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Waugh, Evelyn - Evelyn was behaving peculiarly, talking to the table lamps in the dining room and to the toast rack at breakfast

Identifier

022779

Type of spiritual experience

Hallucination

Background

Some of this is describing the persecution complexes that often accompany heavy pharmaceutical – drug use.  He appears from other sections of Philips book to have been paranoid a number of times and all because of this cocktail of drugs and alcohol.

He also appears to have been suffering from manic depression

A description of the experience

Evelyn Waugh – A Life Revisited – by Philip Eade

Evelyn was far from well at the time, either physically or mentally and the next month he set off for what was becoming his annual winter getaway, this time taking ship for Ceylon, the start of the terrifying voyage later chronicled in his avowedly autobiographical novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.

Before leaving he had told Laura that he thought all the chloral might have caused 'problems with my nut' and it can scarcely have reassured her to get a letter from Cape St Vincent proposing to 'come home & lead a luny bin life for a while'.

'It was at 50 that Rossetti's chloral taking involved him in attempted suicide,' Evelyn added cheerfully, 'part blindness & part paralysis. We will avoid all that . . . To add to my barminess there are intermittent bits of 3rd Programme talks played in private cabin and two mentioned me very faintly and my p.m. [persecution mania] took it for other passengers whispering about me.'

The other passengers had already noticed that Evelyn was behaving peculiarly, talking to the table lamps in the dining room and to the toast rack at breakfast, and repeatedly knocking on the cabin door below his and asking for'Miss Margaret Black'.

During a small dance on board, Evelyn complained that the music was driving him mad, and on another occasion he was seen crouching at the top of a flight of stairs in his pyjamas and then suddenly hurling a stool at an imaginary target. When they reached Port Said the captain persuaded him to disembark, and accompany a fellow passenger by car to Cairo.

From there Evelyn wrote to Laura to say that he was 'resolved never to go anywhere without you again', and that he had been the victim of an experiment in telepathy 'real and true. A trick the existentialists invented - half mesmerism - which is most alarming when applied without warning or to a sick man.'

From Cairo Evelyn flew on to Colombo, where he despatched another barking letter to Laura and one to Diana Cooper describing 'a group of psychologists a thousand miles away who read every word I write over my shoulder. As I write this I can hear their odious voices repeating it word for word . . . It began with an elaborate series of practical jokes during which I was convinced I was insane. My sufferings were exquisite but now I know that it is merely a trick of telepathy.'

Laura had grown increasingly alarmed by Evelyn's letters and after the one from Cairo she asked their neighbour Jack Donaldson, one of the few locals whom Evelyn got on with, if he would go with her to Colombo to help bring Evelyn home. But before they could get the necessary injections, Evelyn was on his way back and Laura travelled up to the Hyde Park Hotel in London to meet him.

Speaking in a 'high, unrecognizable squeak', Evelyn began telling Laura the whole story of how he had been tormented on the voyage by the same Mr Black from the BBC who had recently interviewed him and chanced to be on board with his whole family, all of whom had used the powers of telepathy described in his letters to persecute him; only the daughter had shown any mercy. Evelyn mentioned to Laura that they both knew this Miss Black, having met her with a neighbour of theirs in Gloucestershire to whom she was engaged.

'But Evelyn,' Laura interrupted, suddenly twigging who he meant, 'her name wasn't Black, it was So-and-So, and she had nothing to do with the BBC man.'

Evelyn immediately realised that Laura was right and when she subsequently telephoned the BBC she was able to establish that Mr Black could not have been on Evelyn's voyage either as he had been ill in hospital for some weeks…………….

A thorough check-up by a London physician later confirmed that Evelyn’s hallucinations were indeed due to Bromide poisoning.

…… When Evelyn met Christopher Hollis at Downside and was asked how he had been keeping, he replied
“Been mad!  Absolutely mad.  Clean off my onion!”

The source of the experience

Waugh, Arthur Evelyn St. John

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities

Observation contributed by: Henry Ibberson