From Philip Ziegler’s Diana Cooper: The Biography of Lady Diana Cooper (1981)
Diana first met Evelyn Waugh at a luncheon given by Hazel Lavery. With Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies already published, Waugh was greatly in demand as a brilliant young novelist. Diana was entranced by his wit, his sensibility, his gusto, his affection for her; dismayed by his black rages and cruelty. She called him her ‘dear malignancy’ and their relationship was punctuated by fearsome quarrels. Constantly she rebuked him for believing and embellishing stories that suggested she was speaking ill of him: ‘You know perfectly well that you have no Baby as loyal as this Baby and if you believe anything else you are very foolish.’ She was one of the few people who could to some extent call Waugh to order. In Birmingham, on the tour of The Miracle they were walking together down a steep hill. A man came towards them, crimson and tottering under the weight of a heavy suitcase. He asked if he was going the right way for the railway station. ‘Quite right,’ said Waugh. ‘Go to the very top of the street and turn left.’ They walked on, and then a thought struck Diana. Wasn’t the station in a different direction? ‘Certainly,’ said Waugh. ‘That’ll teach the vulgar little man to address us!’ Diana refused to speak to him again until he ran after the man, explained the mistake and even helped him some of the way with his case.
Such aberrations did not detract from the delight of his company. Many weekends and sometimes during the week he sought her out in her provincial hotel and devoted himself to entertaining her. (Penguin Books, 1983, ch. 6, “The Miracle”, pp. 176-7)
Randolph Churchill was told by a woman in Algiers that Diana was a grande amoureuse. He passed it on to Evelyn Waugh, who laughed heartily. Diana was indignant. ‘How the hell can he tell if I am or not? Just because I never responded to his dribbling, dwarfish little amorous singeries, he need not be so sure!’ (ch. 7, “‘A Light World’”, pg. 187)
Fortunately there were many friends who were happy to cater for her needs. Evelyn Waugh proved notably loyal. In April 1955 he spent two long evenings reading aloud his new novel Officers and Gentlemen. Diana appreciated the effort, but, surprisingly, not the book itself, finding it ‘as true as life and war and equally boring’. There were too many incomprehensible military titles, too little story, no memorable characters except ‘the man with the thunder box, who died’, too many delicate nuances and undercurrents which no reader could hope to perceive without Waugh’s constant asides to help them. It was something that Mrs Stitch played a role — ‘not bad and acting exactly as I would in the end’ — but she could not redeem a failure. ‘I fear it cannot be a seller, and he does need money to feed the hungry seven.’ Waugh was on his best behaviour, acting with loving solicitude and only making mischief when the Duc de Brissac cross-examined him on the intricacies of English prosody. With satisfaction Waugh gave him all the wrong answers. (ch. 14, “What’s That Lady For?”, pg. 335)
Evelyn Waugh haunted the house [in Algiers], slumped in black misery alleviated only by sudden rages. Diana asked what was wrong. Nothing, Waugh said in surprise; he was rich, he was successful, he loved his wife and children. Then could he not look a little happier? Waugh was struck by the suggestion, which people, he said, had sometimes made before, but did little to act on it. (ch. 10, “Asia and Algiers”, pg. 255)
Evelyn Waugh was another mischief-maker. He had difficulty getting his transit visa for Paris, since the only evidence he could show he was invited to the Embassy was a telegram reading: ‘O yes please Stitch.’ Once he was there he settled down to bait the other guests. Julian Huxley he insisted on treating as a crypto-Communist zoo-keeper with no interest in life beyond the diet of his giant panda. Speaking of Peter Quennell, wrote Diana, ‘a good and harmless man, fond of pretty girls, and really he painted something so foetid and sinister that it will colour most unfairly my sentiments for him.’ Later in the evening he got drunk and talked unsuitable sex in front of [Diana’s young son] John Julius. ‘Poor Wu — he does everything he can to alienate himself from the affection he is yearning for.’ (ch. 11, “Paris Embassy”, pg. 277)
The comings of Evelyn Waugh [to Chantilly], in particular, tended to be beset by fearful rows. Diana once went to the airport to meet him, having deposited her other guests at a circus in the town. At the interval she was back, looking gloomy. ‘Evelyn’s plastered,’ she reported. There he was, in cloth cap and loud tweeds, hanging onto a guy-rope so as to remain on his feet. As the rope was at an angle of 45°, so was Evelyn Waugh. Diana took him home and shut him in his room to sleep it off, but by the time the party got back from the circus he had escaped and was annoying Lady Juliet Duff, who was trying to do the crossword.
Next day he was still drunkish. [Diana’s husband] Duff endured him with sinister calm until, at lunch, he made some offensive remark about Mountbatten. That provoked an explosion: ‘How dare a common little man like you who happens to have written one or two moderately amusing novels, criticize that great patriot and gentleman? Leave my house at once!’ Evelyn Waugh left the room but not the house, and next day told Rupert Hart-Davis, a fellow-guest: ‘Don’t really like Cooper. Very fond of his wife.’ For a time he kept away from Chantilly, but Diana delighted in his company. … Graham Greene was another author who visited Chantilly at this period [late 1940s-early 1950s]. She greatly admired his writing and was fascinated by his relationship with his faith. … ‘I think Graham Greene is a good man possessed of a devil,’ Diana concluded, ‘and that Evelyn is a bad man for whom an angel is struggling.’ (ch. 13, “Neither Queen nor Tramp”, pp. 306-7)
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