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Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead Paperback – March 8, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060881313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060881313
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,133 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As much as this is a biography of Evelyn Waugh, it is also the biography of the family that inspired his best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited. The product of a middle-class upbringing and a middling public school, Waugh’s experience at Oxford was an awakening. There, he fell in with a sophisticated crowd that had at its center the glamorous Hugh Lygon, second son in an aristocratic Catholic family. Scandal-ridden as well, the eminent patriarch, Lord Beauchamp, was forced to leave the country because of homosexual activities. Waugh became close friends with several of Hugh’s sisters, whose doings seemed to exemplify the spirit of the age. Their splendid house Madresfield Court—called Mad for short—offered the template for Brideshead, just as Hugh provided the model for Sebastian Flyte. Readers don’t necessarily need to be conversant with Waugh’s novels in order to enjoy this well-researched and absorbing account, but those who are will be fascinated by Byrne’s exploration of how Waugh used elements from his own life to shape his work. Expect requests for Brideshead Revisited from patrons who get their hands on this. --Mary Ellen Quinn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“An utterly captivating and generous book with all the intimacy of a diary and the scholarly soundness of a fine biography…A singular accomplishment.” (Chicago Tribune)

“An engaging book…remarkably thorough…Deftly interweaving biographical details and textual analysis, Byrne makes the connections between Waugh’s art, Roman Catholic faith, and life dance.” (Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor)

“Altogether excellent and wickedly entertaining…Scandalous detail enlivens every page of this delicious biography…Over the years I’ve read all the major biographies of Evelyn Waugh, and Byrne’s is…the fastest moving and the most fun.” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)

“Well-researched and absorbing.” (Booklist)

“Remarkable…not only a meticulously researched biography but also an enjoyable read.” (Library Journal)

“A considerable contribution to literary history…includes enough gossipy asides to intrigue readers.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A splendid new book…While displaying the research values of a scholar Byrne also manages to write with the panache and timing of a popular novelist.” (Alexander Waugh, Daily Beast)

“A sharp, entertaining literary biography…A perceptive study of how Evelyn Waugh emerged from middle-class beginnings to inhabit the tony corridors described in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“’Mad World’ is the perfect title for this sparkling book, a hybrid of family romance, incisive literary criticism, and deliciously hot gossip.” (Martin Rubin, Washington Times)

More About the Author

Paula was born in Birkenhead in 1967, the third daughter in a large working-class Catholic family. She studied English and Theology at the college that is now Chichester University and then taught English and Drama at Wirral Grammar School for Boys and Wirral Metropolitan College. She then completed her MA and PhD in English Literature at the University of Liverpool. She is now a full-time writer, living with her husband, the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate, and their three young children (Tom, Ellie and Harry) in an old farmhouse in a South Warwickshire village near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Paula is represented by The Wylie Agency. She is an Executive Trustee of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Warwick.

Paula is the author of the top ten bestseller Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson (HarperCollins UK, Random House USA). A selection for the 2005 Richard and Judy Book Club and a British Book Awards 'Best Read' nomination, Perdita was also long-listed for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize. It tells the extraordinary story of the eighteenth-century actress, poet, novelist, feminist, celebrity and royal mistress Mary 'Perdita' Robinson (1757-1800).

Paula's first book, shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize, was Jane Austen and the Theatre, published in 2002 and reissued in paperback in 2007 by Hambledon Continuum. Paul Johnson of The Spectator chose it as his best-ever book on Jane Austen and the Times Literary Supplement described as a 'definitive and pioneering study of a wholly neglected aspect of Austen's art.' She has also edited a Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Jane Austen's Emma.

Paula has published essays on a wide range of women authors, reviews for the Sunday Telegraph and the TLS, and in her new book tells the story of Evelyn Waugh's friendship with the extraordinary aristocratic family who inspired Brideshead Revisited. Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead is published worldwide by HarperCollins, with the UK edition out in August 2009 and the USA edition forthcoming in early March 2010.

Customer Reviews

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Very good material for a work on spiritual theology.
Hoo-Zen!!
This is as much about the author as the novel and as much about a period of time as the characters.
S Riaz
Who knew that the Waugh group was so homosexual as well as homophobic.
arizona

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By I. Sondel VINE VOICE on November 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I freely admit to an aversion to most biographies; those half ton tomes stuffed to overflowing with superfluous information, regurgitated facts that 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 Mad World, a biography as witty and amusing as its subject, which, in the case of Evelyn Waugh, is saying a great deal.

