Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
By Paula Byrne
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780060881306, 384pp.)
Publication Date: April 1, 2010
List Price: $25.99*
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Evelyn Waugh was already famous when Brideshead Revisited was published in 1945. Written at the height of the war, the novel was, he admitted, of no "immediate propaganda value." Instead, it was the story of a household, a family and a journey of religious faith—an elegy for a vanishing world and a testimony to a family he had fallen in love with a decade earlier.
The Lygons of Madresfield were every bit as glamourous, eccentric and compelling as their counterparts in Brideshead Revisited. William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, was a warmhearted, generous and unconventional father whose seven children adored him. When he was forced to flee the country by his scheming brother-in-law, his traumatised children stood firmly by him, defying not only the mores of the day but also their deeply religious mother.
In this engrossing biography, Paula Byrne takes an innovative approach to her subject, setting out to capture Waugh through the friendships that mattered most to him. She uncovers a man who, far from the snobbish misanthrope of popular caricature, was as loving and as complex as the family that inspired him. This brilliantly original biography unlocks for the first time the extent to which Waugh's great novel encoded and transformed his own experiences. In so doing, it illuminates the loves and obsessions that shaped his life, and brings us inevitably to the secret that dared not speak its name.
Paula Byrne is the author of Perdita, a highly acclaimed biography of eighteenth-century celebrity Mary Robinson. A regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and other publications, she lives in Warwickshire, England, with her three children and her husband, the critic and biographer Jonathan Bate.