"Where are we, Nancy?"

"Castle Howard's new gallery."

"And what is this on the wall?"

"It's called Contemporary Art."

"Who would have thought that we, as a society, could fall so much further than Picasso fell?"

"Shall we give it a chance, Evelyn? To look perchance to think?"

Image: derived from Artnut Intelligence Report.

"WHAT DID EVELYN DO?" asks Nancy, echoing the room

"I would prefer 'Mr. Waugh'. If, by 'Evelyn', the artist, who I'm quite sure is unknown to me, means me."

WHAT DID EVELYN DO?" Asks Nancy again, insistently.

"DID EVELYN DIE? There I've joined in."


"Nancy, stop it!"

Nancy Mitford turns on her heel.

"There's your 'Mr. Waugh'."

Image: Artnut Intelligence Report.

Evelyn grudgingly admits that he likes the composition.

do you mean?"

"I like the two bold horizontals across the top.

"The headline?"

"And I like that they're supported by four broad verticals. It's a solid composition."

"So you
have learned from Picasso, you old fraud!… It's a review by Peter Quennell of Officers and Gentlemen, but you can't read it all the way through. I suppose that's deliberate."

"It has caught my attention, I admit. The word Quennell writ large and emblazoned across a wall makes me feel queasy. There I've said it. Queasy Quennell."

"There's more in the side gallery."

They walk through the open doorway into a smaller room where a computer sits on a table.


"See what happens if you use the mouse to click on 'DID EVELYN'."

"I haven't the slightest idea what you mean."

"I forgot you've only recently arrived. Let me…"

NEW STATESMAN; May, 1928; Rossetti
There are many periods, further removed in time, which are much closer to us in sympathy than the days of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In those earlier periods we have discovered, or think we have discovered, fresh virtues; their outstanding virtues were exactly those which our personal and intellectual life most conspicuously lacks. The memory of them persists like the memory of some delightful and irrecoverable island, a delightful memory, it is true, but not an integral part of our heritage. The vice of their method, besides, emerge in rather pitiful relief, viewed by the cruel light of modern aesthetics. Aware of those deficiencies, a new biographer has undertaken Rossetti’s defence. And herein lies, perhaps, the chief weakness of the monograph; we could have been spared Mr. Waugh's lengthy analysis of Rossetti's pictures, as against a detailed and elaborate representation of the entire group. Rossetti is exalted at the expense of his contemporaries. We need a collective, not a single portrait. The conduct of the Pre-Raphaelite adventure, its enthusiasm and impetus, is, on the whole, more entertaining than its actual results.

For enthusiasm was their primary characteristic, and Mr. Waugh seems to have approached his subject with something of a kindred alacrity and zeal. Flippancy he abhors; anecdote, especially when the anecdote is scandalous, he shows a commendable anxiety to avoid. His treatment is consequently a little sparse and curtailed. Half the colour of the movement is implicit in their nicknames, their slang, their hurriedly scrawled letters and reported snatches of conversation… 

"I remember that as if it was yesterday."

"You do?"

"That bastard Quennell."

"It is a bit equivocal. Is it what set off a lifetime's enmity?"

"Not at all. I forgave him. Even mentioned him positively in a piece I wrote for the press."

"Scrolling down, it appears that Quennell reviewed six of your books before the war. Four for the
New Statesman and two for Life and Letters. Let's read one in full. Any suggestions?"

"Not really."

A Handful of Dust?"

"If we must."

"Got it."

NEW STATESMAN; September, 1934; A Handful of Dust

For some time - ever since the publication of
Black Mischief - Mr Evelyn Waugh’s admirers have been asking themselves just how long he would be able to preserve the exquisite comic equilibrium that distinguished Vile Bodies and Decline and Fall. Solemnity shows signs of creeping in. No one who has studied Mr Waugh’s novels with a close and sympathetic eye can have failed to recognise that he is at bottom a profoundly pensive - indeed, an extremely serious and, at moments, a melancholy and disenchanted - character; but though one did not grudge him the expression of what is, perhaps, after all, his real literary temperament, one could not help feeling that these intervals of solemnity, when the satirist gave way to the Catholic moralist, detracted from the charm of otherwise extravagant and light-hearted stories; in short, that his serious passages were out of tune. Thus, I looked forward with apprehension to his next novel. It is pleasant to record that any fears I may have harboured - fears somewhat intensified as I notice the titles and observed the quotation from Mr. T.S. Eliot that adorns the title page - proved completely baseless; for A Handful of Dust, If not the most exhilarating, is certainly the most mature and the best written novel that Mr. Waugh has yet produced. Here tragedy and comedy are interdependent. It is true that the reader of A Handful of Dust, unlike the reader of Decline and Fall, no longer interrupts his reading to put down the book and laugh aloud. On the other hand, he is kept lightly, skilfully and continuously amused throughout the entire volume, and smiles as he is subtly horrified at the same instant. In essence, the harrowing is often farcical; and there is a touch of tragedy in many comic situations.

