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Summary

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, best-selling 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.

©2012 Paula Byrne (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"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)

"Well-researched.... Byrne has trawled all possible archives assiduously." (The Independent)

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