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Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Bridesheadby Paula Byrne
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"The identity of the aristocratic family that inspired Brideshead Revisited has long been known to Waugh biographers: Byrne's (Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson) considerable contribution to literary history details Waugh's close relationship with Earl and Countess Beauchamp; their son, Hugh Lygon (the prototype for Sebastian Flyte); and the psychological circumstances through which Waugh transformed his experiences into a novel that mirrored his lifelong quest for an ideal family and the spiritual haven of Roman Catholicism. Waugh, the product of an obscure public school, suffered at Oxford until he was accepted as a comrade by a group of brilliant, gay former Etonians whose college years were characterized by decadence, drinking, and debauchery. Hugh Lygon, while intellectually mediocre, belonged to the circle by dint of his charm and lineage. The tragic history of Madresfield, from Earl Beauchamp's exile from England to Hugh's early death, are thinly disguised in Brideshead. Byrne obtained access to previously unseen documents — including revelation of the royal family's possible role in the earl's exile — and includes enough gossipy asides to intrigue readers. With its brisk narrative pace, this book will be valuable to admirers of Waugh's oeuvre and those interested in the behavior of English upper-class society between the wars. 16 pages of color photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A terrifically engaging and original biography of one of Englands greatest novelists, Evelyn Waugh, and the glamorous, eccentric, debauched, and ultimately tragic family that provided him with the most significant friendships of his life and inspired his masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited. Fans of The Mitfords, D.J. Taylors Bright Young People, and Alexander Waughs Fathers and Sons, as well as Anglophiles in general, will find much to savor in Paula Byrnes wonderful Mad World.
About the Author
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.
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