The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh
Auberon Waugh says of his father’s diaries: “[They] show that the world of Evelyn Waugh’s novels did, in fact, exist.” The publishers have put this remark at the top of the blurb and deserve praise for seeing that it marks what is undoubtedly a striking fact about the diaries. When Waugh falls short by leaving some zany unexplained, his editor, Michael Davie, steps forward loyally and gives us the gist of the nut in the footnote or the appendix: the result, when author and editor are both straining like greyhounds in the slips, is as mad as the mysteries of the wildest religion, but with the huge advantage of being true. Waugh’s problem as a novelist, one sees suddenly, was to find even standing room only for the members of a society that can never have been equaled for eccentricity in the history of the world:
“[Sir Francis Laking], third and last baronet. Suffered from lisp; after his father died, he answered the telephone by saying: ‘Thir Guy Laking ith dead. Thith ith Thir Franthith thpeaking.’ Became secretary to Tallulah Bankhead…drank himself to death on yellow chartreuse, aged twenty-eight.” Bequeathed to Miss Bankhead “all my motor-cars”—but there were none left.
“Mr. Justice Phillimore was trying a sodomy case and…went to consult Birkenhead [the Lord Chancellor]. ‘Excuse me, my lord, but could you tell me—What do you think one ought to give a man who allows himself to be buggered?’ ‘Oh, thirty shillings or two pounds—anything you happen to have on you.’ ”
“[Hamish Guthrie]…married four times; all four wives attended his funeral.”
“Went to a quarry with four dogs where Mrs. G. bought mountains of mustard-colored stone from a deaf man with second sight who rode a tricycle.”
“Captain Hyde-Upward; it was his custom to polish and clean out his pipe while standing naked at his bedroom window.”
“I ran straight into a wall and found chalked on it ARE YOU WASHED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB most disturbing.”
“[Earl of Rosse] said to me, ‘What is this hall I am in?’ I told him it was hired for the occasion. ‘What an extraordinary arrangement and who are all these people actresses I suppose or what?’ I told him that they were my friends. ‘Indeed and are any of them anyone one has ever heard of?’ I think his manners are not good.”
“Dawkins, R.M….professor of Byzantine archaeology and modern Greek at Oxford…observed by Osbert Lancaster perched in the upper branches of a large chestnut tree in Exeter College garden. Ordered his suits by postcard from the general store of a small village in Northern Ireland.”
“The 9th Baron Berners,…a composer, thought well of by Stravinsky; …had a piano built into the back of his Rolls-Royce.”
Hundreds more, but those should be enough to get us tricycling down the right road. And anyone who wishes may have the extra joy of a special treasure hunt, finding here, there, and everywhere his favorite Waugh characters as they were in…
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