Auctions | November 21, 2018

Waugh First Editions Inscribed to Old Friend for Sale at Bonhams

blobid2_1542797696704.jpgWorks by Evelyn Waugh, inscribed to his friend and fellow writer Patrick Balfour, are to be offered at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in London on Tuesday 27 November.

Highlights include:

  • An author’s presentation copy of Waugh’s autobiography A Little Learning published in 1964. The book is accompanied by two postcards from the author acknowledging errors in the text that Balfour had identified. Estimate: £1,500-2,000.
  • A first edition, large paper copy printed on handmade paper and specially bound of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Waugh’s 1957 lightly fictionalised account of his experience of persecution mania caused by the chloral he took for his chronic insomnia. Estimate: £1,000-1,500.
  • A first edition author’s presentation copy of Men at Arms, the first of the three novels that make up the Sword of Honour trilogy. The inscription reads, “I say, why not send the copy you bought to ‘a friend in the forces’ instead of exchanging it. There are too many houses which lack one.” This may be a witty reference to Waugh’s concerns that the mixed reviews for the novel might affect sales.  Estimate: £800-1,200.

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) and Patrick Balfour (1904-1976) first met at Oxford in the early 1920s, and later in that decade were members of the social set known as The Bright Young Things, satirised in Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies.  In the book, Balfour serves as a model for Lord Balcairn -  the gossip columnist on the fictitious Daily Excess, whose column, written under the name Mr Chatterbox, is taken over by the central character, Adam Fenwick-Symes. In real life, Balfour -  who was heir to the Barony of Kinross - wrote a gossip column for the Evening Standard, and was one of a number of aristocratic young men employed by mass circulation newspapers to recount the exploits of their friends and relations. Waugh often teasingly referred to Balfour as ‘Mr Gossip’.

The two men got to know each other well as war correspondents in Abyssinia (part of present day Ethiopia) during the Second Italian-Abyssinian war of 1935-36. The war provided much of the material for Scoop, Waugh’s satire of the newspaper industry, published in 1938.

Waugh also drew on aspects of Balfour’s life for the character of Lord Kilbannock in the Sword of Honour Trilogy set over the course of the Second World War. In the novels, Ian Kilbannock is a former journalist, working for the military as a press liaison officer. He plays a recurring, and increasingly significant role, in the development of the plot. Balfour himself, who became Lord Kinross on the death of his father in 1939, worked as Director of the Publicity Department in the British Embassy in Cairo in the latter stages of the war, having previously served in naval intelligence.  

Other books in the collection include:

  • Presentation copies of the revised editions of Black Mischief, 1962 and Scoop, 1964. Estimate: £1,000-2,000.
  • A large paper copy of Helena, printed on handmade paper and specially bound for presentation by the author. Waugh’s favourite among his novels, and his only work of historical fiction, the book was poorly received by the critics. It is accompanied by a small collection of letters, including one from Waugh’s wife Laura in response to a letter of sympathy written by Kinross after Evelyn’s death in 1966 - “ makes such a difference hearing from people who really knew and understood Evelyn….How right you are in saying he would have enjoyed  criticizing his own obituaries and writing his own… ” 

Bonhams Head of Fine Books, Matthew Haley, said: “In his fiction, Waugh often drew on aspects of his friends and acquaintances, and the events of his own life. He was too great a writer, though, to offer straight pen portraits, and while the allusions to Patrick Balfour in Sword of Honour are clear, they are artfully woven into the narrative and suffused with the affection Waugh felt for an old and cherished friend.”

Image: Waugh’s inscription to the first edition author’s presentation copy of Men at Arms. Estimate: £800-1,200