I am really getting into this. Next up, Henry Yorke, who published his ten books under the name of Henry Green. His relationship with Evelyn Waugh is uniquely important, and no biography to date seems to have nailed this.

I am surrounded by those books that seem to me (Nancy Mitford) to contrive to miss the point of Henry and Evelyn, literary friends and rivals. I had the advantage of being right there at the time. Maybe that's what gives me the insight I feel I have.

The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, published in 1980, contains one item for 1926. That is, an undated postcard sent to Henry Yorke. Evelyn tells Henry, who he had met for the first time in late 1924, a few months after Evelyn had gone down from Oxford, that he has just finished reading Blindness. 'I am impelled to tell you how very much I like it.' He goes on to say how extraordinary it seems to him that anyone of their generation could have written so fine a book - and at Oxford of all places. Evelyn ends by asking if he might look Henry up when he's next in Oxford.

Blindness is about a pupil at Eton (where Henry Yorke was a pupil, contemporary with Tony Powell, Robert Byron, Brian Howard and Harold Acton) who goes blind and must rely on his hearing to work out what's going on around him. It was published in December of 1926 and so Evelyn's postcard couldn't have been written before then. Although Evelyn was working full-time as a schoolmaster at Aston Clinton, he did have literary aspirations at the end of 1926 and start of 1927. Alastair Graham had published his essay about the Pre-Raphaelites that Autumn term. A story had been selected by his brother, Alec Waugh, for a volume called Georgian Stories, and the fact that the book wasn't being reviewed annoyed Evelyn. He was also in the process of finishing a story called Noah, which didn't find a publisher. So Evelyn was struggling to establish himself as a writer and was clearly impressed by his fellow Oxford contemporary's early success.

I see Evelyn's fascination.
Blindness begins with a diary section similar to the diary he kept at Lancing. And the characters Seymour and B.G. bring to mind Harold Acton and Brian Howard, who helped Henry set up and run The Eton Arts Society. The main character going blind, missing out on life at Oxford and moving from his sickbed to London, where the book ends in a kind of ecstasy of expectation, is a very loose and symbolic form of autobiography. And, importantly, emphasises conversation.

Three years later. Evelyn had published
Rossetti and Decline and Fall and was living in London. Henry was about to marry 'Dig' (Adelaide Biddulph) and to publish his second novel, Living. A book set at a factory in the Midlands and focussing on the working life and love life of the workers.


Evelyn wrote to Henry in May, lamenting the fact that he wouldn't be able to read
Living until he got back to England from the cruise he'd embarked on with She-Evelyn. He talks about staying with Mark and Alastair in Athens, using first names because Henry would have known perfectly well who these Oxford men were. He also asks if he could organise the wedding between Henry and Dig. Evelyn ends this letter with a catty joke involving another of their (our) mutual circle, Sacchervell Sitwell: 'Sachy met a German on the boat who said "Ah, you English know how to do your guesswork. The red face tells me you like champagne, eh?"'

In June of 1929, Evelyn wrote again to Henry, beginning his letter:
'I have just got back and read Living.' He goes on to discuss the book in some detail. A crackpot researcher, Duncan McLaren, points out that a copy of Living takes pride of place - top of the pile - in a photo that was taken of the Canonbury Square flat that the Evelyns lived in in north London.

Living room at 17a Canonbury Square (Detail). ©Alexander Waugh, Waugh Family Archive, Milverton.

Evelyn calls the book delightful and
important. He admires the way it's been written - 'like those aluminium ribbons one stamps out in railway stations on penny-in-the-slot machines.' He notes the absence of 'word pictures': no appearances are described. Which sets things up for the book's main achievement - the focus on the spoken word. Henry seems to have invented an entirely new language, doing for Birmingham people what Synge did for the Irish dialect. So that every word is startling. Evelyn then quotes several lines from the book.

'But it is quite true to say that there was nothing dirty in all this.'

'Dropping suddenly to be intimate.' (Which Evelyn suggests may be the best sentence in the whole book.)

'Goodness she did like it.'

'He spoke like he was sorry Lil was as she was.'

Then Evelyn pulls himself up, remarking that he mustn't start copying out the whole book as Henry will be familiar enough already with what what's in it. But he does say that the plot is brilliantly handled, like Ronald Firbank would have done things. And that he liked the way that Bert wanted to go to the lavatory on the train.
'In fact the various ways they talked to each other about lavatories all through.'

