The Huntington Acquires Significant Waugh Collection

SAN MARINO, Calif.—The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has acquired an extensive collection of rare books and manuscripts by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), considered one of the greatest English prose satirists of the 20th century. The collection establishes The Huntington as one of the premier centers of Waugh studies in the world.

The trove—with some 250 rare books and reference books and 135 letters and manuscripts—is a gift of Loren and Frances Rothschild; Loren is a longtime book collector and current member of The Huntington’s five-person board of trustees.

“We are grateful to Loren and Frances for both having the foresight to collect these materials and then giving them to The Huntington to continue their legacy,” said David Zeidberg, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. “It’s worth pointing out that Loren is the kind of collector who becomes a life-long scholar of his passions. He has wonderful instincts for identifying books and manuscripts that will prove to be of significant value to scholars as well as collectors."

According to John Wilson, associate professor of English at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania and founder of the Waugh Society, the Rothschilds’ gift establishes The Huntington as the second leading center of Waugh studies in the world, second only to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which acquired Waugh’s library in several batches from 1961 to 1991. Other institutions with Waugh holdings include the British Library, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, the New York Public Library, Georgetown University, Leeds University, Leicester University, and Notre Dame University.

The Waugh collection strengthens The Huntington’s holdings in 20th-century literature, which already include significant archives of Conrad Aiken, Kingsley Amis, Charles Bukowksi, Octavia Butler, Kent Haruf, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Christopher Isherwood, Hilary Mantel, and Wallace Stevens, among many others. Amis admired Waugh’s writing; as a result, he owned a number of Waugh items that came to The Huntington with his collection. Isherwood too shared a connection with Waugh, having co-written the screenplay to Waugh’s 1948 novel The Loved One. The Huntington archive of journalist, travel writer, and biographer Patrick Balfour, 3rd Baron Kinross (1904-1976), includes many Waugh letters as well. Waugh contemporaries John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly, Anthony Powell, and Christopher Sykes are also represented in The Huntington’s collections.

“This gift moves us significantly forward in our literary holdings,” says Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts at The Huntington. “It gives us a significant collection for another major 20th-century author.”

Waugh’s early novels—Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), A Handful of Dust (1934), and Scoop (1938)—place him among the best, if not the best, English prose satirists since Jonathan Swift, according to scholars. Says Loren Rothschild: “Vile Bodies compares favorably to The Great Gatsby in capturing the frantic, frivolous, and dissolute culture of the 1920s.” Christopher Hitchens wrote that “Scoop endures because it is a novel of pitiless realism; the mirror of satire held up to catch the Caliban of the press corps.” A Handful of Dust, Waugh’s mordantly hilarious takedown of English upper class society between the wars, is generally acknowledged to be one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.

Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy—Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and Unconditional Surrender—has been described as a brilliant, devastatingly satirical, and hilarious autobiographical account of the experiences of an English officer during World War II. Waugh described Brideshead Revisited, made more famous by the 1981 BBC production, as “nothing less than an attempt to trace the workings of the divine purpose in a pagan world, in the lives of an English Catholic family, half-paganized themselves, in the world of 1923-39. It is not meant to be funny, but instead is intended for those who look to the future with black forebodings and need more solid comfort than rosy memories.”

Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930, and his several books and articles with Catholic themes (including Brideshead)—and about notable Catholics—remain of substantial interest to Catholic intellectuals and scholars. His travel books rank him among the best travel writers of his generation. Among the works given to The Huntington by the Rothschilds is the handwritten manuscript of Waugh’s early travel book, Ninety-Two Days—acquired from a direct descendent of Diana Cooper, Waugh’s long-time friend and the dedicatee of the book.  The collection also includes Waugh’s hand-corrected typescript of his first novel, Decline and Fall, with the title page showing the alternate titles PicaresqueThe Making of an Englishman, and A Study in Discouragement. Waugh crossed out each before settling on Decline and Fall, the first of many satires of British society.

In addition, the new collection includes the 17-page annotated original typed manuscript of The Hopeful Pontiff, Waugh’s essay on Pope John XXIII; more than 100 letters between Waugh and his English publisher, Chapman & Hall; and a series of unpublished letters relating to the risk of a libel lawsuit resulting from the publication in the United States of The Loved One, Waugh’s satire on Forest Lawn, the Los Angeles-based funeral business.

Among the most engaging items in the collection is a copy of The Cynic, a rare 1916 subversive alternative to the official school journal, co-edited by Waugh, then a 13-year-old student at Heath Mount School. There is also a copy of the Broom, a short-lived 1923 publication with a story written by Waugh while at Oxford. The collection contains scores of Waugh’s articles, essays, and fiction published in periodicals, in some cases as the only or the true first editions of the work. Finally, critical, biographical, and bibliographic secondary research materials accompany the collection.

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