She was part of London's lesbian scene, a heavy drinker, drug-user, Chelsea Bohemian and professional photographer. It was she who took the famous picture of the Evelyns, posed in front of a mirror, just after their marriage in the summer of 1928.
As for June 25, 1929, it is the photo spread of the Sketch's rival, The Tatler that proves to be more interesting. Again Olivia Wyndham can be seen roughly in the middle of the photo top right.
More pertinently, there in the right-hand middle pic, with women on either side of him, is the tall handsome figure of John Heygate, the Warren Beatty of his day, holding in front of himself a suitcase that says 'A. Watteau 1929' on it.
What about the picture bottom left? Could that be John Heygate and She-Evelyn in each other's arms? Well, let's take a closer look:
No, that can't be John. Not unless he's changed costume mid-party. What about his partner though. Look at that pale face pressed to the man's. Those pouting lips. Those huge eyes. Her hand on his manly chest. It's not She-Evelyn, but it's an arresting image.
Actually, John is there, and so is She-Evelyn, they're the couple in the background.
Notice the hat lying on the deck between the two couples. That's the boater that John is wearing in the photo that he dominates. Also, the white shirt of the man is consistent with such an identification, though John seems to have taken off his sunglasses in order to get up close with his partner.
And that partner is She-Evelyn, because she's wearing the costume she wore at the 1860 party earlier in the evening. You should be able to make out the shiny black ballet shoes, the off-the-shoulder cut to her dress and the presence of trouserettes.
As I've mentioned, the June party on the Friendship was given an Embarkation for Cythera theme. Cythera is a Greek island, the birthplace of Venus, goddess of love, where one goes to find one's ideal partner. Below is the version of the Watteau painting that's in the Louvre.
Three amorous couples are disporting in the foreground. At the shore, a boat is arriving or departing with more couples. And there are babies - ultimate symbol of procreation - all around.
Let's assume that John and She-Evelyn discussed 'Embarkation for Cythera' that night. They may even have been able to take a reproduction of the painting out of John's suitcase and consider it. Below is the version of Watteau's masterpiece which hangs in a Berlin gallery and is more emphatic about the presence of a boat. The boat that brought lovers to Cythera.. The lovers who create babies. Big, nappieless babies, all bums and wings and curly blonde locks
After talking about the evocative painting for a while, the conversation between John and She-Evelyn might have gone like this:
"Did you not embark at Cythera with Evelyn?"
"We embarked at Port Said. With me being carried off the boat on a stretcher."
"How about later in the cruise?"
"Evelyn embarked at Athens to see Alastair and his homosexual chums. And he embarked at Lisbon to see a pair of mummified Peruvian indians."
"You didn't join him?"
"What do you think?"
"I'd love to take you to Cythera."
"I think I'd like that."
"One of these days I am going to take you to Cythera."
"Me and all your other girls?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Oh, John, what are you like! That suitcase is full of telephone numbers."
The evening went on, all drink, talk and tease. Eventually, John and She-Evelyn realised they hadn't seen Nancy for a while. They assumed she'd made her own way back to Canonbury Square. Which was fine because John and She-Evelyn weren't going anywhere yet. Having embarked for Cythera, as it were, their aim was to make the most of it.
"Now let me get this straight."
"Get what straight?"
"This making babies thing. Shall I go through the hoop and you follow?"
"You go through the hoop. I don't need to go anywhere."
"I take it Evelyn's been there a few times."
"Heaps of times."
"But no babies? Did he remember to take his trousers off?"
"Oh, he whips them off all right. But he neglects to do anything about mine."
"Tricky things, trousers."
"Darling, can I just say something?"
"John, you called me 'darling'."
"Damn, someone has just taken a picture."
"I didn't see a flash. Let's hope it wasn't strong enough to light up these shadows."
"Darling, can I just say something else?"
"I'm in love with your dress."
"Is that all you wanted to tell me?"
"It seems like enough from where I'm sitting. Seems like the pearliest, silkiest, most attractive thing in the world."
The next day, John Heygate and She-Evelyn went to a dinner party given by Tom Balston of Duckworths, one of Waugh's publishers. Tony Powell was also there and he tells us in his autobiography that John Heygate - having been on the Friendship until dawn - fell asleep between courses. How cute he must have looked. How hard it must have been for She-Evelyn not to burst out laughing and tell the party:
"You must forgive John. He's been on the island of Cythera all night wrestling with the concept of trousers."
Well, no, it would have been a bit risqué to have said that.
He-Evelyn joined She-Evelyn and John Heygate for a party in London the next day and on the weekend they went down to John Heygate's parents' place on the south coast. That would have been the weekend of June 29th and 30th.
During the following week, John Heygate slept with She-Evelyn after being turned down by Eleanor Watts. Sex took place at his flat in Cornwall Gardens rather than on the island of Cythera, but I dare say they were both thinking about that enchanted place when getting it together. In a letter dated July 9, She-Evelyn informed He-Evelyn of what had transpired, and on July 12 He-Evelyn came up to London to try and save their marriage.
I can imagine She-Evelyn getting quite a shock when she looked at those magazines that came out on July 3rd, especially if she'd just slept with John as seems likely from the known timings. First, The Sketch showing her in the dress for the 1860 party. Then The Tatler showing her in the dress lying on the deck of the Friendship with a male partner other than her husband. Although it was a back view of her, no doubt all sorts of people would have been able to identify her.
