When "Charles" Met "Sebastian"



Chapter Three

Oxford: ... Her Secret None Can Utter

Though Alastair (Graham) frequently visited Evelyn in Oxford, he was resident in London. So did Evelyn have another undergraduate lover? Most biographers follow Hollis in identifying only Pares and Graham, but according to the Oxford don A. L. Rowse, Evelyn had three lovers at Oxford. The third man was Hugh Lygon. Rowse was convinced that Evelyn was bisexual and that as a novelist he ‘made use of every little scrap of his experience — he wasted nothing.’ He remembered a conversation with Lady Sibell, eldest of the three Lygon sisters, who knew Evelyn well. ‘He was in love with my brother,’ she recalled.

Evelyn’s three lovers were of a very similar type: pale and beautiful, with the aura of Rupert Brooke. Richard and Hugh were both blond. After Oxford he fell in love with women of the same ethereal beauty: Diana Mitford, Teresa Jungman, Diana Cooper, Laura Herbert. Evelyn was drawn to Alastair and Hugh not only because of their delicate beauty and gentility, but also because they were hard-drinking and self-destructive. He liked their child-like qualities and their lack of intellectual fervour (he never fell in love with Harold Acton or Brian Howard, much as he admired their abilities). He definitely had a type: the objects of his desire were invariably richer and better-looking, though never funnier, than he was. They had a dreaminess about them and a fragility that he found irresistible. They brought out his protective instincts. Waugh was speaking equally of himself when he wrote in his biography of the theologian Ronald Knox that he was susceptible to good looks and drawn to those with an air of sadness, of ‘tristesse’. Hugh Lygon had exactly this quality. He drifted round Oxford like a lost boy, a Peter Pan who refused to grow up. Terence Greenidge remembered him carrying a teddy bear.

Greenidge, a fervent socialist, admired Hugh’s classical good looks and thought he had ‘charm and elegance’, but said that he was ‘rather empty.’ But Evelyn found him full of humour. The same things made them laugh. He loved Hugh’s eccentricities and was impressed by his lack of snobbery. Hugh, along with Robert Byron, Patrick Balfour and Brian Howard, was regarded as one of the most sexually active of the Hypocrites. Harold Acton wrote to Evelyn after the publication of A Little Learning to reprove him for singling out his homosexuality, whilst failing to mention ‘Robert’s, Patrick’s, Brian’s and Hugh’s promiscuities’. Evelyn himself called Hugh the ‘lascivious Mr Lygon.’

Tamara Abelson (later Talbot Rice) was an exotic White Russian exile, who knew Evelyn at Oxford where she was one of the rare undergraduettes. As far as she was concerned, ‘everyone knew that Evelyn and Hugh Lygon had an affair’. She reported that John Fothergill let Evelyn have rooms in the Spreadeagle at Thame at a special midweek rate so that he and Hugh could meet in private.

Not everyone approved of Evelyn’s translation to a new set. His brother Alec came to remonstrate about his dissipated lifestyle. But Evelyn was not going to give it up and go back to the loneliness that he had felt as a child. He had found a surrogate family and he had found glamour, wit and intelligence: the ‘congenial people’ for whom he had longed. No amount of lecturing from an older brother to whom he had never been particularly close was going to change anything. Among the Hypocrites he had found the love that he had been longing for all his life. He was happy.

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