The story is equally painful and hilarious. Mr Waugh handles his
dramatis personae with a masterly and dispassionate deftness; and only in one episode does there seem to be a slight softening of his attitude, a failure of that tone of acerbity which suits him so well. I am thinking of the passages which Mr Waugh devotes to Tony Last’s son and his relationship with his nurse and parents and with the groom who teaches him to ride. Itself, the episode is not calculated to shock a sensitive and unsentimental reader; but, given the rest of the narrative, I feel that Mr. Waugh might have done better to harden his heart. Elsewhere, the beauty of his method is its complete heartlessness. Tony Last is a good creature, fond of his wife, of his little boy - presently killed in a hunting accident - and of Hetton, the large, hideous, Victorian-Gothic mansion, which he spends his whole income to keep up, but so foolish as almost to deserve the cuckoldom which his trust and affection are eventually requited. Brenda, his wife, is a charming sham. There was no particular reason why she should fall in love with John Beaver, a young man who passes his mornings by the telephone, hoping for the eleventh-hour invitation that sometimes materialises; and this very lack of motive makes her infatuation as described - or implied - by Mr. Waugh, appear all the more plausible. To Brenda, her cicisbeo is ‘my Mr. Beaver,’ ‘poor Mr. Beaver’; and yet when the news is broken to her of the little boy’s death she experiences an immense relief when she understands that it is her son - John Andrew - and not her lover - plain John - who has been killed.

She sat down on a hard little Empire chair against the wall,
perfectly still with her hands folded in her lap, like a small, well
brought up child introduced into a room full of grown- ups.
She said, “Tell me what happened. Why do you know about it
“I’ve been down at Hetton since the weekend.”
“Don’t you remember? John was going hunting today.”
She frowned, not at once taking in what he was saying. “John…
John Andrew… I… Oh, thank God…” Then she burst into tears.
She wept helplessly, turning round in the chair and pressing her
forehead against its gilt back.

The tragedy of their love affair was its utter emptiness; Mr. Waugh’s treatment of this episode is all the more convincing because he tells us so little about the lovers, and, except by implication, does not attempt to analyse the nature of Mr. Beaver’s physical and emotional appeal. The love affair is scarcely a love affair in the genuine sense; Brenda and her paramour seem to be engaged in some absurd, rather destructive and vaguely improper game, egged on by the gossip of their acquaintances, stimulated - as far as Mr. Beaver is concerned - by the knowledge that such an affair adds immensely to his social prestige, and by Brenda’s belief that she is recapturing her lost girlhood. Their friendship flickers out, as it was bound to do. How odd, then, that the editor of a Catholic paper should charge the book with being ‘sedulously and diabolically cruel,’ ‘vile,’ ‘malodorous,’ and generally quite unfit for the bookshelves of a chaste and self-respecting Papist! Cruel,
A Handful of Dust certainly is; a more moral book - though Mr. Waugh is too intelligent a novelist to append any explicit message - has seldom come my way. I rise from Mr. Waugh’s new novel as from a reading of one of the sterner and more uncompromising Fathers, convinced that human life is a chaos of inclinations and appetites, and that few appetites are strong enough to be worth gratifying. Strange to add, I am also amused and enlivened; but it is not the novelist’s fault that he is a brilliantly diverting story-teller.

Mr. Waugh’s narrative method is economical. His portraits - notably those of John Beaver and of his mother, who lives by the practice of that bizarre modern craft known as ‘interior decoration’ - are dashed in with a few savage, affectionately feline strokes. Mr. Waugh does not waste his own, or the reader’s time.

"Can you see what's odd about that?"


"The reader would not guess that the book's second half
takes place up the Amazon."

"Is that important?"

"It reminds me that Henry Yorke had difficulty with the Brazilian part. He said that I had written two completely different types of book and had faked the connection."

"And had you?"

"I argued not. You see, deep down, I did go to the Amazonian jungle as a result of a woman's rejection."

Evelyn walks back into the main gallery.


"Come back, Evelyn. There's more."

Evelyn hesitates. He is fascinated by his own reflection which he can study if he looks down at the floor. But, pulling himself together, he returns to Nancy's side.

HORIZON February, 1942. [NOTE: To read the review, pick up the journal from the table and turn to page 348.]

"Golly. This machine certainly makes it easy."

"Quennell and Connolly. Those two represented all that was wrong in Britain during the war."

"You mean they didn't fight."

"They didn't fight, and, worse, they feathered their own nests."

"Let's see what Peter thought about
Put Out More Flags."

"Forget it. The print's too small."

"We can come back to it."

"If we must."

"During the war, Peter befriended Ann Rothermere, and through her became books editor of The Daily Mail. I suppose that's what you mean by feathering his own nest."

"And the first book of mine he reviewed for the paper was

"Let's see what Peter had to say about your Great English Classic."

"Is that how I referred to it when writing to you?"

"Either G.E.C or
Magnum Opus."

"I was being ironic."

"And you were very, very excited."

DAILY MAIL; Saturday, June 2,1945; 'WAUGH AND PEACE'

Prophets and planners of the present day seem to be divided into three camps.

There are the old-fashioned Liberals, a forlorn but gallant band, still convinced that by its own unaided efforts, thanks to the common sense and decency inherent in ordinary men and women, Humanity may yet escape from total self-destruction.

There are the Commissars (of whom Arthur Koestler wrote in a recent book of essays), the stern advocates of a ‘managerial society’ - that is to say, of a world handed over for its own good to the iron domination of experts and technicians - whether of the Right or the Left seems relatively unimportant.

And there are the Yogis, the mystics, a small but influential body. Humanity, they tell us, can never save itself, It must be saved from within: or the ends achieved will be poisoned by the nature of the means employed. What we need is not material reformation but spiritual resurrection…

It is a significant fact that three novels expressing the latter point of view, written by three of our best English novelists, each belonging to a different generation, should have been published within the last eighteen months. Somerset Maugham has given us
The Razor’s Edge: Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop: now Evelyn Waugh throws down a new challenge to materialism in Brideshead Revisited.

All three describe redemption through the practice of spiritual virtue. But whereas Maugham and Huxley subscribe to the rather woolly brand of mysticism which flourishes just now in the genial Californian sunshine, Evelyn Waugh writes as an orthodox and uncompromising Roman Catholic convert. Like Huxley’s his book is a tract - but an extraordinarily readable tract. With what skill and fertility of the imagination he hammers home his thesis!

