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Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead [Hardcover]

Paula Byrne
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Book Description

20 Aug 2009

A terrifically engaging and original biography about one of England’s greatest novelists, and the glamorous, eccentric, debauched and ultimately tragic family that provided him with the most significant friendships of his life and inspired his masterpiece, “Brideshead Revisited”.

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, the Marchmains, in “Brideshead Revisited”. William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, was a warm-hearted, 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, bestselling author Paula Byrne takes an innovative approach to her subject, setting out to capture Waugh through the friendships and loves that mattered most to him. She uncovers a man who, far from the snobbish misanthropist of popular caricature, was as loving and 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 a secret that dared not speak its name.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; First Edition edition (20 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007243766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007243761
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 154,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paula Byrne was born in Birkenhead. Her first book, Jane Austen and the Theatre, was shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize. Her second book, Perdita, was a Richard and Judy book-club pick and a best-seller. Her third, Mad World:Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead is 'the fascinating story of a great house and a great family.' It was published to rave reviews in 2009 and was another best-seller. She is married to Jonathan Bate and lives in Oxford.

Product Description

Review

'Byrne's gift as a writer is her ability to combine scholarship with turbo-driven narrative power. "Mad World" is vibrant, absorbing, stranger than fiction' Sunday Times

'Paula Byrne has written a highly accomplished book about the family that came to inspire the Flytes of Brideshead … a marvellous book, warm, witty, and enormously readable' Daily Telegraph

'Paula Byrne is the latest to explore the people and the story that inspired the book, and she does so with acuity and panache … a lively introduction to Waugh and to Brideshead' Observer

‘"Mad World" is full of fascinating anecdotes … Paula Byrne has produced a strong and romantic book that is at once a touching story of deep friendships, an astute piece of literary criticism and an important contribution to the canon of Waugh biography" Alexander Waugh, Literary Review

'[A] gripping account of Evelyn Waugh's life' Philip Hoare

‘vibrant, absorbing and stranger than fiction’
'Byrne's gift as a writer is her ability to combine scholarship with turbo-driven narrative power. "Mad World" is vibrant, absorbing, stranger than fiction' Sunday Times

'Paula Byrne has written a highly accomplished book about the family that came to inspire the Flytes of Brideshead … a marvellous book, warm, witty, and enormously readable' Daily Telegraph

'Paula Byrne is the latest to explore the people and the story that inspired the book, and she does so with acuity and panache … a lively introduction to Waugh and to Brideshead' Observer

‘"Mad World" is full of fascinating anecdotes … Paula Byrne has produced a strong and romantic book that is at once a touching story of deep friendships, an astute piece of literary criticism and an important contribution to the canon of Waugh biography" Alexander Waugh, Literary Review

'[A] gripping account of Evelyn Waugh's life' Philip Hoare

‘vibrant, absorbing and stranger than fiction’
The Sunday Times

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Paula Byrne was born in Birkenhead and has a PhD from the University of Liverpool, where she is a Research Fellow in English Literature. Her first book, “Jane Austen and the Theatre”, was shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize. Her second book, “Perdita”, was a Richard and Judy bookclub pick. A regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, she lives in Warwickshire with her three young children and her husband, the critic and biographer Jonathan Bate.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Having been brought up in a working class family in the village of Madresfield during the 1950's until the age of 14,I have been aware for many years of the connection between Waugh and the Lygon family living at Madresfield Court. As a child growing up there and attending the village school, church etc the scandal about the 7th Earl's sexuality was passed down from generation to generation. When I was older and told friends that Brideshead Revisited had been based on the Lygon family, there was a little disbelief as everyone associated it with the TV version and the family from Castle Howard! I have read several books on Waugh and the Lygons, but this one was the most revealing. Perhaps if I hadn't lived there and known a little of the history of the family and their predessors I wouldn't have been so interested, but in saying this the research undertaken by the author from new letters and papers of the 8th Earl's sisters that have now come to light give the book a wonderful insight into the decandant and priveledged life the aristocracy lived during the 19th and 20th Century. It is said that the truth is stranger than fiction, and this book lays no stone unturned!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As witty and amusing as its subject 19 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover
I freely admit to an aversion to most biographies; those half ton tomes stuffed to overflowing with regurgitated facts that so often represent the flotsam and jetsam of the life in question as opposed to actual milestones and achievements. Happily, this is not the case with Paula Byrne's Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, a biography as witty and amusing as its subject.

Mad World follows Waugh's life from cradle to grave. As we trek along we are treated to brief portraits of Waugh's parents and brother Alec, all those Mitford sisters, his annulled first marriage and life-long second, his conversion to Catholicism, as well as pointedly detailed descriptions of his published works, including Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited.

The pace quickens (and never flags) once Waugh enters Oxford, where he quickly develops friendships with the likes of Harold Acton and Brian Howard, and embarks upon a series of homosexual relationships, the most profound and lasting with Hugh Lygon, second son of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, and the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte.

Waugh is taken under Lygon's wing, and is introduced to the family, becoming a life-long friend and confidante of sisters Mary and Dorothy, as well as a fixture at the family manse Madresfield (hence "Mad World"). He witnessed, and remained steadfast throughout the family's dishonor and the disgrace of the Earl, who fled the country rather than face charges of Gross Indecency.

