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Group Reads Archive > January 2013 - Mad World by Paula Byrne

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message 1: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Welcome to the first non-fiction group read of 2013...

Mad World Evelyn Waugh And The Secrets Of Brideshead by Paula Byrne Mad World: Evelyn Waugh And The Secrets Of Brideshead by Paula Byrne


message 2: by Val (new)

Val I read this one a bit early because I had reserved it from the library and couldn't renew it. I enjoyed it, but don't think I would have done half as much if I hadn't read Brideshead Revisited, as it is referenced quite a lot.

message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan | 774 comments I agree Val - it was especially good as we had both recently read Brideshead for another book group. However, it was really interesting to meet the people the novel was based on and to see how Evelyn Waugh made his story actually less outrageous/scandalous than the real story actually was - especially with reference to the Lord Marchmain character.

message 4: by Morgan (new)

Morgan (mvilledude) | 2 comments Loved this book! I've always been a big fan of Waugh and this was one of the most insightful and interesting biographies I've read in a long time. If you haven't read Brideshead then this would make you want to. Found it fascinating, from a social-historical perspective, the insights into Oxford society and upper British society before and after the war. As well the intimate portray of the Lygon family, their father's "disgrace", and Waugh's personal ties with them was really fascinating to read about. Another book I read right after this one was Michael Block's James Lees-Milne which is a biography of one of the key players in establishing the Country House department of the National Trust...beautiful and insightful writing of life in England, among the bright young things between the wars, as well as all the memorable characters that cross his path. Lastly another book Wait For Me, by Deborah Mitford, the Dowager Duchess of Chatsworth, provides a detailed account of being a bright young thing living the pre-war debutant season and all those who were part of really feel as if you know her and all those she lived with. I read both books as a follow up to Mad World as they were referenced in it.

message 5: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb This has just arrived at my local library. I'm in the midst of another 500 page novel that I'm enjoying so will do my best to get stuck into this one too.

message 6: by Shelley (new)

Shelley | 30 comments Such an undertow of melancholy in everything Waugh writes (that I have read)....


message 7: by Morgan (new)

Morgan (mvilledude) | 2 comments @Shelley although it's a beautiful and rich melancholy in which he writes with such complex undertones. However, he's an amazing satirist which comes out in novels such as Vile Bodies and other novels. He was often in "trouble" with his friends and associates because they would recognize themselves in his satirical works ;-) I've always loved Brideshead though as I felt like I was reading an unfolding complex and rich tapestry of writing.

message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan | 774 comments I read a comment in a biography of Waugh (think it was the Selina Hastings one) in which someone said that Waugh gave off an aura when he spoke to anyone outside his immediate circle which said "I am bored, you are frightened..." I thought that summed him up very well, although I also think he regretted becoming the caricature of himself he became in later life. Have you read A Year to Remember: A Reminiscence of 1931? I enjoy Alec Waugh's books very much and they give interesting glimpses into his brother, who even he found difficult.

message 9: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (seagreenreader) I've just reached the section of the book which deals with Lord Beauchamp's downfall. I'm quite interested in his wife's response. Her letter to her children implied that she already knew about his double life. So I wonder why she went along with her brother's scheme? If she had refused to leave her husband it would've been much more difficult for Westminster's plot to work. Or would she have been disgraced alongside her husband? Or possibly she'd wanted to leave for ages but couldn't without the push from her brother? I'd love to know more of what was going through her mind.

message 10: by Val (new)

Val It seems as if both Waugh brothers found the other one difficult!

message 11: by Susan (new)

Susan | 774 comments I think that's true Val. Alec obviously had a lot of love for his brother, but his father favoured him and his mother favoured Evelyn, so there was a certain amount of stress there I think.

Joanne, I think Westminster bullied his sister a certain amount and she certainly did not suspect the children would all take their father's side (apart from the eldest/youngest). Perhaps if she had realised she would lose her children to a degree, she would not have gone along with it so willingly. It obviously upset Westminster that he had no heir, while his 'undeserving' brother in law had a number of children who he was a close and loving father to.

I read the biography of Oscar Wilde's wife some time ago Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde and I was reminded of what happened with Lord Beauchamp. He just gradually became more careless, thinking nothing would happen. In a similar way, Oscar Wilde was begged by frieds to accompany his wife to opening nights and not go with groups of young men, etc, but he disregarded advice. When the fall came, Constance protected her sons and abandoned her husband, which I can understand from a mother's point of view.

message 12: by Shelley (new)

Shelley | 30 comments Morgan: that reminds me to read Vile Bodies. And what a title!

Susan: "I am bored, you are frightened"....That's kind of terrifying.

Shelley, Rain: A Dust Bowl Story

message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan | 774 comments But very descriptive Shelley! I think someone who once interviewed Waugh said that about him.

I am currently reading the brilliant The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War about five authors in WWII and I was reminded of the part in Mad World where Waugh suggests sending his books to the country to avoid the bombs, rather than his children. I think a lot of it was to shock and keep up his persona.

message 14: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Nigeyb wrote: "This has just arrived at my local library. I'm in the midst of another 500 page novel that I'm enjoying so will do my best to get stuck into this one too."

