Dear Woo, My dear Nancy; a trove of letters comes to light

Rock 'n' roll and the Suez crisis were just round the corner. But in the fading days of Britain's empire letters written by two of the country's best-known novelists show high society refused to let the old ways and the old days go peacefully.

The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, to be published later this month, reveal an often unconscious hilarity in the pair's attitude to the changing post-war world. While the rest of Britain was struggling with the after-effects of six years of war, Waugh - the writer who cruelly satirised English society while at the same time being deeply in love with it - seemed to be struggling on pounds 10,000 a year and worrying that he may have to sack all his five servants.

The new volume - extracts of which are published in the latest issue of Harpers & Queen magazine - adds to the insights revealed in an earlier batch of published correspondence. Writing from his Gloucestershire home to Nancy Mitford in Paris in 1952 , he complains: "I am sacking all the servants (five does seems rather a lot to look after Laura and me in a house the size of a boot)." He bleats of a future life where he will "never wear a clean collar again or subscribe to the Royal Lifeboat fund".

Nancy Mitford, one of the six Mitford sisters who seemed to find an influential niche in every movement of the 20th century from fascism to communism, had just published her novel Love in a Cold Climate. Regarded as a socialist, these letters nevertheless reveal her fondness for the old regime and the fading comforts of the aristocracy. Whether in jest or reality she found a sadness in her correspondent's plight. "Darling Evelyn, life without servants is not worth living - better cut down in any other way."

For the best part of two decades the pair lived on opposite sides of the channel and exchanged more than 500 letters. Wit, gossip and a sharp wordsmith's knife stabbed into the heart of those they disliked, dominate the letters. The fashionable Paris contrasts with Waugh's flirtation with the English upper-class and his constant penurious complaining of not being able to keep up. The cast of the correspondence include Lady Diana Cooper, the critic Cyril Connolly, the novelist Graham Greene and the fertile arena of her family including her sisters Lady Mosley and the Duchess of Devonshire.

In one letter, just after Love in a Cold Climate had been greeted with critical acclaim, Waugh wrote "I was wrong in thinking publication would blight your career. Congratulations on your good sense at not being put by my ill-considered criticism."

In the early Fifties Waugh too was carving his literary reputation. In August 1951 he wrote to Nancy admitting what his son, Auberon, has always maintained, that his father was far from an ideal parent. "I have been at home pegging away at my novel and associating with my children whose interests I do not share." His cook is on holiday and his "manservant" had "taken to his bed". His house guests, he predicts, "will have poor entertainment". There is always room for complaint "My poverty is irksome". He confides that an American publisher is suing him for $3000 and he cannot pay. "So I must go to prison." He never went to prison.

In early 1952 their letters argue the merits of living in England or France. Nancy asks: "Is England really the England of Shakespeare. Is Germany that of Goethe?" By 1955, they were arguing over the merits of the upper class and the emerging middle classes. "My mother-in-law believes it middle-class to decant claret. Lord Beauchamp thought it m.c. not to decant champagne (into jugs)." Waugh is keen to ensure his children use bicycle instead of bike.

Despite her early literary success, Nancy would die in Paris, apparently dejected. Throughout the late Fifties and early Sixties, she wrote to Waugh, a Roman Catholic in his later life, about what happened after death. "If we go to heaven first, then have the resurrection of the body and then have the court martial and then go to hell, that seems awfully disappointing."

Waugh, seemingly confident about the nature of the after-life, still worries about pending financial matters. "I am having a grievous time with weddings. A daughter last week, a son at the end of the month. Most fatiguing and costly."

The Letters of Nancy Mitford Evelyn Waugh, edited by Charlotte Mosley; published by Hodder & Stoughton on 17 October

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links