Evelyn finishes the letter by telling Henry that Nancy Mitford (me!) was going to move into the Evelyns' flat to keep She-Evelyn company while He-Evelyn wrote his second novel in an Oxfordshire pub.

He mentions that Robert has upstaged everyone by going to India in an aeroplane. Robert Byron being another of his Oxford peers that had already published a book or two by this time.

And Evelyn finishes the letter by urging Henry to stay with She-Evelyn and me. That we would love it. And asks when the marriage between him and Dig is to be.

The marriage was in July, and the Evelyn's attended. Evelyn always called the pair 'the Bright Young Yorkes', something that became more and more ironic as time went on, but which was meant as a tribute at the time.


This photo is not typical of Henry, who was untidy and whose hair was rarely under control. This is a better likeness:

Henry Yorke and Adelaide Biddulph, 1928.

In the next letter, written in July, Evelyn tells Henry that he's made a good start to his new novel, the book that turns out to be
Vile Bodies. He mentions that I drove the Evelyns to see Robert Byron at Savernake. But the main paragraph of the letter is a description of the drinkers at the Abingdon Arms, drawing a parallel with the Birmingham workers in Living. He likes the way they will sit in silence, abandoning conversation for a few minutes before taking it up again from where they'd left off. He wants to know if Henry and Dig are going to attend my sister's and Bryan's 1860 party. Henry and Dig did go to that, I recall. Of course, that was the night that She-Evelyn, who had gone to the party with me and without He-Evelyn, took a shine to John Heygate.

I have a feeling that the photo of the room with Henry's book and the painting that Evelyn had made of a provisional cover design for
Vile Bodies was taken in August, by the hand of Evelyn, once the split had happened. In other words, Evelyn was recording something that was past.

Living room at 17a Canonbury Square. ©Alexander Waugh, Waugh Family Archive, Milverton.

As She-Evelyn and Heygate took over this flat, Evelyn never did get re-united with the books he owned at this stage in his life. So
Blindness and Living were not in Evelyn's library when he died, though all but one of Henry's later books were.

By September, Evelyn was finishing
Vile Bodies at The Royal George in Appledore, Devon. He wrote to Henry again from there, ending with this sentence about the failure of his marriage: 'It is extraordinary how homosexual people however kind and intelligent simply don't understand at all what one feels in this kind of case,' which refers to the response of his friend, Harold Acton, and possibly Robert Byron. He also wrote from Thame, suggesting that Henry and Dig come and stay there now that Bryan and Diana had left. He says that the novel is now being printed, that he will send Henry a copy, dreading his verdict very much 'because now when anyone says how much they liked Decline and Fall I think oh how bored they will be by Vile Bodies.'

In January of 1930 there was a dinner to celebrate the publication of Vile Bodies. Hamish and I were there with a select group of Evelyn's friends. Namely, Henry and Dig, Harold Acton, Rebecca West (who reviewed Vile Bodies positively and went on to write admiringly of Henry's books), and Olivia Plunket Greene (who Evelyn had once loved and who always knew Evelyn should be an artist, not a school teacher). That was a most amusing occasion at Boulestin's. Evelyn so happy - because his book was selling well - that he was able to mock John Heygate for writing daily articles signed A. Bachelor. The joke being that he now had a wife in tow, the ex-Mrs Waugh. Henry had bumped into the Heygates in a nightclub and had made something of a scene. Or so he said.

Henry with his two novels,
Blindness and Living. Evelyn with his two novels, Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies. Both writing autobiographically and obliquely, concoctions that the literary world found irresistible. What a pair of literary lions.


I have just taken afternoon tea with Robert [Byron] and Harold [Acton]. They urge me on with my biographical essay of Henry. Not least because Harold wants to see what I make of his own career. I think he fancies that he's next up.

The years 1931 to 1938 can be considered together, because Evelyn was so active on the literary front and Henry so quiet. Yet their friendship grew during this period. The record shows that Evelyn wrote to Henry from Addis Ababa. He mentions their mutual friend, Patrick Balfour. Next, Evelyn wrote to Henry twice in the summer of 1931, mostly about friends (Patrick, Robert, Cyril Connolly) but also saying:
‘I am finishing that very dull travel book and shall soon begin on a novel which is genuinely exciting for me.’ He means Black Mischief, which introduced Basil Seal, a character that fascinated Henry as we'll soon see.

