On March 23rd, 1944 Evelyn Waugh wrote to his friend Lady Dorothy Lygon (pronounced Liggen), almost certainly the model for Lady Cordelia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Her father, the 7th Earl Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham), KG, was obliged to leave the country and settled on the Continent “after acts unpardonable”, in the Daily Telegraph’s airy words (like Lady Cordelia’s father, Lord Marchmain, in the novel). In fact the circumstances of this forced exile were decidedly unpleasant. Beauchamp was a political progressive and leader of the Liberals in the Lords. He was outed as a homosexual by his appalling brother-in-law, the Tory, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, wife-beating Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor (pronounced shit). Grosvenor’s motives were personal dislike and a desire to ruin the Liberals. Waugh writes:
It was a delight to hear from you. I hope you will get this letter. I will try and make it suitable for the censor but my views nowadays are so different from what Brendan [Bracken] tries to make them that I may find myself in prison at any minute. It would be a pity if I got you into prison too.
At the moment I am in Chagford having a little rest between military duties and in consequence working harder than I have done for nearly five years. I am writing a very beautiful book, to bring tears, about very beautiful, rich, high born people who live in palaces and have no troubles except what they make themselves and those are mainly the demons sex and drink which after all are easy to bear as troubles go nowadays.
I have suffered terribly from the latter demon lately. In fact in London it is not unfair to say I never draw a sober breath. I was beginning to lose my memory which for a man who lives entirely in the past, is to lose life itself. In fact I got a little anxious about it but I found all I needed was congenial work. I have been here six weeks, the nut has cleared and I am writing better than ever I did. Little Laura [Mrs Waugh] comes to see me sometimes. She is living a life of startling heroism and is having another baby in a few weeks.
Since I saw you my military life has rather gone into the shadows. I drove a General mad, literally, and both he and I were expelled from that headquarters together. Then I became a parachutist. For one who values privacy there is no keener pleasure than the feeling of isolation as you float down, but it is all too shortlived, the ground is very hard and the doctors decided – as I could have told them – that I was too old to hope for many such pleasures …
After my leg healed I was sent to be ADC to another General. That lasted 24 hours. I had the misfortune to upset a glass of claret in his lap at dinner. It is extraordinary how much wine there is in a glass & how far it spreads if it is thrown with gusto …