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

Published February 3, 2013 by bibliobeth


Whats it all about?:

Evelyn Waugh was already famous when “Brideshead Revisited” was published in 1945. Written at the height of the war, the novel was, he admitted, of no “immediate propaganda value.” Instead, it was the story of a household, a family and a journey of religious faith–an elegy for a vanishing world and a testimony to a family he had fallen in love with a decade earlier.

The Lygons of Madresfield were every bit as glamorous, eccentric and compelling as their counterparts in “Brideshead Revisited.” William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, was a warmhearted, generous and unconventional father whose seven children adored him. When he was forced to flee the country by his scheming brother-in-law, his traumatised children stood firmly by him, defying not only the mores of the day but also their deeply religious mother.

In this engrossing biography, Paula Byrne takes an innovative approach to her subject, setting out to capture Waugh through the friendships that mattered most to him. She uncovers a man who, far from the snobbish misanthrope of popular caricature, was as loving and as complex as the family that inspired him. This brilliantly original biography unlocks for the first time the extent to which Waugh’s great novel encoded and transformed his own experiences. In so doing, it illuminates the loves and obsessions that shaped his life, and brings us inevitably to the secret that dared not speak its name.

What did I think?:

I’m a bit of a beginner with Evelyn Waugh, I have to admit. Up until a year ago I hadn’t read anything by him but always meant to, and I’ve now read Black Mischief which I didn’t particularly love, and Brideshead Revisited which I did! This book is primarily about the Lygon family who were a great inspiration for Waugh in his writing of Brideshead. I don’t think its compulsory to have read the novel before reading this book, but I think it helps.

Most of the characters in Brideshead are a mish-mash of people Waugh has encountered in his life and with the Lygons, you can definitely see the similarities. Its interesting to realise that some parts of the novel Waugh actually toned down with respect to Lord Marchmain and his homosexuality. On finishing Mad World, I actually felt a bit sad, as it seems like Waugh was slightly misunderstood. Yes, he was no angel, and prone to artistic moody temperaments, but from diaries and letters from his friends it seemed like he was popular, funny and well-loved. Looking forward to reading and appreciating more Waugh in the future.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art


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