Obviously Evelyn and Henry caught up in London in between Evelyn's travels, but it's the letters that Evelyn wrote when travelling that survive. On his immediate return from the Amazon he wrote that he had experienced a very tough five months and that he was longing to see Henry and Dig again. Evelyn didn't make such loyal comments lightly.

Then in September, 1934, comes an extraordinary moment. Henry gives Evelyn a frank and negative assessment of
A Handful of Dust. He says: 'I feel the end is so fantastic that it shows the rest out of proportion. Aren't you mixing two things together? The first part is convincing, a real picture of people one has met and may at any time meet again. But then to let Tony be detained by some madman introduces an entirely fresh note and we are in fantasy.'

Evelyn replied to this as follows:
'I think I agree that the Todd episode is fantastic. It is a 'conceit' in the Webster manner - wishing to bring Tony to a sad end I made it an elaborate and improbable one. But the Amazon stuff had to be there. The scheme was a Gothic man in the hand of savages - first Mrs Beaver etc then the real ones.'

Perhaps the interesting thing is that this exchange gets right to the heart of the book. Evelyn and Henry trusted each other on literary matters. They valued each others opinions and took them seriously.

In 1936, it was announced that Evelyn was awarded the Hawthornden Prize for his book on Edmund Campion. Henry wrote to Evelyn:
'I would congratulate you on it if it were not for the fact that you are the outstanding writer of our generation and that recognition of this kind has been due to you for a long time. I do feel hotly that there is not one book you have published which is not very far beyond the books they have given the prize to up till now. It takes time for outstanding work to get through their thick skulls.' High praise indeed. Receiving that letter must have given Evelyn deep satisfaction.

Indeed, perhaps it was this letter that secured Henry in Evelyn's regard to the extent that he was made best man when Evelyn married Laura Herbert in May, 1937.

Which gets us to 1938 and - at last! - the publication of
Party Going, Henry Green's third novel. It had been so long since Living, that Henry's career had lost momentum and he was forced to look for another publisher. So Evelyn read the manuscript and recommended it to his father's firm, Chapman and Hall. Though the recommendation may have been qualified, for this is what Evelyn had said in a letter to Henry after reading Party Going, the whole of which takes place over a few hours in a Victoria Station enveloped in a fog that prevents the cast of bright young things completing their journey to some party that is due to take place across the English Channel.

'I can't understand the Henderson position. Why has she got the tickets? And what would they have done if Max had chucked if he is their host? Are they going to his villa or a hotel? Why does Max engage a room when he first arrives at the [station] hotel and how does he get to the public bar? The drink was brought to his room.'

I'm not sure Henry was interested in that sort of plebeian analysis. Though perhaps he should have been. The author was asking the reader to let go of normality and to embrace the anxiety and self-obsession of the characters and the symbolism of the author. It's asking a lot. But then modernist authors, inspired by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce (in particular) did ask a lot of their readers.


In a funny way the book is a continuation of Vile Bodies. Of Evelyn's book, Henry said: '…a most frightfully depressing book in the best possible way. Everyone acts in it true to himself and there is dust and ashes everywhere just as there is in real life.' Which of course could be said about Party Going. It's as if Adam and Nina, Ginger and the Major, and the rest, have all got stuck together at Victoria Station on the way to their next party. No-one has any idea what this party will consist of (a motor race? An orgy?) or what the point of it might be. Hence the dead pigeon motif, established on the first page. Hence the fog.

On the last page of the book, the colophon states: 'London, 1931-1938.' Of course, what has also to be said, is that Henry spent those years as managing director of the factory that he fictionalised in
Living, a company called Pontifex that made baths. And he and Dig had a son, Sebastian, who was born in 1934. Oh yes, and Henry had affairs. Perhaps it could be said that Henry Yorke hedged his bets. He had inherited a great deal in life and was intent on hanging on to his privileges. Property owner. Author. Lover. Industrialist. Father. The lot. Well, let's see how that worked out for him.

Gosh, I am enjoying raking over the ashes of the dead. My dead.


The sun hasn't broken though the thick fog that covers Castle Howard today. I can hardly see my way from cottage to cottage. There is a virus going around and the Brideshead Festival is cancelled. We're still here though, if in self-isolation. So, in a strictly limited way, the show goes on.