I really enjoyed reading everyone's comments and think this sounds a book that is well worth reading. I love what I've read of Waugh .....Scoop, Decline and Fall, Handful of Dust, Brideshead, and Vile Bodies.

Sadly, I don't think I'm going to get to this one during January, so I plan to get a bit of a head start on both of Feb's choices in the next week or so.

Thanks for your marvellous thoughts - which I really appreciate.

message 15: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1526 comments Nigeyb wrote: "Nigeyb wrote: "This has just arrived at my local library. I'm in the midst of another 500 page novel that I'm enjoying so will do my best to get stuck into this one too."

I really enjoyed reading..."

The threads never close. This is a good thing for people like me, who frequently finish the books long after the month is over!

message 16: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Jan C wrote: The threads never close. This is a good thing for people like me, who frequently finish the books long after the month is over!
That's true, and thanks. Hopefully I will get round to it. I intend to read both Feb choices, on top of another book for my real-world Book Group, so unlikely to read it during Jan or Feb.

message 17: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I think that it was Virginia Woolf that said "But then anyone who's worth anything reads just what he likes, as the mood takes him, and with extravagant enthusiasm."

That's how I approach my reading...we have different interests at different times and sometimes not enough time at all! so we should ensure that we're reading just what we like when the mood takes us.

I sometimes don't get to the books in time either and while I try to read as many of our winners as I can it can be difficult. - Just make sure that you come back and discuss them when you do get round to it!

Beth (bibliobeth) | 27 comments I was quite looking forward to this one after loving Brideshead Revisited and it didn't disappoint. The Lygon family are absolutely fascinating and it was interesting to see how Waugh came up with the characters he did. Also, it was nice to read accounts of him that painted a good side of his personality.

message 19: by Susan (new)

Susan | 774 comments I think he changed a lot as he got older, so he was certainly 'nicer' perhaps as a young man. Less grumpy anyway! His brother said he had a good relationship with him when he was younger, but found him almost impossible to be close to when he got older.

message 20: by Val (new)

Val He may just have been bored (and frightening) more of the time. I thought it was significant that Nancy Mitford (I think) felt it necessary to write 'This is a joke!' beside one of his snobbish pronouncements in a letter he sent her.

message 21: by Susan (new)

Susan | 774 comments Yes, I think you had to know him pretty well for him to be comfortable. I forgive him anything anyway - he wrote so wonderfully and has given me so much pleasure I would have been honoured to be terrified by him!

Beth (bibliobeth) | 27 comments It was so interesting, I loved how he had little endearments for the Lygon sisters, and their jokes in the letters were brilliant.

message 23: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb As there's no traffic on either the fiction, or non-fiction, read for June 2013, I'm travelling back to Jan 2013, and poised to start this book. I read BridesheadBrideshead Revisited a few months back. A glorious five star read. Absolute literary perfection. I am very excited about reading Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead and will be making a start this very day. Hurrah!

message 24: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments I think you'll enjoy this. It added quite a bit to BRIDESHEAD for me.

message 25: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Thanks Ivan. 10 pages in and loving it.

message 26: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb 70 pages in, and feel it's one of the best book's about the era that I've ever read. Really enjoying it. Wonderfully informative about Brideshead and other works by Evelyn Waugh.

message 27: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb 100 pages in. Really wonderful it is too. I had no idea that, like Patrick Hamilton, so much of what Evelyn wrote was rooted in his personal history.

Elizabeth wrote: "The Lygon family are absolutely fascinating.."

I'm midway through the first main chapter on the family's history. It is extraordinary - as are they.

I was also surprised just how debauched and outrageous Evelyn's life at Oxford was. The Hypocrites club really were a pretty wild bunch, and so much more interesting than the boorish Bullingdon mob.

message 28: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb p123..

Vile Bodies is the English novel of the Jazz age, just as the very different The Great Gatsby is definitive American imagining of the era.

I really must get round to reading Vile Bodies sometime very soon.

Half the pleasure of Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead is finding out about how much biographical elements appear in Waugh's books.

This is a wonderful book, and I am so glad I made time to read it.

message 29: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb I'm about halfway through now and just poised to read the chapter covering Christmas 1931 at Mad. "Evelyn would remember the experience for the rest of his life". Intriguing.

Lord Beauchamp's disgrace and downfall was extraordinary, as is so much of this book. Truly, truth can be stranger than fiction.

Really enjoying this book, and thinking about it frequently. A wonderful achievement by Paula Byrne.

message 30: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb There's one scene in this book that I have not been able to get out of my mind since reading it. It occurs on page 101 of the edition I am reading. During Evelyn's first trip abroad, to Paris with Bill Silk, they visit a male brothel. Asking how they could amuse themselves, Evelyn and Silk were told "Montez, messieurs, des petits enfants" ("Come upstairs gentlemen we have little boys.") Evelyn decides that, for 300 francs, he would like to witness his boy (who, it's worth pointing out, claims he is nineteen) "enjoyed by a large negro". Whilst waiting for "the tableau" to take place there is further discussion over the price and eventually Evelyn decides to forget it and take a taxi back to his hotel. His diary entry ends with "I think I did not regret it". I abhor all child abuse and this section really disturbed me.

