Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ability to be Funny and Entertaining

Yesterday evening I finished reading Paula Byrne's book 'Mad World. Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead'. I started with this book on Christmas evening. Can't really tell why ... I guess I needed a kind of escapism: big houses, money, dolce far niente,  nobility and those without titles (s.nob = sine nobilitate).

Lovely book. It's theme is the historical background on Evelyn Waugh's (1903-1966) book 'Brideshead Revisited' (1945). Waugh had a middle-class background. His father was a publisher. He won a scholarship for Oxford. There he met - after a couple of terms - the rich and famous, in the circle known as the Hypocrites. This circle was for Evelyn the door to the English upper-class and their country houses.

Everybody loves a Lord. Evelyn was in love with a whole family! He was in love with the Lygons. The head of the family was William Lygon (1872-1938), 7th Earl Beauchamp. He lived with his wife and 7 children in Madresfield Court in Worcestershire. Pictures of Madresfield and William Lygon's family (around 1925):     

This is the family that inspired - they do not completely coincide -  Evelyn Waugh's characters in Brideshead. In real life Earl Beauchamp (say: Beechamp) did not cheat his wife with a woman but with a man. He was a homosexual who was forced by his wife and his jealous brother-in-law (2nd Duke of Westminister) to go into exile and "never" to return to England. And if not ... they would make public his homosexuality and he had to go to jail.

New for me:
  • The Lygons did not weekend at other country houses: that was considered vulgar.
  • Evelyn and Hugh Lygon had a homosexual affair. 
  • Social climber? A lot of Evelyn's best aristocratic friends emphasised that it was they who sought his company, rather than the other way around. Evelyn judged people not by their class but by their ability to be funny and entertaining.
  • Correspondence between Evelyn and three of the Lygon girls from 1931-1966: Sibell, Mary ('Maimie') and Dorothy ('Coote'). They considered him as a brother.
  • The 7th Earl ('Boom') did not mention his children Lettice nor Dickie in his will. 
  • Apart from Lettice (who married before her father's scandal) none of the Lygon girls married into aristocracy or gentry. This shows more than anything the legacy of their father's disgrace.
  • What happened to the Lygons? When William, 8th Earl Beauchamp ('Elmley') died the title got extinct. Of the seven children only Richard ('Dickie') got children: two daughters. No heir to the title! And who lives in Madresfield Court now? Dickie's daughter Rosalind.


  1. With a few exceptions, I'm not much for biographies, but I like this sweet and short version. And the s.nob is a gem.

  2. Thank you @Mette. For me this "The Lygons did not weekend at other country houses: that was considered vulgar" was this book gem.
    More short versions on this book can be found here: