Let's backtrack a little. Below is how the Evelyns' sitting room looked when he-Evelyn last saw it at the beginning of August, 1929. That is, at the end of a month in which he'd received a letter from his wife telling him she had fallen in love with someone else, and in which a fortnight's attempted reconciliation had failed.

Living room at 17a Canonbury Square. ©Alexander Waugh, Waugh Family Archive, Milverton.

The lease was in she-Evelyn's name, so she stayed on and John Heygate moved in with her. They married in August 1930 but they were living together for the year before that.

Anthony Powell (who had gone on holiday to Germany with John Heygate in the summer of 1929) was a friend of both and he visited them at the flat. We know Powell visited them there because of a couple of scenes he wrote in his novel,
Agents and Patients, which came out in 1936. In its pages, we are directed to Canonbury Square from central London via the statue of Sir Hugh Myddleton which is on Islington Green. So we know where we are all right.

'In the sitting room, Sarah stood by the window, eating a slice of bread spread with Gentleman's Relish and holding a cup in her hands.'

Sarah is she-Evelyn. Can you imagine her in the flat above? Bear in mind the room looks very different in 1930, as Tony Powell tells us:

'There were two or three tables in the room, littered with sheets of foolscap, books and tea-things. On one of these were three typewriters and on another a gramophone. A number of newspapers lay about, some of which had been crumpled up and left on the floor. A wide sofa stood in front of the fire, also covered with typescript and books, while the two armchairs were piled high with gramophone records. The two remaining chairs were chromium-plated and had no back legs, the seats being supported by the front legs alone which curved back and united below them. Press cuttings, invitations and snapshots were stuck in the sides of the gilt empire mirror which hung over the mantelpiece.'

Evelyn's 'Bogus' painting would have been put into storage or thrown out. Waugh was never into music, so there may not have been one when he was in residence. And to write he didn't need a typewriter. But he sure did need solitude. He would not have written in this room. Indeed, he took himself away to the Abingdon Arms in order to concentrate.

But let's get back to the day Anthony Powell dropped in on the Heygate and she-Evelyn.

'Stepping over two cats and paying no attention to Sarah, Maltravers walked across the room.'

Maltravers is Heygate. Though, appropriately enough, Maltravers is also the name of Paul Pennyfeather's rival in
Decline and Fall.

'Without taking off his cap he went to one of the typewriters and sat down at it with his feet stretched out in front of him. Then he sighed and began to type. Sarah finished her bread and Gentleman's Relish. She put down her cup on the gramophone and said:

"Do you want some tea?"


"What sort of a day have you had?"

Maltravers did not answer. He gritted his teeth and went on typing. Sarah poured herself another cup of tea.'

I'm going to go on with this Heygate scene. But first a brief reminder of when it was he-Evelyn and she-Evelyn who shared the flat. It wasn't all sweetness and light then either. Rather, tension and atmosphere.

Screen shot 2015-01-07 at 09.00.51

Maltravers grunted. Then he sniffed several times and began to type away again. While he did this he listened to Sarah gulping tea. Nearly a minute passed before she said:
"I'm going out tonight."

Maltravers jumped up from the chromium-plated chair, tore the sheet of paper out of the typewriter, crushed it in his hand, threw it in the waste-paper basket. He said:

"Why can't I ever have two minutes' peace? Must I be bothered every moment of the day and night by your incessant chattering?"

"I only said that I was going out."

"Well, what of it? I don't care. What business is it of mine? I don't mind whom you go out with. You always talk as if you were going to run away with someone."

"I probably am."

"Well, what do you expect me to do about it?"

"I thought you might like to have some warning."

Maltravers took off his cap and threw it on the table. It fell with its peak in the butter. He said:

"This afternoon I watched a man with a sword who was prodding another man who was gagged and chained and lying on the ground. That's what I feel like in our married life. I lie on the ground caged and chained and you prod me with a sword."

The poor Heygates. Sounds like the two of them made life difficult for each other. Anyway, it didn't last. They divorced in 1936, their relationship having been on the rocks for some time.

It's as if the back-legless chromium-plated chairs had never been there. Not to mention the circular table with
Living and other books resting on it.