How incriminating a picture is it? For the morals of the time, pretty much, I suspect. They're not in a clinch. But a married woman lying close to a man who was not her husband, smoking, drinking and chatting intimately - I don't think that kind of image would have been at all common or acceptable then.
He-Evelyn was bound to hear of the shocking picture from one source or another. 'Might as well come clean and write to him so that the awful news comes from me first.' Is that what went through She-Evelyn's mind as she threw her copy of the Tatler from her seat in the living room at Canonbury Square?
Perhaps, by then, He-Evelyn had seen the edition of The Tatler that had featured the Watteau party. In which case, he might have noted the irony of the facing page advert, headed 'LOOK IN YOUR MIRROR':
The ad asks the reader (in this case, He-Evelyn) if he realises how constipation can destroy his looks. It not only muddies the skin and dulls the eyes but robs one of vitality and health. When waste matter is left to stagnate in the system, the bloodstream is poisoned. He-Evelyn's skin and tissues would be absorbing decay instead of fresh life.
If the presence of Olivia Wyndham in one of the party pics didn't bring to Evelyn's mind the photo that she had taken of the Evelyns shortly after their wedding day, then surely the words and images of that horrifying ad did:
There sit the Evelyns, dull-eyed. Waste matter stagnating in their systems. Skin and tissue absorbing decay instead of fresh life. He-Constipated and She-Constipated.
In the middle of July 1929, the bunged-up couple resolved to spend a fortnight together in London trying to save their marriage. What better way to do that than to attend another party on the Friendship! This one on the evening of July 16, which had a Tropical theme. On this occasion, it wasn't the Sketch or Tatler that did the party justice, but fellow journal The Bystander:
5000 lookers-on! Sounds like the Bright Young People were in the public eye all right. On the facing page, was a photo taken of the Evelyns that night. It is now well-known, featuring in the Waugh biographies written by Martin Stannard and Selina Hastings as well as many other Waugh-related works.
Less well-known is the photo that appeared in The Tatler of the same day.
If you ask me, it still seems that constipation was an issue. Neither looks at ease in their skin, although they appear to be wearing matching ties as belts to hold up their matching trousers, a sure sign that they were trying to make a go of it together.
Alec Waugh was also on board. He reports in My Brother Evelyn, that it was a hot still night. 'There was a curious kick out of misbehaving in a sarong in the dusk of the bows when along the embankment and over Westminster bridge dutiful citizens were hurrying to catch a last train home to Surbiton.'
I need to pause there to say how badly written that seems to me. 'In the dusk of the bows' doesn't work. Westminster Bridge is a long way from Charing Cross, or at least the other side of the railway bridge. And the main photograph in the Bystander does not suggest people hurrying home to Surbiton but stopping for a good old goggle at what the Bright Young People were up to.
Alec goes on to say that a few days before he'd phoned up Canonbury Square. She-Evelyn had answered but her voice sounded strange. A sentence or two later, Alec realised she was sobbing. "It's terrible, it's terrible. I can't talk on the telephone. Can I meet you somewhere?" They met at the Gargoyle. Over supper, She-Evelyn told Alec that she had fallen in love with John Heygate. Alec asked how Evelyn was taking it. "He's drinking much too much. It makes him feel ill. And he thinks I'm trying to poison him."
Within a week of that conversation, Evelyn called his brother to tell him there would be a divorce and to ask him to inform their parents. When Alec commented that it would be a great blow to them, Evelyn retorted, "What about me?"
In due course, Evelyn would get back to writing Vile Bodies. One of the first scenes of what can be thought of as the second half of the novel is about a party set on a captive dirigible. Adam goes aloft to a kind of terrace where he is joined by Nina. Their conversation brings to mind the images of the Evelyns at the Tropical party on the Friendship:
"NIna," said Adam, "let's get married soon, don't you think?"
"Yes, it's a bore not being married."
"...I don't know if it sounds absurd," said Adam, "But I do feel a marriage ought to go on - for quite a long time, I mean. D'you feel that too, at all?"
"Yes, it's one of the things about a marriage."
"I'm glad you feel that. I didn't quite know if you did. Otherwise it's all rather bogus, isn't it?"
A few lines later, comes perhaps the most famous passage from the book. This is how it appears in the manuscript:
Once Waugh had finished the novel in the autumn of 1929, he didn't waste much time correcting or embellishing the manuscript. That bracketed paragraph - you may not see the opening of the brackets, in the gutter, before 'Masked parties' - appears in print exactly as Waugh wrote it. (It looks quite messy near the end, but it sorts itself out.) With just the addition of three words after 'massed humanity'. Those three words being: '...Those vile bodies...' A phrase that doesn't occur in the ad for Eno's Fruit Salt but might have done.
The next line of the manuscript is as follows:
I for one can see He-Evelyn leaning his forehead on She-Evelyn's arm at the Tropical Party, but only after removing his pith helmet. And as he kisses her in the hollow of her forearm, She-Evelyn raises her other arm and points to the exact spot on the Friendship that she and John Heygate were canoodling at the Watteau party. The exact spot where John put down his boater so that he could lean his forehead on She-Evelyn's arm in order to kiss her in the hollow of her forearm.
What a lot of foreheads/arms with more or less the same time/space co-ordinates.
Oh reader, what a lot of parties.
January 15, 2015
For a different approach to the He-Evelyn/She-Evelyn/Heygate triangle, and its impact on Waugh's writing career, see Evelyn! published by Harbour on May 1, 2015.