Waugh, Evelyn - I must see an alienist. These delusions are becoming more frequent
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Evelyn Waugh – A Life Revisited – by Philip Eade
In the late spring of 1953, buoyed by the news that Men at Arms had won the ]ames Tait Black Memorial Prize, Evelyn published Love Among the Ruins, a strange dystopian 'romance of the near future' which he had written the previous year. As usual he sent a special edition of this slim volume to friends, whose opinions he always valued far more than those of professional critics.
'Ta muchly, ole man, for your very generous present,' replied ]ohn Betjeman. 'It could not have come at a more appropriate moment, for only last Sunday I visited Stevenage New Town in the rainy afternoon. It was exactly like your book. Three miles of Lionel Brett-style prefabs interrupted by Hugh Casson blocks of flats and two shopping arcades and concrete lampposts throughout and no trees, only muddy Hertfordshire inclines. I saw through the vast, unprivate ground floor window of a house, a grey-faced woman washing up. My goodness, it was terrifying. And the kiddies' scooters lying out in the rain on the streets and a big vita-glass school on stilts."
In the same way that their religious differences caused friction between Evelyn and Betjeman, their mutual abhorrence of modern architecture and town planning served as a strong bond, as did their shared liking for Gothic Revival decoration and furniture, although Evelyn's tastes were if anything rather bolder in this regard. For Evelyn's fiftieth birthday in October 1953 Betjeman gave him an elaborate - and as it turned out rather valuable - wash-hand stand that he had found in a junk shop in Lincoln.
The stand was designed by William Burges, a follower of Pugin, whose freakish flourishes Betjeman suggested rendered people 'punch-drunk', and he could have been forgiven for thinking that his gift had had just that effect on his friend.
'Well, my dear fellow,' Evelyn wrote thanking him, 'all I can say is I am bowled over. What a present!'
But Evelyn's dizzy delight soon dissolved when the washstand arrived at Stinchcombe without one of the parts that he so vividly recalled seeing at the home of Patrick Kinross who had stored it temporarily for him in London.
'Sorry to be a bore,' Evelyn wrote to Kinross. 'The Betjeman Benefaction has arrived minus an essential organ - the serpentine bronze pipe which led from the dragon's mouth to the basin. I am making a row with Pickfords. Can you testify that it left your house intact?'
He also wrote to Betjeman, including a sketch of what he meant, but Betjeman had not the faintest idea what he was on about.
'Oh no, old boy,' he replied. 'There was never a pipe from the tap to the basin such as you envisaged.':
Evelyn wrote back just after New Year: 'I must see an alienist. These delusions are becoming more frequent.’