Thursday, June 14, 2007

Evelyn and All the Waughs.

I'm fascinated by literary families. Is there something in the familial soup that leads its members to turn to writing careers?

Look at the Longfords (mother and biographer Elizabeth; sisters and novelists Antonia Fraser and Rachel Billington; brother and nonfiction writer Thomas Pakenham). Or the staggeringly talented Cockburns (father Claud; brothers Alexander, Andrew, and Patrick; late and sorely missed half-sister and mystery author Sarah Caudwell; nieces and broadcast journalists Laura and Stephanie Flanders). I try not to hold it against the Cockburns that their ancestor torched the White House during the War of 1812.

Now there's Fathers and Sons, a new book about the Cockburns' cousins Arthur, Evelyn, Alec, Auberon, and other assorted Waughs and their impact on "the family business"---ie, the literary world. It's written by Alexander, Auberon's son and Evelyn's grandson. The book traces the Waugh line from the Victorian doctor Alexander Waugh (nicknamed "The Brute" with good reason); to Arthur, a mainstay of the publishing firm Chapman and Hall; to Arthur's novelist sons Alec and Evelyn; to journalist Auberon and beyond. It goes a long way toward explaining Evelyn's waspish personality, including debilitating bouts of depression, that stemmed from his thorny relationship with his father. It also features Alec's generous acknowledgment of Evelyn as the superior writer and an entertaining bit about Auberon's probable culpability in the burning down of his prep school.

A cautionary note: many escapades with men, women, and--er, other creatures--are covered, so this book is not for the faint-hearted.

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