As is the case with most historical biographies, 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 picks up (and never flags) once Waugh enters Oxford, where he quickly develops friendships with the likes of Harold Acton and Brian Howard, and enters into a series of homosexual relationships, the most profound and lasting with Hugh Lygon, second son of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, and the inspiration for Brideshead's 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"); and was witness to the disgrace of Earl Beauchamp, forced to flee the country or face charges of Gross Indecency, and the family's dishonor.

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 modern day retelling of Waugh's classic Brideshead Revisited, which is the kindest compliment it could be paid.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By ireadabookaday VINE VOICE on April 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
While I love literature, I am very rarely interested in books that accompany it- biographies, collections of letters, or books that purport to tell the " real story" behind the book. This is delightful exception.

I was intrigued by the real family that inspired " Brideshead" and the author does a great job of explaining Waugh's close relationship them, how he did or did not disguise them in the novel, and the reaction of the family to the book. ( Did anyone ever really belive the author's note "I am not I: thou art not he or she: they are not they."?)

In addition to the biographical information that helps us understand Waugh and the world he created, the author does a good job of placing the real people and events in context, giving us a better understanding of the intersection of Catholicism and the peerage that is so important to the novel, and of the theme of people struggling to reconcile their lives with God and theology. A must read for anyone who has read and loved
"Brideshead Revisited"
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. A Newman VINE VOICE on June 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"No writer before the 19th century ever wrote about the working classes other than as grotesques or pastoral decorations. Then when they were given the vote, certain writers started to suck up to them." Evelyn Waugh.

Evelyn Waugh was one of the greatest and funniest writers in the 20th century, beginning with the jokey "Vile Bodies" all the way to the Proust like elegy of the Sword of Honour Trilogy. While this book is interesting and provides insight into Waugh's creative process of people his books with people he knew, it probably is not the final word. "Mad World" is Madresfield Court, the home of the aristocratic Lygon family and friends of Waugh for several decades.

The author has done a great deal of admirable leg work in tracking down some of Waugh's inspiration for the celebrated Marchmain family in "Brideshead Revisited." There are some similarities between Lygons and their fictional counterparts. The father was hounded out of Britain under a cloud of scandal and the son indulged in various "Arcadian antics" at Oxford, while one of the sisters was a society beauty. While I had been aware of the Lygons, I was unaware of many of the particulars of their lives and the impact they had on the creation of not just the Marchmains, but other people and characters in other works of fiction by Waugh. Probably the best moment in the book for me was the assertion that Brendon Bracken, a stalwart associate of Churchill was the model of Rex Montram. Certain passages referring to Rex betting his political career on the outbreak of World War Two now make perfect sense.

Where I think the author misses the boat with Waugh is on two small, but significant points.
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36 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Mr. A. Walker-powell on September 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A biography needs to have a Point of View. Usually it is its subject and should be so if he is unlikely to be portrayed more than once. Evelyn Waugh is not such a case. The interest in him is sufficiently wide to accommodate different Points of View. Mad World is written from the Point of View of the Lygon family, with whom Waugh was friendly and whose members are in part associated with individual characters in Brideshead Revisited.
Paula Byrne has done her subject proud and, if one puts a price on the pleasure something provides, it is hopelessly under-priced. Mad World reveals much of what I did not know of Evelyn Waugh, even though I have read about him to a considerable degree. It reveals much more about the Lygon family members. How interesting it is that seemingly insignificant events in Brideshead Revisited happened in one degree or another to people mentioned in this biography. Two villains make their appearance. The first is the second Duke of Westminster, a character as malignant to the seventh Earl Beauchamp as the appalling Marquess of Queensbury was to Oscar Wilde. The second villain was King George V. He abandoned his loyal servant Beauchamp to the Duke of Westminster's knavery in a manner only less reprehensible to the way he abandoned his cousin, Tsar Nicholas II.
After Brideshead Revisited, life did not proceed smoothly for any of the people in this book. I remind myself of the conversation between Cordelia and Charles in Brideshead:
` ... such an engaging child, grown up a plain and pious spinster, full of good works.' Did you think "thwarted"?'
It was no time for prevarication. `Yes,' I said, `I did; I don't now so much.'
`It's funny,' she said, `that's exactly the word I thought for you and Julia when we were up in the nursery with nanny.
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