Monday, 20 February 2017

Much to Forgive

Having belatedly realised that Evelyn Waugh is a great writer, I am reading his diaries edited by Michael Davie. Unfortunately, Mr Davie has done a rather eccentric job, sometimes providing no footnote to identify a figure who appears again and again over months, years or even decades, sometimes providing detailed notes for people who only pop up once, in passing.

I have no criticism of  the notes themselves, which are usually v amusing, e.g this one, identifying  an unnamed fellow guest at a dinner Waugh goes to:

"Captain Hyde-Upward; it was his custom to polish and clean out his pipe while standing naked at his bedroom window."

Anyway, in hunting about in the index for information about those who are left unfootnoted, I discovered that Evelyn's older brother, Alec Waugh, invented, in April, 1924, the cocktail party, to fill the gap in London social life between 5.30 and 7.00.

Shame on him, I say, while simultaneously wondering how diplomats managed before that.


  1. Given Alec Waugh's reputation, I can only suppose that it was Francophobia that made him think the cocktail party preferable to the cinq-a-sept. And I wonder whether he did invent it.

    The American critic Paul Fussell wrote that Waugh's letters are superior to his diaries, for he wrote the latter at night and commonly drunk, the former in the morning sober. I have read more of the letters than of the diaries; and I think that few writers would take as much care in a diary as they would in letters.

  2. The editing is possibly not super reliable so possibly he wasn't the "inventor". Also the time frame given is odd - I think the rule of thumb in England is - or was - no drinking till after 6 (or, for the really abstemious, 6.30). As to Fussell, a) the diaries are intriguing for their revelation of the schoolboy Waugh and b) I haven't got far but the entries for September, 1925 are as funny as anything I've read, by Waugh or anyone else. Possibly the drunkenness plus the supposed privacy of his diary gave him a looseness that I find appealing.