He is, after all, probably the most accomplished and original English novelist of the post-war generation - and one of the few living writers whose books (if only as historical curiosities) will almost certainly be read in a hundred years’ time.
Brideshead Revisited has many of the brilliant qualities to which as a novelist he owes his reputation and - often in a somewhat exaggerated form - a large share of his failings.

Let’s begin on the debit side. Evelyn Waugh is a romantic Tory: and the prejudices that he entertains seem, with each successive volume, to grow more and more aggressive.

He fears and despises our middle-class, modern world.

Brideshead, the great English country house round which he has built his story, stands for Tradition, threatened on the one hand by vulgar Big Business (personified in Rex Mottram, an exceedingly savage portrait), on the other by the rising tide of something he calls ‘Hooperism’ - Hooper being an undistinguished and unattractive officer in the same regiment as the hero, the antithesis of all those aristocratic and soldierly values that Captain Ryder prizes. The sort of man who is neither entitled to wear an Old School Tie nor blushes for its absences. His education, poor fellow, has been miserably neglected.

‘The history they taught him had had few battles in it, but, instead,
a profusion of detail about human legislation and recent industrial
changes, Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn…
these…and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even
now in my mere and lawless state, called to me irresistibly across
the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood,
sounded in vain to Hooper.’

So much for benighted pacifists and the products of modern secondary education! But the novelist’s prejudices would be unimportant, or at worst mere picturesque irrelevancies, did they not have an obvious effect both on Evelyn Waugh’s manner of writing and the attitude that he adopts towards individual characters.

They give a snappish and cantankerous note to some passages, a slightly treacly taste to others. For the first time, particularly in his account of the delights of Oxford -

‘In her spacious and quiet streets men walked and spoke as they
had done in Newman’s day: her autumnal mists, her grey
springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days… when the
chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over
her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft vapours of a thousand
years of learning.’

…he seems to be guilty of the major sin of romantic over-writing.

With these reservations,
Brideshead Revisited is a novel that can hardly fail to hold your interest. I do not propose to spoil your pleasure by a mangled summary of the narrative. It must be enough to say that the story is concerned with the fortunes of a great house and family; with their relations with the Catholic Church which in the end claims both the agnostic hero and the profligate Lord Marchmain; with a love affair that is cut short by a heroic act of resignation - the last a development that may strike non-Catholic readers as extremely hard to swallow.

"There is a terrible sentence in there. Did you see? The one which Quennell spilts with a long quote about Oxford."

"I like the way Peter nails his colours to the mast, though. He's not religious. He is middle-class. But he loves your book."

"I remember reading this on its publication. Realising how many British people would be reading it as well. And my being content."

"You didn't mind his rejection of the religious theme of your book?"

"I didn't mind that, because I knew that the general tenor of the review wouldn't put people off reading my book. Indeed, it would have encouraged them to do so."

"What comes next? Oh, give us more Peter Quennell… PQ9, Evelyn, PQ9!"


Florid of countenance and fierce of eye, wearing a bowler hat so tightly battered down on his head that it suggests a crash helmet, carrying his closely rolled umbrella as if it were a pikestaff, a short, thick-set figure is sometimes to be observed stumping up St James’s-street.

Captain Evelyn Waugh was a pillar of the Commandos. He does not appear to wish to be reminded that he is also - in spite of his spirited representation af the military Heavy Swell - the most versatile and variously distinguished of our younger English novelists.

Yet on paper he has been hard at work demonstrating the fact since the dashing emergence of
Decline and Fall in 1928.

His subsequent books have invariably been entertaining, many of them surprising, almost all of them provoking. And, though his last full-length novel,
Brideshead Revisited, contains some of the worst and least defensible paragraphs that he has ever written, one must add that it includes some of the finest passages of prose story-telling in current English literature.

If Lady Julia was obviously a synthetic gem, and if, over the unfortunate love episode in the storm-tossed ocean liner, even his hardiest admirers are apt to raise their eyebrows, the sections that dealt with Sebastian Flyte, and with the devout, possessive mother who adores and ruins him, produce an effect that remains vividly impressed on the memory long after one has closed the book.

Scott-King’s Modern Europe, however, is not a full-length effort. It is indeed, little more than an admirable long short story. Evelyn Waugh prefaced his first novel with the candid admission that it was meant to be amusing - which, beyond all expectation, it certainly turned out to be: and in his new novel he has stuck to that excellent plan, and during the course of a diverting fantasy has given his destructive and satirical gifts the unhampered scope they ask for.

Modern Europe, we know, is a madhouse, full of noisy, evil lunatics. And through the adventures of an English schoolmaster, the timid, unaspiring Mr. Scott-King, who receives an invitation to attend a cultural congress in a remote European country called Neutralia, with totalitarian leanings, Evelyn Waugh flashes his bull’s-eye upon a corner of the chaos.

Scott-King comes to appalling grief. He is bamboozled, shipwrecked, stranded. In the end, we see him as a Dispossessed Person, able to escape only by taking refuge with the underground.

At length, after several agonising days in the bowels of a ‘hellship,’ he wakes up to find himself face to face with one of his old pupils in ‘No. 64 Jewish Illicit Immigrants’ Camp, Palestine.’

Evelyn Waugh is not a compassionate writer: his talent, I have always felt, is usually most in evidence when its operations are most merciless; and he sets about the Neutralian scene - native officials and visiting pundits - with a sort of jovial savagery.