Anyway, it means I can get on with my research at my own pace. Where was I? Evelyn Waugh and Henry Yorke responded to the possibility of a second world war in different ways. Evelyn abandoned he book he was writing and looked to join a regiment where he could be given officer training. The 20,000 word fragment was published in 1942, as
Work Suspended. Henry wrote: ‘You are quite right, it is the best work you have done…. For I like Lucy Simmonds, and, knowing my tastes, you can imagine the abject state I was reduced to by Julia… Plant is a tremendous character, he made me think of Tony Powell…But the best thing of all is Plant falling in love. No one has ever done such a thing as well. I’ve read it again and am aghast at its excellence technically. You make me feel like an amateur.'

What does he mean about Julia? Well, she is introduced in the following way: 'Julia had that particular kind of succulent charm - bright, dotty, soft, eager, acquiescent, flattering, impudent - that is specially, it seems, produced for the delight of Anglo-Saxon manhood.' So Henry is saying that he liked pretty young girls who looked up to him. His personal life and his books reflect this interest. Did Dig know about his affairs? It seems that she did, and that she turned a blind eye.

Henry's response to the likelihood of war was the opposite of Evelyn's. He raced through an autobiography called
Pack My Bag. Evelyn read it in November, 1940, and wrote to Laura from his unit: ‘I will soon send you Henry Yorke’s autobiography, which is very disappointing. The Eton part a very poor second to Connolly and the later part, which might have been delicious, badly scamped.’

How could he make this opinion palatable to his friend without actually lying? He wrote:
‘I read it in increasing delight. [The book starts slowly.] It got better and better. [It starts really badly.] I never tire of hearing you talk about women and wish there had been very much more indeed about them and the extraordinary things they say. I wish there had been twice as much about Oxford, four times as much about hunt balls, twice as much about the factory. [There is too much about Eton.]'

In 1942, Evelyn wrote Put Out More Flags while on a troop ship coming back from the Middle East the long way around Africa. In December of that year, Henry wrote about it: ‘You know how I loathe Peter Rodd and everything to do with him, yet when you make him start before ones eyes in print I find myself almost getting fond of him.'

As Martin Stannard summarises the Basil Seal character: ‘
The drinking, the infidelity, the desperate attempts of parents to secure him respectable employment, the inability to hold down a job, the moody glazed stare, mocking conventional behaviour - all were recognisably Peter.'

I quote this because I have a personal interest. I know Peter Rodd. Reader, I married him. I did so shortly after my long relationship with the impossible Hamish broke down. The marriage didn't last long because Peter really was like Basil. Here is Peter Rodd aka Basil Seal the day he married me in 1933.


Peter was in the army and living separately from me by 1940. I was living in London when the blitz was on. As was Henry (in fact, we lived on the same street) who was with the fire brigade. Evelyn didn't think much of this as a war effort, but changed his mind when he read Caught, which Henry published in 1943. It revealed the danger and drama of fighting fires at that time, while revealing a fire service that was a shambles, the men indulging in love affairs and going about their business with no sense of social purpose.


According to Henry Green's biographer Jeremy Treglown:
In Caught he came closer than any other English writer of the time to the shocked verisimilitude of English poets of the First World War… The tragic futility of war is revealed in the stupendous last section.'

What did Evelyn Waugh think? He didn't think much of it, as we'll see when he comments on the next novel. Their next books came out about the same time, and there was, eventually, an intense exchange of views about Loving and Brideshead Revisited. The key letter from Evelyn is not included in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, but the exchange is summarised thoroughly in Treglown's book, so I'll largely reproduce that.

Brideshead appeared, Henry was struck by the coincidence that they'd both written novels about country houses. At Christmas, he sent Evelyn an enthusiastic but not uncritical letter.

In March of 1945, Henry wrote again, assuming that his first letter hadn't arrived, repeating his praise but firming up on his reservations. The praise:
'To my mind you carry out what you set out to do better than any English writer now writing…The whole thing seems to me deeper and wider than any book you have written…I wish I had been in love at Oxford when I was up. I see now what I have missed.'

As for critique, in particular there was regret at the deathbed repentance of Lord Marchmain.
'How curious it is that we should now be writing on lines essentially odious to each other. Me with servants and children, you with the dilemmas of the church.' As with A Handful of Dust, Henry's analysis gets to the heart of the matter. On this occasion, the crux of Evelyn's book is much more vulnerable. It would be understandable if Evelyn felt attacked.

