Monday, 18 February 2013

Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, by Paula Byrne

This book is about Evelyn Waugh's life in relation to the inspiration for, and the writing of Brideshead Revisited. It's a long time since I read Brideshead but I still found this book completely fascinating. In the Preface Paula Byrne writes;

I set out to write this book because I believed that Evelyn Waugh had been persistently misrepresented as a snob and a curmudgeonly misanthrope. I did not recognise Waugh in the popular caricature of him..........I kept coming back to his relationship with a single family: the Lygons of Madresfield. I came to the conclusion that his feelings about them provided a key that could unlock the door into Waugh's inner world.

Evelyn Waugh met Hugh Lygon when they were both students at Oxford. Hugh came from an entirely different background to Evelyn's, the Lygons live in 'a heady cocktail of aristocracy, eccentricity and piety'. He was one of the seven children of William Lygon, the seventh Earl Beauchamp. The family had several homes but the children's favourite was Madresfield Court in Worcestershire. The Lygon family became the models for the Flytes and Hugh was Sebastian.

It was the era of the 'bright young things' and Waugh threw himself wholeheartedly into the drinking and the parties and the fun. Paula Byrne shows how, as something of an outsider, he was ideally place to chronicle those times. He was part of it, yet slightly removed from it. It was a heady time and there were casualties, there was alcoholism and drug addiction. Waugh chronicled this as well.

I thought this was a fascinating book, and it has certainly made me want to read more of Waugh's work. Paula Byrne's latest book is a biography of Jane Austen and I would like to read that too.


  1. Joanne, thank you so much for letting us know about this book. It sounds wonderful and I am going to order it today, if possible. I am also interested in Paula Byrne's book about Jane Austen. I adore Brideshead and would love to know more about Waugh and the story that inspired the novel.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.