Friday, 13 December 2013

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

Why I read it: No idea. Possibly this Telegraph review

Podcasts: None

Brow: A biography of Evelyn Waugh would be middle brow. A biography that focuses on his homosexual exploits at Oxford in the 1920s and how it informed his most famous work is pretty low brow. So we'll split this one down the middle and call it lower-middle brow.

Summary: This is an unusual take on the literary biography. Rather than focus on the author, Paula Byrne makes the family and house that inspired Brideshead Revisited as her subject.

When Evelyn Waugh went up to Oxford in the 1920s, he fell in with a bunch of gay (in both senses of the word) young aristocrats who liked nothing better than to get drunk off their asses and smash up the town, much like David Cameron in the mid-80s. Among them was Hugh Lygon, who had grown up in the beautiful Madresfield Court with his six siblings. His father was in exile for homosexual acts, which were illegal in Britain at the time. Waugh, a middle class boy from London, fell in love with the entire family, its estate, and most particularly, the chapel, all of which found its way into his writing.

What I liked about it: Brideshead Revisted is a great book, even if it does have a weird Catholic conversion ending, and it was fun to find out who inspired the loveable drunk Sebastian Flyte and his even more loveable teddy bear Aloysius, his cold, disapproving mummy, and his beautiful chapel that he hates so much.

What I didn't like about it: Unfortunately, for some reason I've chosen a lot of biographies and autobiographies recently, and I seem to have life-story fatigue. My next few non-fiction books are going to be about science or history.

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