Henry enclosed a second copy of
Loving (the first had lain uncollected behind the porter's desk of St James' Club). A week later Evelyn answered. In his diary, Evelyn wrote: 'Henry has written an obscene book about domestic servants', but his letter began by telling Henry that he thought it very much better than Caught: 'I am delighted to see your characters returned to privacy - fog-bound as they were in "Party Going", a complete beleaguered world.'


He 'loved' some of the minor characters, and the atmosphere of mutual suspicion and interrogation of the house. However, Evelyn soon turned to what he 'hated': a long catalogue that focussed on points of consistency, accuracy and, especially, social correctness. Would a lady speak like Mrs Tennant? If her late husband had been a gentleman wouldn't he have inherited Kinalty rather than bought it? 'But it is a splendid book when I have said all I can say against it,' he half-concluded, before remembering something else: 'You are debasing the language vilely.'

Did Evelyn reply to Henry's criticism of the religious nature of his own book? I don't think he did. Did the words fester? This is what Martin Stannard thinks. 'He would not brook criticism from an agnostic about the theology of his magnum opus.' Moreover as far as Loving was concerned, 'Yorke's abandonment of the manners of his class were to Waugh tantamount to betrayal.'

When Evelyn had written of his admiration for Living, he had been intrigued by his friend's study of working men and their language. Evelyn didn't seem to be interested in the lives of ordinary people any more. However, the story of Evelyn and Henry's relationship does not end there. Dear reader, please stick with it.

As for me, the day will end in Robert's cottage, and a drinks party to which Harold and Patrick have also been invited. Self-isolation can be taken too far.


I have got into the habit of drinking in the evening. Indeed, what with chatting through the afternoon, mornings at Castle Howard are the only time I feel free to work. So I must get down to it…

Henry's productive period continued with the publication in 1946 of
Back. An old soldier, Charlie, home from the war, gets back to a routine of working at his office. He mourns his dead wife, Rose, and falls in love with a woman, Nance, whom he takes to be his dead wife. Evelyn commented about the book in some detail.

'I have finished reading Back with intense interest. No one but you could have written it or any part of it (except the French pastiche of which hereafter). The ingenious symbolism - roses roses all the way - excited envy and I delighted in the gradual breaking of dawn from madness to normality which could not have been better done and which, I hope, symbolises for you a cosmic process which is entirely invisible to me. And the ‘married and lived happy ever after’ was conclusive for your couple this time as it was not for that beastly butler.'

Not sure that last bit makes perfect sense, as when, at the end of
Back, Charlie gets into bed with Nance, he howls with anguish. Did that bode well for their married future?

'The office scenes and the episode of the secretary seemed perfect. In fact the story is a triumphant success.'

Evelyn then takes issue with Henry having inserted a ten-page section, written in the eighteenth century, that Charlie reads. The story is intended to echo the bigger story. Henry replied to Evelyn clarifying that the story-within-a-story was a not written by himself but 'found'. And Evelyn disagreed with this. Suggesting that if you use someone else's work, that information should be given to the reader. However, he ends on a positive note:
'the story is as deep as a well and as wide as church door without it.'

What did Henry think of
The Loved One or Scott King's Modern Europe, which were published around this time? I don't know. It's possible that the two friends had a period of relatively distant relations, because I can't find anything to suggest that Evelyn made public or private comment about Concluding, which Henry published in 1948. A book which features a retired scientist living on the margins of a girls' school.

In 1950, from Paris where I had settled after the war, I wrote to Evelyn, referring to Henry's latest, asking '
Are you loving Nothing?' My friend replied at length, beginning 'I think nothing of Nothing.' Evelyn went on to say that he began Henry's new novel with high expectations, but was sharply disappointed. According to him, the idiom rang false everywhere. Evelyn goes into this in some detail, mentioning 'Mrs Chichesterese', 'Air Force', 'Gloucester peasant' and 'Knightsbridge' as separate social types and ways of speaking. He uses Mary (Maimie) Lygon as an example of the latter, and says that she wouldn't say "Let's give a 'do' for a party," and concludes: 'I dare say Henry never could write dialogue at all and has been bluffing all the time.' Evelyn doesn't leave it there, but adds: 'He has just lost his ear by spending so much time with low-class women.' Evelyn goes into detailed critique again, only emerging to say: 'I believe that's it. He got his poor mind all jangled up by Birmingham business chums and Miss Glass. Well, it's a rotten book.'

