Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead

Author(s): Paula Byrne

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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.


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'Completely brilliant, compulsively readable, stunningly researched!This is the future of literary biography' Mark Amory 'A marvellous book, warm, witty, and enormously readable!It's a mad world, my masters, and this book is a calm pool of sanity among the tumult of massed humanity.' Philip Womack, Daily Telegraph '[Paula Byrne] tells the tale with great verve and considerable insight!vigorous and original!she paints a vivid picture of the double standards and hypocrisy of the time.!readable and lively' Anne Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph 'If the Waugh who emerges from this book is as snobbish as he ever was, he is more than this, too: loyal, bisexual!, the funniest man alive and the best friend you could ever have. 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.' Frances Wilson, Sunday Times More praise for MAD WORLD: 'Paula Byrne is the latest to explore the people and the story that inspired ["Brideshead Revisited"] and she does so with acuity and panache.!Byrne shows remarkable perception in her interpretation not only of Waugh's relationship with the Lygons, but of theirs with each other.!a lively introduction to Waugh and to Brideshead, and to the rarefied social world in which much of the novel is set.' Selina Hastings, Observer 'Paula Byrne!skilfully traces the bonds not just between Waugh and the Lygons but between all the Lygons themselves!full of fascinating anecdotes, many of which will be new, even to the most fanatical amasser of Wavian trivia. 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 'Gripping' Philip Hoare, The Times Praise for PERDITA: 'Enthralling and perceptive ! A fine biographer has conjured up a dazzling personality and brought her, laughing, back to life.' Sunday Times 'Mary Robinson, scandalous darling of the 18th-century stage and letters, is given a welcome rebirth. A full-scale literary biography ! a fitting tribute to her.' Observer 'Robinson's is a life that bears the retelling. She cuts a figure in the history of celebrity culture and in literary history. Paula Byrne's full-scale biography is scholarly, lively and important.' Daily Telegraph '! a superbly researched and narrated life of a woman whose capacity for self-transformation, when combined with beauty, talent, wit and passion suggest that she may be the most interesting of all.' Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times

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.

General Fields

  • : 9780007243761
  • : HarperCollins Publishers
  • : HarperPress
  • : November 2009
  • : 240mm X 159mm
  • : October 2011
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Paula Byrne
  • : Hardback
  • : 1109
  • : 823.912
  • : good-very good
  • : 384
  • : Biography & autobiography: literary
  • : 30 col plates (16pp), With index