"Do you know what's really interesting about that?"

"I find it interesting that Quennell was still thinking about
Brideshead a year or more after reading it."

"The opening paragraph. Where Peter describes meeting you wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella, walking up St. James's Street. That is significant."

"What does it signify?"

"During his writing career, three times Peter mentions bumping into you while walking up or down St James's Street. Look we can find it on the computer… The second time was in an article in the
New York Times shortly after your death (woops, sorry!) in 1966:

‘Walking up St James’s Street, I came face to face with him, accompanied by a rather grand young woman, his round, pink features surmounted and almost eclipsed by an impressive top hat. I paused; his greeting was distant. In some confusion I admired his buttonhole - naturally, a small orchid; at which he pulled it out and suggested I might like to keep it - not however as if he was making me a gift, but as if he had been but distributing largesse to a needy old acquaintance. I forget if I refused or accepted. The great man nodded, and passed on.'

And for the third time in
The Wanton Chase, published in 1980:

‘He had adopted a fresh persona; the rampageous Oxford Bohemian had become. a self-elected representative of the British upper classes; and I remember the odd impression he made on me as I saw him walking up St James’s Street, wearing a particularly glorious top hat, a small orchid in his button hole.’

"Numbers two and three would seem to be the same occasion."

"Yes, I've just realised that. But it's helpful in that the third time clarifies that on both occasions you met,
you were walking up St James's Street and he was walking down it."

"Where are you going with this?"

"Let's go back into the main gallery and I'll tell you."


"Now, near the top of St James's Street, on the right, is White's Club, where you were a member since 1941. And on the left, round the corner on Piccadilly, is The Ritz. Just about your two favourite places in London… And at the bottom of St James's Street, round to the left is or was Warwick House, the Rothermere's London home, near St James's Palace, where Peter Quennell was a fixture as one of Ann Rothermere's closest friends. Ann being the reason that Peter Quennell got to write lovely reviews of your books. Got the set-up?"



"So you were walking up the street towards your club. Or, when the young lady was in tow, to the Ritz. Do you remember who that was, by the way?"

"No idea."

"Anyway, Peter was walking down St James's, probably to Warwick House. Peter badly wanted to be a member of White's. And you wanted to be closer to Ann, who in due course became as close a correspondent as I was. So there was a lot of tension flowing between you. Now: WHAT DID EVELYN DO? Can you remember?"

"Do you mean the club membership business?"

"I do."

"I had forgotten."

"Let me remind you. In June of 1949 you wrote to tell me that Duff Cooper had put Quennell up for membership at White's, as some form of revenge on you. Before that, in 1943, you'd bumped into Peter at White's, where he must have been allowed in as the guest of a member. And you had said to him, words he noted in one of his books:
"I always seem to be meeting you in the most unexpected places". You wrote again in June of 49, informing me that Cyril, also a member at White's, had rushed to the Candidate's Book and signed his name on Peter's page. Next, you wrote in August to tell me that it had been heaven to walk into White's and find three old chums drunk and tucking into grouse, and to hear a member of the committee saying that there was not a hope in hell of Peter getting elected as he would be black-balled. Then, in a letter in October, you told me you'd dropped into White's to give a final basting to Peter's goose, though you thought it was unnecessary as he was assured of 100% black-balling. And in another letter that month you explained the basis for your objection. That White's was a club for gamblers, lords and heroes."

"Gamblers, lords and heroes. Then which was I?"

"That's what I was wondering."

"I should have said gambler, lords, heroes and

"Ah, so it's that. Now this is where I have an admission to make. I have had a hand in putting together this exhibition, and so I can tell you that we need to skip PQ10 - which is an excellent review of
Helena - and move onto PQ11, Peter's review of Men At Arms."

"This begins to intrigue me."


Before emerging as our Bland Old Men, well-known writers often pass through a phase of middle-aged dissatisfaction, during which they are ill at ease with their contemporaries, suspicious of their younger colleagues, and usually, perhaps, if the truth were known, a little mistrustful of their own talent.

Such a period of salutary trial would appear to have descended both on Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh. Each is an exceptionally gifted artist, but neither of them seems content to remain an artist pure and simple. Each - like the soft-shelled hermit crab - has retreated into a thorny shell made of violent personal prejudices.

Evelyn Waugh is the Catholic reactionary, exultant over the tongues of hell-fire that he imagines licking round his acquaintances’ feet; Ernest Hemingway the tough
hombre, fisherman, fighter, and Homeric roisterer who applies his phraseology of the prize-ring to his progress in the literary world: Stendhal’s seconds are throwing in the sponge; the old champ Leo Tolstoy is retiring groggily towards his corner. But this does not prevent either of them from being an unusually sensitive and intelligent person. Many of their virtues and some of their weaknesses are discernible in two books due to be published next Monday - Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, a short novel or long short story, and Men at Arms, by Evelyn Waugh, the first of three novels that he intends to devote to the adventures of a non-professional soldier.

Whereas Evelyn Waugh’s book is exceedingly funny, Hemingway’s is consistently solemn; but it lacks the portentous solemnity, bordering on self-caricature, which distinguished that unfortunate production
Across the River and Into the Trees. Thank heaven there is not a mention of love - there are no Spanish ‘Rabbits’ or young Italian countesses; and we find no aged warrior, full of ‘wild boar blood,’ licking his wounds, and unpacking his grievances to the rhythm of an endless succession of monster Dry Martinis.

Its hero indeed, is an elderly fisherman, who, after a lengthy spell of ill-luck which has brought him down to the starvation level, hooks a gigantic tropical fish. He hooks it, but he cannot land it; and the story concerns his struggle to the death with his powerful and magnificent victim, which is eventually torn away from him and ripped to shreds by an army of pursuing sharks.