The funny thing is, in
Nothing, Henry sticks to characters that Evelyn ought to have approved of. The book begins: 'On a Sunday afternoon in 1948, John Pomfret a widower of forty-five, sat over lunch with Miss Liz Jennings at one of the round tables set by a great window that opened on the Park, a view which had made this hotel loved by the favoured of Europe when they visited London.'

Evelyn should have felt on home ground at the Ritz with characters of his own class. But clearly, by this time, Evelyn's disenchantment with his old friend had widened from a religious disagreement and a disagreement about whether working class people were worthy of study. Even Henry writing about himself and his peers was not enough to hit the spot any more. Not as far as Evelyn was concerned. In his letter to me he mentions 'Etonians of age 45', meaning Henry himself, and claims they wouldn't say things like "I'll take a sherry" or "Phone me."

Nevertheless, Evelyn invited Henry and Dig to stay at Piers Court. The visit did not go well. Dear me, no. In a letter to me of May 1951, Evelyn let rip:
'He was here for a long weekend. In London, where everyone is seedy, he did not appear notable. Here in the country, he looked GHASTLY. Very long black, dirty hair, one brown tooth, pallid puffy face, trembling hands, stone deaf, smoking continuously throughout meals. Picking up books in the middle of conversations and falling into maniac giggles, drinking lots of raw spirits, hating the country and everything good.'

Let me just juxtapose this savage pen portrait with a superb photograph of Henry taken by Cecil Beaton at about the same time (1949, actually).


I see from Selina Hastings biography that Evelyn sent a variation of this character assassination to another correspondent: ‘Henry is decrepit, deaf, toothless, dirty (both morally and physically) disloyal to the Royal Family, long haired, ill dressed. I think he is a communist. He smokes as he eats… I was very sad to see old friends falling so low.’

Let's juxtapose that pen portrait too, with another from the same session with Cecil:


For months afterwards, Evelyn's outgoing correspondence kept returning to 'Bright Young Henry Yorke', which I am going to quote from as it's so furiously funny. To me again:
‘I really think Henry will be locked up soon. Dig’s brother is locked up already. It’s a poor look out for their wretched son.’ To Mary Lygon: 'H Yorke would not pee in the garden for fear of catching cold in his kok.' To Graham Greene (who would visit Piers Court for a week in September of that year): ‘I wear a dinner jacket in the evenings but there is not the smallest reason why you should do so, if like Henry Yorke you disapprove of such simple garments.' To me again: ‘The habits of G. Greene’s characters are precisely and in every detail identical with the Bright Young Yorkes.’ This last is a reference to Evelyn's reading of Graham's The End of the Affair, a book saturated in sexual desire. And finally to Arthur Baldwin in October of 1951: ‘I hate the Yorkes now after twenty-five years friendship.'

Well, no, not finally. In January 1952, he wrote Mary Lygon again:
'Did I tell you that H. Yorke is MAD, BAD and DANGEROUS TO KNOW'. Poor, poor Henry. Poor, poor Evelyn as well. But brace yourself, there's explosive hate to come.

A year later, May, 1952, Henry published what was to prove his final novel. In other words, he didn't write anything after the age of 47. Nothing from the age of 47 to his death in 1973, age 68. Evelyn's verdict on this novel was delivered to me. '
Doting is pitiable but I don’t at all rejoice. There are not enough writers for one not to mind one going to seed and there are too many contemporaries in decay… B.Y. Yorke’s son cannot shake hands. He offers a closed fist.…Tony Powell’s new book is said to be excellent.'

I've included that mention of Tony Powell from the letter, because just as Henry Green's light was fading, that of his Eton classmate was beginning to glow. Evelyn is referring to A Buyer's Market, the second novel in his Dance to the Music of Time. Evelyn read and admired all the books from that series that were published in his lifetime, and it could be said that from 1952, Tony replaced Henry in Evelyn's esteem if not his affection.

Evelyn invited Henry and Dig to stay with him one more time, ten years later. But before we get there, let's catch up with Henry's day to day living.