Byrne has painstakingly researched her material, and though her finished text is rich in detail and critical observances, it seems never heavy handed or in the least tedious. Indeed, her work reads as though it were a novel, a brilliant modern day retelling of Waugh's classic Brideshead, which is the kindest compliment it could be paid.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Things I didn't know about Evelyn Waugh 22 Dec 2009
By warthog
Format:Hardcover
Although I acknowledge he was a great writer, I felt Waugh was a character I didn't like very much after reading various published letters he had written to his friends such as Anne Flemming and also the biographies written after his death. Paula Byrne's account of his time with the members of the Lygon family however was especially jaw dropping because it reveals a more vulnerable side to his character. I could not put this book down. The goings on at Madresfield was especially interesting because I had lived in Malvern for years and had no idea that the gothic pile, up the road, was the scene of an enormous scandal many years ago. I almost started to like Waugh because Byrne wrote movingly about the sadness of the breakdown of his first marriage and his inability to win over women he loved deeply. I always thought he was an horrendous snob and unfortunately Byrne does not convince me that he wasn't . I would recommend this book highly - it reveals so much about the society which Waugh enjoyed being part of and also motivated him to write Brideshaead.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Secrets No More 13 Aug 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Being in my middle 80s and just touching the hem of this period and in fact knowing one or two of the people mentioned I found this book not only very well and amusingly written but completely fascinating socially and historically with its taboos and customs revealing a vanished class which needs to be recognised as an important influence in the run up to the second world war. Apart from this it shed such a marvellous spotlight on the books of Evelyn Waugh and I rushed to my aged Penguin editions to check them over. My favourite book so far this year!

Evelyn himself becomes the hero of a book and it sheds a glittering light on the workings of his mind - my congratulations to Paula Byrne showing affection for a subject who could become an object of satire himself.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I have just finished reading this book and I found it absolutely enthralling. As Paula Byrne explains in her preface her approach is to look at Evelyn Waugh's relationship with the Lygon family of Madresfield Court and their influence on his great novel Brideshead Revisited rather than attempt another full length biography.So this is the back story to Bridehead.

Paula Byrne begins by contrasting the respective childhoods and schooling of the middle-class Waugh and the aristocratic Hugh Lygon - one of the models for Sebastian Flyte until their paths converge at Oxford. And later as Evelyn Waugh bcomes one of the Bright Young Things of the Twenties. The book charts the relationship between Waugh and Hugh Lygon but even more so the more important one with his two sisters Maimie and Coote who introduced him to their world at Madresfield and became his life-long friends. Evelyn Waugh fell in love with the whole Lygon family and with their home Madresfield Court which had a profound and lasting influence on his life and work. Paula Byrne traces this intricate and multifaceted relationship with sensitivity and explains all the influences for the prototypes of the characters of Brideshead. Woven into the narrative is the impact of his religious conversion to Rome had on his personal life and work.

There are brilliant cameos of other members of Waugh's and the Lygons' circle and a marvellous evocation of the uninhibited party-going and eccentricity of the upper classes in the 20s and 30s which gave Waugh such marvellous copy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great holiday read
Such a great book but make sure you read, or re-read, Brideshead first.
Published 8 days ago by Helen Stevenson
5.0 out of 5 stars So fascinating and revealing
Doh, I had no idea that one of my favourite novels, Brideshead Revisited, was partly based on a real family; and here is the explanation. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Magiciansgirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Evelyn Waugh in the 'enchanted world' of Madresfield
This is a partial biography of Evelyn Waugh, and most of it is about his connection with the Lygon family. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ralph Blumenau
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book
Lovely read, the period is beautifully conjured by Byrne, lots of wonderful, detailed insights into the characters in Waugh's life during his time at Oxford. Read more
Published 5 months ago by sarahj
5.0 out of 5 stars Lifting the lid on the Madresfield scandal
This is a book which details the "real" Brideshead which was Madresfield House just outside Malvern in Worcestershire where Evelyn Waugh used to stay. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Bookworm
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware - no photographs / plates!
This is an excellent book. HOWEVER, this paperback version does not have the many very useful photographs / plates that were in the hardback first edition. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Lunduner
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive Background to Waugh and Brideshead
Eye opening revelations of life in Waugh's time and society. Extraordinary levels of research. Gripping from start to finish

A must read
Published 12 months ago by Pen Name
4.0 out of 5 stars This biography succeeds in bringing Evelyn Waugh, and his world,...
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. Read more
Published 14 months ago by nigeyb
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended for lovers of Brideshead & of biography in general
Like many others, I fell in love with Brideshead Revisited when I first came across the novel many years ago. It is indeed Evelyn Waugh's Magnum Opus. Read more
Published 17 months ago by theflyte
4.0 out of 5 stars Authors collect materials in the living of their lives
This very readable biography of Evelyn Waugh focuses on his fascination with the aristocratic Lygon family and the ambiance of their ancestral home Madresfield, which inspired his... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Antenna
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