15 January 2013

Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch

Title: Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch - The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper
Author: Edited by Artemis Cooper
Year published: 1991
Pages: 326
Time It Took To Read: One week

This book took me a while to read, primarily because I've been ill. I've had osteomyelitis in my jaw, and I've never had pain like it. I'd rather give birth. Several times. So, I've spent much of the last week completely off my face on co-codamol. Whilst off my face, I've also been writing an assignment. I'm studying for a degree in health and social care with the OU and I have to do about one long essay a month. This one was a real shit, and took up all my thinking and writing time (in between painkillers).
To the book! I love reading collections of letters, especially of just two people, because I am nosy. You can tell more about someone from their letters than from their diaries or autobiography. You can see all their wit, their charm, their bitchy streak, their affection. Evelyn Waugh was a literary great, and responsible for Brideshead Revisited and Decline and Fall (among others). He was a prolific journalist. He was also a drug addled, alcoholic shit. Lady Diana Cooper was an actress and socialite, noted for her beauty. She was twelve years older than Waugh, but they were friends from the early 30s until Waugh's death in 1966. Lady Diana survived another 20 years, dying in her 90s. The letters were collated and edited by her granddaughter, Artemis Cooper.
Unfortunately, the letters in the volume are predominantly Waugh's. Artemis claims that not enough of Diana's correspondance to Waugh survives to make a more complete collection. However, I'm not sure I believe this. I think family censorship may have had a part in this - Artemis' father, the only child of Diana and Duff Cooper, is still alive. The effect is of a rather one sided friendship. There is about one Diana letter to every three of Waugh's.
I also take issue with the title. Mr Wu was an occasional nickname for Waugh, Mrs Stitch was her character's name in many of his books. However, they usually addressed each other as Bo and Baby. Although they were never lovers, there is a deeply affectionate bond between them that I have rarely seen in any of Waugh's letters to other correspondents. He is also enthusiastic (mostly) about his children, who he didn't appear to like overmuch in any of his other letters or diaries, seeing them as rather a nuisance.
This book is now out of print. I got mine from my mum, who got it from a second hand bookshop. You can obtain pricey copies on Amazon. To be honest, I wouldn't bother. The footnotes - essential when reading letters from a different era - are patchy. The only exchanges that really stick in the mind are the ones when the pair have had an argument - Waugh was notoriously prickly. The lack of responses from Diana mean that you're better off buying The Letters of Evelyn Waugh by Mark Amory which is still in print.
If you want to read a more fluid letter collection from the same era, I adore and recommend The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, edited by Charlotte Mosley.

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