His glass was found to be full of gin by his brother at a Pontiflex board meeting. Hardly surprising, because by then he drank all day long from about eleven in the morning. At a party he introduced himself to a respectable old lady:
"I’m Henry Yorke - fifty-five - and I can’t do it!”

When the gin ran out, he asked an admirer to add whisky to his half-full glass of gin. “What difference does it make?” Sometimes he had to be helped to bed at night. Sometimes he didn't bother to get up in the morning. He drank because he couldn’t write and he couldn’t write because he drank. That was the vicious circle according to Jeremy Treglown.

In 1962, Henry told a BBC interviewer:
‘I'm absolutely finished as far as the public’s concerned. I’m out, I don’t sell books any more, and the critics despair of me. No, I don’t exist any more." He was asked if he would be writing any more books. "No - never - never. It’s too exhausting, I can’t do it."

OK, I think I've prepared the ground for telling about what happened in March of 1962. Evelyn had been publishing books about Africa and Ronald Knox. And although these are lack-lustre, he had more recently finished his war trilogy in glorious style with the volume,
Unconditional Surrender. Selina Hastings tells the story of what happened at Combe Florey, using a letter that Heywood Hill wrote to me on March 6:

'Henry had looked out of the window and seen Evelyn planting an ivy garden all wrong, and Henry had told him so, and Evelyn hadn't slept all night. Then at luncheon the next day Henry said to Laura, would it be all right for him and Dig to smoke in the middle. Laura said it would be all right for them but not for her, which Henry said he ought to have taken as a warning. So they lit up, and then suddenly there was a crash as Evelyn swept all the china from the table, saying he could not endure people who smoked at meals and they must have been mixing with Jews in New York. After that he retired to his library and they never saw him again.'

That is so sad. What's more, it seems so unforgivable of Evelyn. But then the gesture of rejection goes back such a long way. Evelyn had completely changed his mind since 1929, when he'd been living with Shevelyn in the Canonbury Square flat, when he'd been loving living; when he'd been loving


The friend that had come up with sentences such as
'But it is quite true to say that there was nothing dirty in all this,' had been exposed, at least in Evelyn's mind, to be a fake. 'Dropping suddenly to be intimate,’ was not something that had ever been said by a Birmingham worker. 'Goodness he did not like it,' likewise. Goodness Evelyn did not like it one bit. CRASH!… A pile of books, the china, friendship… Swept aside with a brutal gesture.


Evelyn was so angry. Who was this person he was wasting his time with? Disloyal to the Royal Family… Communist leanings… Wouldn't have a pee in the garden in case his cock got cold… Filthy in mind and body… Wouldn't dress for dinner… Wouldn't stop smoking at table… Drinks raw spirits… Trembling hands… Stone deaf… Toothless… CRASH!… Damn the lot of them!… Living, Loving, Party-Going, Concluding, Nothing…


Of course, this is the same March that Evelyn went to his club in London. At seven pm, he was sitting alone in the hall when an older member paused in front of him and asked: "Why are you alone?"

"Because no-one wants to speak to me."

"I can tell you exactly why; because you sit there on your arse looking like a stuck pig."

The humiliations of old-before-his-time Evelyn were much the same as the humiliations of old-before-his-time Henry. An important difference being that when Evelyn got home he meticulously recorded his set-backs in diary notes and in glorious letters to little old me.

And it has to be said that by 1964 Evelyn had recovered his equanimity enough to get it all in proportion, as he wrote of meeting a new friend for the first time at Oxford: 'A
lean, dark, singular man named Henry Yorke who was later to dazzle us with his series of novels published under the name of Henry Green.'

Dazzling. That's what Henry's collective achievement is.

Party-giving. So let's have one. Everyone down to Audrey's place!

1. Thanks to Nancy Mitford for letting me (Duncan McLaren) add layers of detailed facts throughout her account, and for allowing me to expand the final scene set in 1962.

2. Nancy has asked me to disclose exactly how much of Henry Green's work I've read, so here goes… Several years ago I read
Living while writing 'THE EVELYNS' section of this site. In the last fortnight, I've browsed Pack My Bag (the autobiography), Party-Going and Nothing. I've also sampled from Back and Blindness and read the opening five pages of Doting. I'm still waiting for Caught and Concluding to pop through my letterbox. Which leaves Loving. I intend to read more HG, and if that means updating the above essay, so be it.