Throughout the book Paula Byrne rarely offers any commentary on some of the more extreme behaviour she recounts, and on balance I applaud her decision not to make judgements. It was a very different era: Paula Byrne also mentions a schoolmaster who "enjoys" himself with a young boy at a school picnic; Lord Beauchamp hires a succession of young footmen for the express purpose of having sex with them; and of course the early twentieth century is straight after the Victorian era when children were routinely exploited and abused. It was not until 1885, and then after a long struggle in Parliament, that the age of consent was raised to sixteen years.

Despite all this context, I am still shocked that Evelyn would even consider paying 300 francs to witness such a scene, and it reinforces how he and his peers were capable of extreme depravity, and how this appears to have been the norm for the British ruling class. It also got me wondering to what extent Evelyn's enthusiasm for the Catholic church was, in part, down to the ease with which sin can be absolved, and its apparent tolerance for pederasts.

message 31: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 561 comments Yes, how would you like to be pawed by Lord Beauchamp everyday at work? I'm not saying that a Lord and footman couldn't fall in love, or just share a passing attraction...but this was clearly abuse of status and power.

As for Waugh and the rent boys of Paris..."boys" is a term that also applies to "young adult men." I have no opinion about what adults do with one another for love or money, but draw the line at compromising children in any way.

This sort of "depravity" has been common in all cultures throughout recorded human history not just the British ruling class. Unfortunate, but true.

message 32: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Ivan wrote: "Yes, how would you like to be pawed by Lord Beauchamp everyday at work?."

I wouldn't. Pawed by anyone at work is almost always very unwelcome behaviour. I suppose the only thing we can say in Boom's defence is that "often the only noise at the dinners at Madresfield was the clunk of the (male) servant's jewellery".

message 33: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Finished. Here's my review:

Paula Byrne set out to write this book because she believed that Evelyn Waugh had been consistently misrepresented as a snob and a curmudgeonly misanthropist. I, for one, am very glad that she did. Paula Byrne eschews the "cradle to grave" approach, instead focussing on those key moments in Evelyn Waugh's life, and in particular those that informed his work.

A few weeks before reading 'Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead', I read and thoroughly enjoyed 'Brideshead Revisited'. 'Brideshead Revisited' is an absorbing and sumptuous eulogy for the end of the golden age of the British aristocracy and, if you haven't read it yet, I envy you. I recommend reading both books fairly closely together. I felt I gained a lot from having Brideshead fresh in my mind. That said, I found I also gained plenty of interesting insights into other Evelyn Waugh books I'd read ('Decline and Fall', 'Scoop', 'A Handful of Dust, and 'Black Mischief) - some of which I read many years ago.

'Brideshead Revisited' is Evelyn Waugh's magnum opus, and I was amazed at the extent to which it was based on Evelyn Waugh's own experiences and those of people he knew. When one of Evelyn Waugh's friends asked him how he got away with using real life models for fictional characters, his reply was that you can draw any character as near as you want and no offence will be taken provided you say that he is attractive to women. That may be so, however there must have been plenty of people portrayed in Evelyn Waugh's fiction, particularly those he disliked, who would surely have taken offence. The other remarkable thing about Evelyn Waugh's biographical approach to fiction is how, frequently, the truth was stranger or more outrageous than the fiction it inspired. One notable example is the Lord Marchmain character in 'Brideshead Revisited', for whom Evelyn Waugh drew heavily on Lord Beauchamp (of the Lygon family who inspired many of the characters in 'Brideshead Revisited'), with one significant difference. In deference to the Lygon family, he removed almost all traces of Lord Beauchamp's homosexuality. It was this homosexuality that was at the centre of a scandal that caused his downfall, and exile from England. The real story is far more surprising and tragic than the backstory hinted at in 'Brideshead Revisited'.

The best biographies bring their subjects alive, and so inspire their readers to investigate further. This biography succeeds in bringing Evelyn Waugh, and his world, vividly to life. Before reading this biography I was already convinced that Evelyn Waugh was one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century. After reading 'Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead', I feel I understand him better and feel inspired to read those books I have not read, and to re-read those that I already know. If you have any interest in either Evelyn Waugh, or the era and social milieus he depicts in his books, then I feel sure you'll devour this biography - as I did.

message 34: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb As part of Shoreham WordFest I noticed an event up at Lancing College on Friday 27 September @ 7:30 pm which I will be attending. How good does this sound...?

Evelyn Waugh: Lancing College and after, Sanderson Room, Lancing College - Friday 27 September @ 7:30 pm

Members of the English Department and pupils of Lancing will recall Evelyn Waugh's time as a pupil at the College and its influence on his writing, illustrated by readings from his novels including Decline and Fall, A Handful of Dust and, of course, Brideshead Revisited.

Refreshments will be available along with a display of archive material about Lancing in Waugh's time. A unique opportunity to hear about one of our most celebrated authors in a wonderful setting which he knew well.

I shall of course report back to you wonderful people here at BYT with any interesting insights.

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