Mad World – Paula Byrne

I started writing my review of Mad World last weekend but got no more than a few lines in before giving up. This was because I was one part distracted and one part wanting to write something other than a straight forward review. That might not have been so bad except that I did not know what format I wanted to write the post in.

The same thing happened today so instead of trying to write that review, I will throw caution to the wind and just say the three things that are most on my mind to say. Hopefully, they’ll make sense.

If you are interested in Evelyn Waugh and his books, Mad World is worth its weight in gold for the insight it gives into Waugh’s life and the Lygon family who so inspired the creation of the Flytes in Brideshead Revisited.

If I was asked to share one things about Waugh and the Lygons that I didn’t know before reading the book (or had forgotten), it would be these:

1. Waugh could indeed be very sharp sometimes but he was also capable of being a very generous friend. A prime example of this is in the support he gave to Maimie Lygon when she fell upon hard times.

2. William Lygon, the 7th Lord Beauchamp and father of Hugh Lygon (one of two men upon whom Waugh based Sebastian Flyte), was the last Englishman forced into exile. Lygon was homosexual and his political enemies (specifically the 2nd Duke of Westminster) threatened to expose him unless he left the country. This fact stands out for me because of the severity of the punishment.

By the way, William Lygon was Waugh’s model for Lord Marchmain (if you have read Brideshead you’ll recall that he, too, was forced into exile, though not for the same offence) with one exception – his deathbed scene. It was based on the last days of Waugh’s friend, Hubert Duggan, which Waugh witnessed.

Byrne says that Charles Ryder’s love for, first, Sebastian, then Julia Flute, makes Brideshead Revisited ‘one of the great expressions of what might be called the bisexual imagination’. I don’t know if this term is of Byrne’s own devising, I had certainly never heard of it before, but I would certainly like to read more about it.

So far as Evelyn Waugh is concerned, I would like to know more about it in the context of his Catholic faith. How did he live with both?


Those are my ‘three things’. I would like here just to quickly mention something I didn’t like about the book, namely, the fact that my edition (Harper Press 2011) doesn’t contain any photographs. I know what Evelyn Waugh looks like but it would have been good to have seen pictures of his many friends.


There you have it. I’m sorry I couldn’t write a more polished post, but I hope this one was readable. In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that if you are interested in Evelyn Waugh’s life and work, Mad World is definitely worth a place high up on your ‘to read’ list. For me, it was a treasure, and I hope to read both it and more of Byrne’s work in the future.

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2 Responses to Mad World – Paula Byrne

  1. I think it would be more appropriate to speak of the Augustinian ordo amoris, than the “bisexual imagination.” Waugh is mapping the education of a man’s soul, as he moves from the lesser to the greater love. It follows Plato quite closely, from love of beautiful bodies, first male, then female, and then transcendent above all, the “beauty ever ancient, ever new.”


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