The straightforward descriptive passages few modern novelists could have handled more successfully. Heat, exhaustion, the colours of sea and sky, the sleek beauty of the great fish, thrashing, circling, plunging - all are suggested in page after page of graphic and economical prose. The weakness of the book comes from the novelist’s determination to be stark and heroic at all cost. Man’s courage and Sense of Honour are pitted against Primeval Forces. The fisherman himself is a figure larger than life - and consequently far less interesting. As he grows bigger he grows flatter and vaguer. One misses the sharp characterisation of Ernest Hemingway’s early stories.

Nor can
Men At Arms be labelled ‘vintage Waugh.’ But, granted that it lacks the literary compactness and emotional concentration of A Handful of Dust and even Brideshead Revisited, it still stands head and shoulders above most contemporary English fiction.

Perhaps we should refrain from final judgement until we have read the closing volume. Meanwhile, it is an uncommonly enjoyable tale - the picture of an almost middle-aged man who, when war breaks out, sees in military service a chance of escaping from the state of gloom and spiritual isolation into which he has fallen since the collapse of an unhappy marriage.

Crouchback has romantic ideas of a redemption through a life of dedication to duty; but his existence at a training school and in a line of regiment called the Halberdiers proves less romantic than he had hoped and expected. The background of Crouchback’s career is sketched in by Evelyn Waugh with that fertility of imagination and exhilarating comic gusto of which he alone possesses the secret.

Some episodes are broadly farcical; and we are privileged to meet one of the finest of his comic characters - Apthorpe, owner of the ‘Thunder-Box,’ a personage who deserves to take his place beside Captain Grimes of
Decline and Fall.

Apthorpe is drawn with a sympathy and affection that do the novelist’s heart credit. It is odd that, although he has a nostalgic appreciation of the Heavy and the Light-Weight Swell, Evelyn Waugh should be at his happiest as a writer in a very different social setting - among amiable bounders, endearing cads, and unauthorised wearers of impressive old-school ties.

Nancy is first to finish reading the review. And when Evelyn's movements suggest that he too is done, she says:

"When I first read the closing paragraphs of this review, something struck me. The Thunder-Box incident is a kind of reworking of the White's Club joust. Apthorpe has this mobile toilet that he jealously guards. He tries to explain his pride of ownership to Crouchback, as you explained your love of White's to me. Brigadier Ritchie Hook (Peter) attempts to move in on the Thunder-Box (White's) and requisition it for himself, putting up a sign to that effect. Apthorpe takes defensive measures, moving the Thunder-Box to another location. The brigadier finally wins the battle of wits when the shed that houses the Thunder-Box explodes while Apthorpe has his trousers round his ankles.

"It's as if I you were using real life as a trying-out ground for your fiction. As Peter points out somewhere, you wear this grotesque mask in public, but when you sit down to write, you take off the mask and you analyse your real self, splitting the complex being into, in this case, the deranged obsessive (Apthorpe), the endearing firebrand (Brigadier Ritchie Hook) and the moral compass (Crouchback).

"But what Peter doesn't touch on is that there is a vivid thread in
Men At Arms about an Air Marshall Beech (Peter again) who is trying to become a member of Bellamy's (White's). Ian Kilbannock (Patrick Balfour) tricks Guy Crouchback into signing his name on Major Beeches candidacy page at the club. At the same time, Kilbannock assures Crouchback that Air Marshall Beech is bound to be black-balled. Why? Because although he may be a soldier, he is no Gambler, no Lord, no Hero.

"Oh, Evelyn it's all so marvellous and I salute you for it! The way your characters are always the result of a deep looking inside yourself, as well as a sharp looking outside… No reply? No riposte? Well, it is a private, personal process, this writing vocation, so I won't insist on hearing your side of it. Instead, let's return to Peter's reviews. The next is where he discusses your
Love Among the Ruins as fifth in a pile of five books."


Lastly a savage, yet somehow rather frivolous fantasy, fewer than 60 pages long, hot from the active and irascible brain of our most accomplished satirist. Beautifully written elegantly illustrated with the author’s own embellishments,
Love Among the Ruins is composed of two separate threads of story not always very successfully linked.

The first is a nightmare sketch of the triumphant Welfare State - godless, spiritless, merciless and yet incurably inefficient - as it might be reorganised in years to come thanks to the improbable coalition of Mr. Bevan and Mr. Eden.

The second deals with an extraordinary love affair between a genial young ex-convict and a curiously charming Bearded Lady, who has all the gaiety and blithe inconsequence of the novelist’s earliest heroines. But there is more fury than fun in the telling. The joke is a little too complicated - and possibly a little too bitter. Beside that inimitable production
The Loved One, Love Among the Ruins is decidedly a minor effort.

"Funny that Peter should mention The Loved One. It's the one book of fiction of yours he didn't seem to review in his 1943 to 1956 stint as book reviewer at The Daily Mail. I'm still trying to work out why, as he clearly admired it… Anyway, just after that review of Love Among the Ruins appeared, you wrote an article for the Spectator, praising Peter's reviewing. Or at least saying something along the lines that The Daily Mail, alone of the popular papers, had some literary prestige. That Peter was a widely-read, fastidious critic and a competent writer who told his readers week by week, with self-effacement and high competence, what books were likely to interest them. You then added that Peter wrote the most useful, if not the most exhilarating, literary journalism of the day.

