Auctions | October 29, 2014

Previously Unknown Evelyn Waugh Letters for Sale at Bonhams

Three previously unknown hand written letters from Evelyn Waugh to his friend Eleanor Watts, the girlfriend of the man who ran off with the novelist’s wife in 1929, are to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books, Atlases, Manuscripts and Photographs Sale on 12 November in London. They are estimated at £2,000-3,000.

Watts and Waugh had been friends since meeting at Oxford and their lives had taken parallel turns. Neither of them completed their degrees, both abandoning Oxford for art colleges.  Watts went to the Central School of Art and Design and Waugh to Heatherley Art School.

Two of Waugh’s letters are undated though they were, by the context, clearly written during March and April 1938. One, from Cornwall Terrace, London, congratulates Eleanor on her forthcoming marriage—‘Believe me it is highly satisfying to be married’.  In the second letter, sent from Waugh’s Gloucestershire home, Piers Court, he regrets being unable to attend the ceremony itself but wonders whether Eleanor might like as a wedding present one of the remaining large paper copies of Vile Bodies he commissioned on its publication in 1930. Waugh was working on the novel when his wife left him for Watts’ boyfriend John Heygate and they saw a lot of each other around that time in a largely unsuccessful attempt to cheer each other up.  Naturally Waugh does not refer to this painful episode but links the offer of the novel to an ‘unforgettable visit to your aunt’s’ he paid while writing the book—‘ So it seems suitable’.

The third letter is written on the headed correspondence card of The Spreadeagle Inn, Thame, a favourite haunt of Waugh’s which features in Brideshead Revisited when Anthony Blanche takes Charles Ryder to dinner there and attempts to turn him against Sebastian Flyte.  It is dated 25 March 1930 and refers to an invitation from Watts to attend the Grand National and lunch with the 22 year old Valentine Dyall, later to become a character actor best known for playing The Man in Black in the BBC radio show ‘Appointment with Fear’.  Waugh’s concerns on this occasion were sartorial, asking, “are we watching the race in the crowd or in grand seats, because it’s important to know that so we can tell what clothes to bring.”  Referring to the possibility that the party might extend over the weekend, Waugh adds intriguingly—“I will not share a room with that mad man.”

Waugh got married again in April 1937 to Laura Herbert—a marriage that lasted until his death in 1966—and Eleanor Watts married Sir Simon Campbell-Orde in April 1938.