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The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh (1996)

by Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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"I want to write a sad story of a man who gave up drink and hated all his chums. It is me." -- Evelyn Waugh, 12 November 1944.

Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh were two of the most popular and respected authors of the early and mid-20th century; they were also lifelong friends who kept up a correspondence lasting more than two decades. This book is a collection of their letters to each other, which are full of jokes, literary allusions, and most of all gossip. They each had a very pointed, satirical sense of humor that was frequently directed at members of their own social set -- and quite often at each other. In many ways they couldn't be more different: Waugh was very conservative, old-fashioned, and staunchly Roman Catholic, while Mitford was a spiritually indifferent socialist living as an expatriate in Paris. But their correspondence reveals that they understood one another and shared a deep, affectionate friendship. Through their discussions of current events, important people, and of course books (both their own and other people's), Mitford and Waugh's letters provide a unique window into their age.

It's taken me a long time to write this review, because how can one "review" a collection of letters that weren't (necessarily) meant to be public? All I can say is that I enjoyed reading them. I've read a few books by each of these authors -- Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust -- but otherwise I didn't know much about either of them. I do think some level of familiarity with their work is helpful, but you definitely don't have to be an expert in order to enjoy these letters. They're often hilarious (how I shrieked, as Nancy would say) and also have some interesting discussions about literature. I want to read more of their books now! Of course, their chatter about mutual friends and acquaintances was hard to follow, although the editor did a fairly good job of identifying people in footnotes; but I still enjoyed this collection overall. If you're interested in early- and mid-20th-century literature, this might be a good book to seek out.
  christina_reads | Feb 6, 2014 |
For years, after her move to France, Nancy Mitford would write Evelyn Waugh an early January letter lamenting the passing of the past year--in her memory it was the best year ever. Waugh was always sour, indignant and condescending in reply. After the first year she was definitely at least partly teasing him--it was one of her favorite things to do. But what I like about Nancy Mitford as shown through these letters was her absolute determination to have fun, be happy and surround herself with as much beauty as possible even when her life was far from perfect. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Aug 19, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nancy Mitfordprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Waugh, Evelynmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Mosley, CharlotteEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0395740150, Hardcover)

Charlotte Mosley's careful collection of Nancy Mitford's and Evelyn Waugh's delightfully careless letters immerses one in a lost whirl. The two writers met in London in the late 1920s, but their correspondence didn't take off until mid-World War II, when it quickly became an exaggeration-fest. Mitford, for example, matches Waugh's surreal reports from Europe with one about an M.P. swelling up before his fellow politicians' eyes: "Well, it took 2 ambulances to get him away & now he lies on 4 beds with his trunk hanging out the window. Let nobody say that war time London lacks fantasy."

For the next 21 years, these gifted gossips would render the ridiculous sublime and vice versa, turning (and then only mildly) serious in discussions of reading and writing, preferring to glide over the problematic and emotional. Throughout, Mitford likes to play the euphoric, lazy pupil, Waugh the master grammarian, theologian, and meanie. The exchanges on their own works in progress--particularly on Brideshead Revisited and The Pursuit of Love--are an important addition to literary history, but the book's true exhilaration lies in Mitford and Waugh's knowing--and knowingly vile--comic timing. Irresistibly offensive.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Mitford and Waugh were gifted writers and great friends. Their friendship gave rise to this collection of 500 wonderful letters which are a witty and unique testament to their enduring talents.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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