"But at the same time you sent a postcard to Christopher Sykes, telling him that you had passed through London the day before, successfully avoiding certain people.
'No sign of Quennell…' Then a few days after your piece in the Spectator, you wrote facetiously to Sykes that you didn't know this Quennell personally. But that you'd been told he was a very deserving young man who had lost a leg parachuting into France during the war… The third card to Sykes was addressed to 'Miss Quennell' and ended: 'What a sad season this must be for your cousin Peter! - but I suppose all seasons are sad for him really. At any rate they fucking well ought to be.'"

"What a sad season it must be for your cousin, Peter," repeats Evelyn. "But I suppose all seasons are sad for him really. At any rate…"

Together: "
They fucking well ought to be."

Nancy and Evelyn are walking hand in hand. While talking, they have wandered back out into the gallery where they find themselves looking around…


… And laughing.


Last review! Nancy and Evelyn hurry back to the computer to read it together.


Evelyn Waugh is one of the very few modern English story-tellers who seem to stand a reasonable chance of being read and discussed about the year 2000. Nor will he be regarded merely as a period piece.

True, the period flavour is strong in his early novels; but underlying it are far more important qualities - a highly developed narrative gift and an extraordinary aptitude for describing human character, coupled of course with some of the talents of a first-rate satirist.

Brideshead Revisited all these qualifications, enhanced by a growing seriousness, were united in the same book. Perhaps it marked the climax of his career. The sad wisdom of the middle-aged writer was still accompanied in many passages by an exquisite youthful sense of fun.

That sense of fun has gradually disappeared and in
Officers and Gentlemen, the second and last of two novels devoted to the experiences of the war, a tone of increasing disillusionment is accentuated rather than relieved by bursts of forced hilarity.

Everything has gone wrong with the unhappy hero. Not at the best of times a particularly cheerful character, Guy Crouchback - the devout but depressed Catholic gentleman who had expected to find a remedy in military service for the condition of spiritual anaemia that threatened to paralyse his civilian life - watches his long love-affair with the Army draw to an unsuccessful close.

Poor Crouchback continues to command some measure of his creator’s sympathy. Not so most of his war-time associates. Every satirist has a certain blind-spot; and up until now that of Evelyn Waugh has usually been turned towards the English upper classes.

His well-bred heroines might be fickle and promiscuous and show an unaccountable readiness to become infatuated with middle-class cads; but their husbands and brothers were frequently the objects of a kind of romantic favouritism if they were brave and handsome and tall.

Alas! The ugliest character presented by
Officers and Gentlemen is a gentleman in the original sense of the word, Crouchback himself is completely deceived:

‘Guy remembered Claire as he first saw him in the Roman spring in
the afternoon sunlight…putting his horse faultlessly over the
jumps, concentrated as a man in prayer. Ivor Claire, Guy thought,
was the fine flower of them all. He was quintessential England, the
man Hitler had not taken into account. Guy thought.’

Naturally the reader follows Crouchback’s lead - until he learns that this cool, sardonic young man has played an ignominious part in Crete, deserted his unit and cynically scuttled for freedom.

Only the fascinating Mrs. Stitch rescues Ivor Claire from a court-martial. Because Crouchback knows too much Mrs Stitch ensures that he shall be packed quietly home.

Such is the climax of the story. Courage and integrity are defeated; cowardice and opportunism receive a timely coating of diplomatic whitewash. Even the comic villain - an amorous hairdresser masquerading as a Commando officer - can do very little, though he tries his hardest to lighten the prevailing gloom.

What, however, makes the story well worth reading are not the comic episodes but the splendid battle scenes. Evelyn Waugh’s description of the battle of Crete is not unworthy to be compared with Stendhal’s celebrated picture of the Battle of Waterloo. His portrait of the officer who breaks down is a magnificent study in moral and physical disintegration.

The novelist’s gaiety is less sustained; but his sense of tragedy has grown more acute.
Officers and Gentlemen may not be a very good book; but, from the writer’s point of view, I have no doubt that it was a necessary book. As a keen admirer of Evelyn Waugh’s gifts, I look forward to his next.

"What Peter doesn't say is that the opening scene of Officers and Gentlemen is set in Guy's club, Bellamy's."

"Ah, yes."

"Air Marshall Beech has been allowed into the club, unopposed. As was Peter into White's. But you got your revenge. In that first chapter, there is an air raid on central London. Air Marshall Beech insists on taking cover under the billiards table, much to the derision of all the gamblers, Lords and Heroes present…When the all-clear sounds the club's butler approaches Air Marshall Beech with a candelabra held aloft. What was his name again?"


"Your carriage awaits, sir!" Job announces. And everybody laughs. The crestfallen Air Marshall crawls out from under the table and scuttles off in his military vehicle. I can't help wondering if that scene was inspired by something that really happened with Peter at your club."

But, as far as Evelyn is concerned, it's time for a drink. He leaves the gallery without another word. Nancy begins to follow, then stops and goes back into the small room and picks up the copy of
Horizon that contains Peter Quennell's review of Put Out More Flags. It was the longest review Peter wrote of any of Evelyn's books, and she feels that this would be the best time to read it. As she does so, she types it, for this exhibition is a moveable feast, is still in the process of becoming. And if Evelyn has turned down the chance to read his own review in the small-printed periodical, then that is something she must respond to:

HORIZON February, 1942

In the impressive list of Mr. Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novels,
Put Out More Flags seems to occupy a midway place. Not so good a book as A Handful of Dust - up to the present day Mr. Waugh’s most mature production - it is undoubtedly far better than the disastrous Scoop, the slowest and least readable of all his stories.

(Had Peter taken leave of his senses? There is nothing funnier than the opening and closing sections of Scoop. And the middle section, set in Africa, is fascinating if one gives it enough study. Context is all.)

