Charlotte Mosley, ed., The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh
“I want to write a sad story of a man who gave up drink and hated all his chums. It is me.” — Evelyn Waugh, 12 November 1944.
Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh were two of the most popular and respected authors of the early and mid-20th century; they were also lifelong friends who kept up a correspondence lasting more than two decades. This book is a collection of their letters to each other, which are full of jokes, literary allusions, and most of all gossip. They each had a very pointed, satirical sense of humor that was frequently directed at members of their own social set — and quite often at each other. In many ways they couldn’t be more different: Waugh was very conservative, old-fashioned, and staunchly Roman Catholic, while Mitford was a spiritually indifferent socialist living as an expatriate in Paris. But their correspondence reveals that they understood one another and shared a deep, affectionate friendship. Through their discussions of current events, important people, and of course books (both their own and other people’s), Mitford and Waugh’s letters provide a unique window into their age.
It’s taken me a long time to write this review, because how can one “review” a collection of letters that weren’t (necessarily) meant to be public? All I can say is that I enjoyed reading them. I’ve read a few books by each of these authors — Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust — but otherwise I didn’t know much about either of them. I do think some level of familiarity with their work is helpful, but you definitely don’t have to be an expert in order to enjoy these letters. They’re often hilarious (how I shrieked, as Nancy would say) and also have some interesting discussions about literature. I want to read more of their books now! Of course, their chatter about mutual friends and acquaintances was hard to follow, although the editor did a fairly good job of identifying people in footnotes; but I still enjoyed this collection overall. If you’re interested in early- and mid-20th-century literature, this might be a good book to seek out.
7 thoughts on “Review: The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh”
What was the ratio of gossip about mutual acquaintances to talks of literature? The problem with reading collections of letters, for me, is all the people they talk about whom I don’t know; even if the editor does well, as this one does, at identifying everyone, it can get wearisome to read.
I would say the gossip is much more prevalent than the literature — maybe something like 70/30? So it may not be the book for you!
This was a time when letter writing was the principal means of social communication… this collection sounds very interesting although Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford sound like a mis-matched couple.
They really are mis-matched in a lot of ways…but I think they had a similar sense of humor, and that counts for a lot. 🙂
This does sound like a tricky book to review, but I think you did a great job! This sounds like a really interesting collection of letters, but I might pass on it given the difficulty of figuring out who’s being talked about.
Yeah…I think it’s a book that would be really useful for an academic, and possibly interesting to someone who’s really into one or both of these authors. But otherwise, it’s a bit hard to get into!
True, real letters must be difficult, you can’t review them as such. I haven’t read any books by the authors before but I love the sound of literature topics being included because it must be quite detailed and true to their thoughts. Well done on What’s In A Name, again!