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

Let's catch up with he-Evelyn. In summer of 1930, he'd given up his creative friends (the Guinnesses, the Lambs, the Yorkes) and given himself instead to the Roman Catholic Church. On joining that distinguished club, with God as some kind of backstop, he went on his own to Africa. A travel book and a novel later, he went travelling on his own again, this time up the Amazon. Another travel book followed and then his thoughts turned to a fourth novel.

A Handful of Dust is about Tony Last having to give up a country house because his wife, Brenda, falls in love with another man. She gets a little flat in London, and there she experiences despair as her new love peters out and leaves her sobbing into her pillow.

Canonbury Square can represent both spaces. After all, that was the space that he-Evelyn had set out in his married life with she-Evelyn, and had such a good time to begin with. The author of
Decline and Fall and his smart young wife, feted by Diana Guinness, Harold Acton, book critics, newspaper columnists and Bright Young Things. And Canonbury Square was the London flat that she-Evelyn inhabited with her live-in lover, John Heygate.

Are you with me so far?

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

Evelyn poured all his feelings for Canonbury Square flat into Tony Last's nostalgia for Hetton Abbey. He was in the jungle, thousands of miles from any four walls in England, subject to a very peculiar type of torture. Tony was made to read the novels of Dickens over and over again to a madman. A very literary fate.

Meanwhile, Brenda Last was welcome to the flat. On the strict understanding that ultimately she would be alone in it. Bereft and alone..

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

Tony would die in the wilderness. It didn't matter, he'd effectively been killed the day he felt he had to leave Hetton Abbey.

Up the jungle, Waugh wondered what had happened to the copy of
Living that he had placed on top of a pile of books he had thought important, long, long ago. Not that it mattered any more.

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

The yellow of that book reminds me of Pansy Pakenham's
The Old Expedient. Or it could be Decent Fellows by John Heygate. A novel published as a paperback original by Gollancz in 1930. Heygate had written it because he'd suddenly had a lot of time on his hands, having had to resign from the BBC on account of his adultery. Very moral organisation the BBC was in those days.

At the end of
A Handful of Dust, Waugh imagines Hetton Abbey having been inherited by distant family members. Another man's children had inherited the four walls that Tony Last had thought of as home.

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

Mary, Bobby, Billy and Teddy, the last of whom intended, through silver fox farming, to restore Hetton to the glory that it had enjoyed in the days of his Cousin Tony.

Tony never made it back from the Amazon. Evelyn Waugh did, but he came back a much, much older man. No-one goes up the Amazon with a broken heart and comes back with said heart healed.

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

The years marked on the above spread can have meaning read into them. 2005: the year I first visited Piers Court. 1908, the year that five-year-old Evelyn was first read Dickens to by his father at Underhill. 1964, the year when Waugh's autobiography,
A Little Learning, came out, towards the end of his life at Combe Florey.

Underhill, Piers Court, Combe Florey. But, let's not forget, first and foremost, 17a Canonbury Square.

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

What has changed over the last century?

Some people have died. Others are still living, still playing charades...

A book. First word. Sounds like..

From Here by Richard McGuire, 2014.

The woman in the yellow dress places her finger onto the middle of her bottom while frowning.

"Sounds like constipation?...sounds like anus?... sounds like pile?" asks one man.

Yellow dress indicates that the third guess is correct.

"Vile," says pink dress.

Vile Dust!" say both the men at once

Vile Dust the answer? We'll never know. The waters of time have come flooding in...

No! Memory plus imagination can survive the death of the individuals concerned.


Did I say survive? I mean triumph. Giving us the whole picture,
sans dust.

Books - where would we be without the superb ones?


1) This essay uses images from Richard McGuire's seminal graphic novel of 2014,
Here. Hardback copies of the deluxe first edition aren't getting any cheaper, but are well worth the £15-£20 investment. I hope the copyright holder can live with my respectful use of his material. I repeat: books - where would we be without the superb ones?

2) Thanks again to Alexander Waugh for sending me the images of Canonbury Square back in 2011. This website would be so much poorer without them.

2) I would still like to know what the book is on top of the pile to the right of the vase of flowers on the table in the picture of the Canonbury Square living room in 1929. Someone must recognise the dustjacket. I reproduce it below, right way up, as it were:

Living_Room.ew - Version 10