But, if it falls short of A Handful of Dust, this new novel is, at any rate in a number of isolated passages, equally well written. When he began his career, Mr. Waugh’s writing was often sketchy and haphazard. Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies were to adult novels what a brilliant charade is to a full-length play. They depended for their effect on Mr. Waugh’s really astonishing gift of comic improvisation, on the exuberance with which he pursued his personages and on a certain beguiling mixture of geniality and feline cruelty.

(So says the critic, in awe of the author under review.)

In A Handful of Dust one was delighted to discover that the novelist, grown slightly less vivacious, was still capable now and then of lightning claw-strokes. The element of surprise was again employed - this time, however, to very different purpose: and an extremely audacious twist of the narrative (by which the heroine, when told of her little boy’s death, supposes that it is her lover who has been killed and is enormously and unselfconsciously relieved when she learns of her mistake) ‘came off’ so completely as to act like a minor physical shock on the reader’s nervous system.

(That is the same bit that Peter quoted in his 1934 review in the New Statesman.)

The weakness of
A Handful of Dust was the romantic partiality that the writer tended to display for various characters. He made fun of, but was evidently fascinated by, their patrician background: and the scenes in which a devoted servitor teaches the young heir to jump are somehow out of key with the remainder of the narrative.

(Ben teaching John to ride is laugh-out-loud funny.)

It does not suit Mr Waugh to admire his personages - or rather, if he admires, what he admires should be their appealing enormity or picturesque extravagance. A hint of sentimental approval is always jarring: and thus, in his latest book, while he is at his best when he describes the blackmailing exploits of Basil Seal, he is least at ease when he depicts, with a sort of nostalgic appreciation, the expensively ramshackle home-life of Alastair and Sonia Digby-Vane-Trumpington…

Basil had attended Sonia’s levees…since the days of her first dazzling loveliness, when, almost alone among the chaste and daring brides of London, she had admitted mixed company to her bathroom…There were usually three or four breathless and giddy young men…gulping Black Velvet in the steam…

or dwells on the superlative elegance of Basil Seal’s mistress, the beautiful but alcoholic Mrs Lyne. That last is a portrait which he begins rather badly but finishes (one must admit) very well indeed. The original draft is faintly reminiscent of Mr. Mchael Arlen. It has also a touch of the literary gossip-writer:

A stranger passing the open door of her compartment might well have speculated on her nationality and place in the world…She wore the livery of the highest fashion, but as one who dressed to inform rather than to attract… All her properties - the luggage heaped above her and around her, the set of her hair, her shoes, her finger-nails, the barely perceptible aura of scent that surrounded her, the Vichy water and the paper-bound volume of Balzac on the table before her - all these things spoke of what (had she been, as she seemed, American) she would have called her ‘personality’.

But Mr Waugh, luckily, soon recovers himself, and his account of the collapse under war-strain of Mrs Lyne’s organism and of her slow deliberate saunter downhill into chronic drunkenness is in his finest vein of unaccented tragi-comedy.

(Note to self. Don’t draw Audrey Lucas's attention to this review.)

It is one of the drawbacks of satirical writing that, whereas a satirist’s recriminations may be brilliant and even poetic, the remedies he proposes seem often strangely futile. In religious faith a Roman Catholic, Mr. Waugh (one gathers) is now in politics some sort of romantic Tory.

Having collected his assortment of Georgian left-overs (many of them pleasantly familiar from a reading of his previous novels) he shows them responding to life in London and the country during the first dismal months of the Great Bore War. Basil Seal practises comic blackmail and desultory seduction: his mistress drinks: his sister, who loves Basil with an absorption that is sometimes more than sisterly, looks after her huge house and minds her evacuees: Basil’s mother confers with an ancient crony and worries about finding her son a suitable war job: Ambrose Silk, the cultured paederast, slips into a comfortable berth in the Ministry of Information.

(Peter was also in the Ministry of Information at the beginning of the war. As was Brian Howard, who Peter well knows is the model for Ambrose.)

Ambrose, by the way, is an exception proving the rule that Mr. Waugh writes best when he is most envenomed. For Mr. Waugh dislikes this character, but neither enjoys or understands him (as he understands, for example, Basil's drunken mistress) : and the result is a sketch that, though catty and entertaining, never penetrates very far beneath the surface and suggests a slight confusion of moral and social values.

(Why has Peter got that so wrong? Evelyn strikes to the heart of Brian Howard as would-be socialist and would-be writer.)

The fact that Ambrose has sunk to the level of Charlotte Street, moves in the wrong kind of Bohemian circles, among the noisy and undistinguished haunters of studios and pubs, causes the novelist (one can't help thinking) to regard him from an unnecessarily superior standpoint. Poor Ambrose may have his vagaries and his affectations, but Mr. Waugh need not pass him by on the other side of the road with a gesture that is not only condemnatory but alas condescending!

(Oh, that has got Nancy thinking. But she must finish reading the review before pushing on with he thoughts.)

The Churchillian renaissance which concludes the narrative, when the sluggish and self-indulgent relics of the between-war period spring into sudden patriotic life, and Basil and Alastair decide to join the Commandos, was a military and political, but scarcely a moral, portent.

Having finished typing the review, Nancy sits back, and thinks hard.
Because Peter was as left-wing as Ambrose, and worked for the Ministry of Information, he is rightly afraid that Evelyn, the soldier who saw action, looked down on him. And was still looking down on him a decade or more after the end of the war.

