When "Charles" Met "Sebastian"

BY Advocate Contributors

April 23 2010 7:40 AM ET

EVELYN WAUGH 1 X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COMBut there was an element of bravado about his entry into the world of cigars, champagne and Charvet silk ties. In his heart he knew that he did not really belong there. Rather like one of his heroes, Toad of Toad Hall, he had a child-like quality that manifested itself in acute mood swings between hilarious gaiety and sullen gloom. He often felt that he was being treated as a specimen, even a freak. His friendships flared brightly and intensely, but sometimes burned themselves out. He was still the outsider looking in, glimpsing rather than actually passing through the low door in the wall that opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden.

Intimate as they were at Oxford, Hugh did not invite Evelyn to visit his ancestral home while they were still undergraduates. Nor was he invited to Lord Elmley’s lavish twenty-first birthday celebrations at Madresfield in August 1924.That was a high-society occasion, very different from the celebration of the same event at the Spreadeagle. Evelyn was never very close to Elmley, who had a more pronounced sense of his status than Hugh.

Evelyn took his final examinations in the summer of 1924, but since he had come up a term late, he was supposed to return to Oxford for a further term in the autumn, so as to fulfil the residence requirement necessary for him to receive his degree. He planned to share lodgings with Hugh Lygon in Merton Street. They were going to take an expensive little house next to the tennis courts. With no exams to worry about, it would be a term of ‘pure pleasure’ and ‘comparative seclusion.’

The plan was aborted with the news that Evelyn had obtained a third class result. His scholarship was not renewed for the further term and his father did not think that a third was worth the cost of the extra term. Evelyn therefore left Oxford without completing his degree.

Of Evelyn’s three Oxford lovers, Hugh Lygon is the one about whom he was most reticent in A Little Learning. The name Lygon only appears fleetingly in the book. An aura of concealment hangs over that first naming of Hugh in the passage where Quiller-Couch’s line ‘Know you her secret none can utter?’ is quoted, together with the mysterious remark that it is not given to all Oxford’s sons ‘either to seek or find this secret, but it was very near the surface in 1922’. What was the secret none could utter? In the context of an aspiring writer and a beautiful young aristocrat, could it have been something reminiscent of Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas? ‘I am the Love that dare not speak its name.’

Hugh Lygon’s name appears last in Evelyn’s list of his fellow Hypocrites: ‘Hugh Lygon, Elmley’s younger brother, always just missing the happiness he sought, without ambition, unhappy in love, a man of the greatest sweetness; and many others ...  ’ The wistfulness and the drift into ellipses suggest that something is being left unsaid. Why was it, when Evelyn could be comparatively open about Richard Pares and Alastair Graham, that his love for Hugh dared not speak its name? We may find an answer when Hugh’s family story is known.


From the book Mad World by Paula Byrne. Copyright © 2010 by Paula Byrne. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.












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