AUSTIN, Texas—A previously unknown autographed letter from Evelyn Waugh to Graham Greene, two of the most important English novelists of the 20th century, has been acquired and displayed by The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.
The letter, discovered among a collection of books belonging to Greene’s wife, Vivien Greene, adds to the Ransom Center’s substantial collections of manuscripts and published works of Greene and Waugh.
Never published, the letter is on view in the Ransom Center’s exhibition celebrating the centennial of both authors, “Writing Among the Ruins: Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh.”
“In spite of having so much in common, born within a year of each other, students at Oxford, converts to Catholicism, sons of middle class professional fathers, Greene and Waugh were as different in some ways as two people could be,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Ransom Center.
Oxford bookseller Ann Gate discovered the letter while reviewing about 1,200 books from the library of Vivien Greene.
Dated Jan. 19, 1947, the letter was found folded and inserted between pages 98 and 99 of the 1937 reprint of Waugh’s novel “A Handful of Dust.”
In January 1947 Vivien Greene was living in a rented house in Oxford, while Greene was living in London during the week and visiting her during the weekends. At the end of 1947 the Greenes separated, and in 1948 Vivien moved to another house, where she lived for the rest of her life. On behalf of the Vivien Greene Estate, Gate collected Vivien Greene’s books from Grove House in early 2004.
Written on stationery from Waugh’s Gloucestershire home, Piers Court, Waugh’s letter to Greene contains a particularly fine expression of his admiration of Greene’s novels and his work:
“I don’t think I have ever had the chance to say either in public or private how much I admire your novels or how pleased I am that the wide recognition they have won. Indeed now I come to think of it I believe I have twice reviewed other books of yours rather captiously. I suppose we disagree on every unimportant subject. Let me now salute your novels as works of high genius—an opinion in which I have never wavered.”
Waugh’s comments came seven years after the publication of Greene’s “The Power and The Glory” and more than a year before the publication of “The Heart of the Matter.”
“Waugh wrote in this newly discovered letter, ‘I suppose we disagree on every unimportant subject,’” Staley said. “Yet they agreed on the most important one for two writers. Each admired the other’s work to the exclusion of their many differences. Greene thought Waugh the greatest prose stylist of his age. He once wrote, ‘Evelyn’s style is like the Mediterranean before the war: so clear you can see right down to the bottom.’”
The Ransom Center’s “Writing Among the Ruins” exhibition includes correspondence of the two authors and manuscripts of a number of their important novels: Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited,” “A Handful of Dust” and “The Loved One” and Greene’s “The Power and the Glory,” “The Heart of the Matter” and “The End of the Affair.” Also included are books inscribed by both authors to each other.
The Ransom Center’s general collections include more than 36 million manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, 100,000 works of art and design as well as extensive holdings in its film, performing arts, and French and Italian collections.
Note to editors and news producers: For high resolution images of the newly discovered Waugh letter, please contact Jennifer Tisdale at 512-471-8949.
For more information contact: Jennifer Tisdale, Ransom Center, 512-471-8949.