Funny, at one time Nancy had thought Evelyn was simply jealous of Peter because of his friendship with Ann. Just as Evelyn admitted, in the month before his death, that he'd begun to be rude to Nancy's sister, Diana, after a year of intense friendship, because he'd become jealous of her post-pregnancy friendships with Harold Acton and Robert Byron, feeling that he couldn't compete. But Nancy didn't think that was the case here. Principally, Evelyn made the intellectual decision to despise Peter because of choices Peter had made during the war years. There's idealism for you.

If you turn right (instead of left for the Ritz) at the top of St James’s Street, you soon find yourself at the Café Royal, where Ambrose held meetings with Basil. The cartoon by Osbert Lancaster in the same 1942 issue of
Horizon shows Brian, Cyril and Peter, amongst others, enjoying a bit of war-time decadence.


While another cartoon by Osbert Lancaster (a near-contemporary of Evelyn and Peter from Oxford) shows the situation on the steps of White’s Club. Evelyn is on guard! If any of those pinkies try to get past him he won’t hesitate to use his tightly-rolled umbrella as a weapon to blackball them. The enemy - the true enemy - is always to be found where one least expects it.

Evelyn Waugh by Osbert Lancaster

As Nancy makes her way to the exit of the gallery, she can't help feeling she has an answer to her question that will do to be going on with.


Evelyn glowed far brighter than anyone else did. For better or for worse.

Has anybody else arrived to pay homage to Evelyn. No less than
Harold Acton.


1. Thanks to Jeff Manley at the Evelyn Waugh Society for digging out the neglected
Daily Mail reviews. That's those on Scott King's Modern Europe, Helena, Men at Arms, Love Among the Ruins and Officers and Gentlemen.

2. Seems a shame not to have used the
Helena review in the above text, so here is PQ10:

DAILY MAIL Saturday, October 14, 1950
An expedition through the encyclopaedia is almost always pleasurable.
‘H…H…H… Hegel - Hegemon of Thasos - Hehe (‘a Bantu tribe inhabiting the Tanganyika plateau.’)… Finally, after many stops by the way and some instructive wool-gathering: ‘Helena St. (c.247-c. 327), the wife of the Emperor Constantius L Chlorus and mother of Constantine the Great… a woman of humble origin, born probably at Drepanum, a town on the Gulf of Nicomedia… Very little is known of her history…The name of Helena is intimately connected with the commonly received story of the discovery of the Cross; but the accounts which connect her with the discovery are much later than the date of the events.’

On these fragmentary and vague foundations, Evelyn Waugh, one of the most versatile novelists of his age, has built the most ambitious essay in fiction he has yet attempted. Helena (the Daily Mail October choice) is not so much an historical novel as a legend composed within a slight historical framework. It is an imaginative impression of what may have happened during the tremendous years when the vast mechanism of the Roman Empire was being geared to Christianity, coloured by strong religious convictions, and strengthened by an artist’s delight in the immemorial craft of story-telling.

Merely as a story it is a fascinating achievement. Evelyn Waugh dismisses the report that the heroine of his report was born in Asia Minor, and substitutes the flimsier tradition of her English birth and ancestry. For his purposes she is the daughter of Coel, the ‘Old King Cole’ of the nursery rhyme, a boisterously good-humoured British chief with a small but noisy private band, who rules by Roman permission from the primitive city of Colchester.

There Helena grows up to lusty, unreflecting maidenhood, coached in classical learning by a foreign schoolmaster-slave, but happiest on horseback or among her father’s stable boys. Adult passion appears in the shape of an ambitious Roman staff officer. As the wife of Constantius Chlorius, a cold slippery careerist with an invincible will to succeed, she watches her husband climb slowly up and up, eliminating rival after rival on the dangerous road towards supreme command. Before he discards her, she bears him her only son - Constantine the Great, the emperor who for political reasons accepted Christianity.

Yet Helena remains a simple woman, judging the world around her - a complex and terrifying world - by simple native standards. Having embraced Christianity herself, she finds the religious attitudisings of her son Constantine perplexing and distasteful. But she goes straight ahead along the path she has chosen, reaping her reward at last during a pious visit to the Holy Places. Deep underground she discovers hidden away the precious timbers of the True Cross.

Such is the skeleton clothed by Evelyn Waugh in a prose style of characteristic liveliness. His book is the result of careful study, yet keeps clear of any taint of the British Museum Reading Room. The atmosphere of the story is topical: and the complicated and sanguinary dramas of Roman high politics are translated into terms that have a Twentieth Century application. Thus the narrative moves smoothly and swiftly on - from Coel’s rain-swept castle at Colchester to fortified garrison-towns in Central Europe, from Helena’s Dalmatian dower-house to the nightmare palace of the Roman emperors, and thence to the hills of Palestine, where Helena is guided the remains of the Cross by mysterious vision of the Wandering Jew.

Primarily the novelist’s theme is a spiritual conflict between the saintly disinterstness of Helena’s nature and the selfish and destructive passions of the men and women - emperors and empresses, soldiers, politicians and political priests - by whom she is surrounded.

But isn spite of some touches of prejudice, and one or two massive doses of devotional propaganda, Evelyn Waugh’s new book never degenerates into that dreadful thing - a novel with a purpose’. The artist has the propagandist in hand; and it is the artist, Allie to the satirist, who gives the book its quality. The picture of Constantine in his full imperial splendour - in a purple surcoat heavily gold-embroidered, an undergarment of peacock blue, and a huge collar of gold and enamel, set with miniatures illustrating ‘indifferently the stories of the Gospel and of Mount Olympus’ - as he fidgets at an immense green wig and smiles nervously in the direction of the disapproving Empress-mother, is in the finest satirical vein of the exuberant author of
Decline and Fall.