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A Very Unusual Love Letter from Evelyn Waugh

Posted on 23rd January 2020 by Mark Skinner

Shaun Usher, the genius curator of the bestselling Letters of Note series, has a special treat for all of us this Valentine's Day with the publication of Letters of Note: Love. This collection contains missives from great and good (and sometimes not-so-good) figures from history; written revelations of passion, desire or, in the case of the letter below penned by Evelyn Waugh, painfully hilarious honesty and practical good sense. 

A Lousy Proposition 

Evelyn Waugh to Laura Herbert Spring 1936

Brideshead Revisited novelist Evelyn Waugh was born in London in 1903, and in June 1928, three months prior to publication of his acclaimed debut Decline and Fall and with little money to speak of, he married his first wife, Evelyn Gardner – much to the annoyance of her unimpressed father. Within a year of the wedding, Waugh had filed for divorce. Years later, in the spring of 1936, as he waited impatiently for the annulment of his first marriage, he wrote to his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s nineteen-year-old cousin, Laura, with a self-described ‘lousy proposition’. This painfully honest, amusing approach paid off: Evelyn and Laura married the next year and remained together until his death thirty years later. They had seven children together.

The Letter

Bridgewater Estate Office, Ellesmere, Salop

Sweetie, 

Another letter last night. It is noble of you. 

Tell you what you might do while you are alone at Pixton. You might think about me a bit & whether you could bear the idea of marrying me. Of course you haven’t got to decide, but think about it. I can’t advise you in my favour because I think it would be beastly for you, but think how nice it would be for me. I am restless & moody & misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve. In fact it’s a lousy proposition. On the other hand I think I could reform & become quite strict about not getting drunk and I am pretty sure I should be faithful. Also there is always a fair chance that there will be another bigger economic crash in which case if you had married a nobleman with a great house you might find yourself starving, while I am very clever and could probably earn a living of some sort somewhere. Also though you would be taking on an elderly buffer, I am one without fixed habits. You wouldn’t find yourself confined to any particular place or group. Also I have practically no living relatives except one brother whom I scarcely know. You would not find yourself involved in a large family & all their rows & you would not be patronised & interfered with by odious sisters in law & aunts as often happens. All these are very small advantages compared with the awfulness of my character. I have always tried to be nice to you and you may have got it into your head that I am nice really, but that is all rot. It is only to you & for you. I am jealous & impatient – but there is no point in going into a whole list of my vices. You are a critical girl and I’ve no doubt that you know them all and a great many I don’t know myself. But the point I wanted to make is that if you marry most people, you are marrying a great number of objects & other people as well, well, if you marry me there is nothing else involved, and that is an advantage as well as a disadvantage. My only tie of any kind is my work. That means that for several months each year we shall have to separate or you would have to share some very lonely place with me. But apart from that we could do what we liked & go where we liked – and if you married a soldier or stockbroker or member of parliament or master of hounds you would be more tied. 

When I tell my friends that I am in love with a girl of 19 they looked shocked and say ‘wretched child’ but I don’t look on you as very young even in your beauty and I don’t think there is any  sense in the line that you cannot possibly commit yourself to a decision that affects your whole life for years yet. But anyway there is no point in your deciding or even answering. I may never get free  of your cousin. Above all things, darling, don’t fret at all. But just turn the matter over in your dear head. 

Eight days from now I shall be with you again, darling heart. I don’t think of much else. 

All my love,

Evelyn

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