William Shakespeare’s epitaph is one of my favorite literary curiosities:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
Why was the Bard so clear on this point? Why did he waste his parting words to mankind on these sinister couplets? As with most of the questions surrounding the man, we’ll never have a satisfactory answer. So while we’re speculating, let’s ponder a more entertaining problem: What will the ghost of Evelyn Waugh, presumably a vicious, cigar-smoking embodiment (or is it disembodiment?) of mean-spiritedness, do about this insult to his bones?
It may well be seen as a symbol of the decline and fall of Evelyn Waugh’s own family, but with none of his grandchildren able to afford to take on Combe Florey House—the great novelist’s home and burial place—his daughter-in-law has reluctantly decided to sell the property for a sum expected to be in the region of Â£3 million.
I am planning to sell it in the near future, discloses Lady Teresa Waugh, who elected to remain at the 14-bedroom house in Somerset, built in 1665, after her husband, Auberon, died in 2001. Her eldest son, Alexander, adds that a decision has still to be taken about whether Evelyn’s body will have to be disinterred.
My mother will have to decide whether to move the grave, which is at the end of the garden, he says. There is no primogeniture in the Waugh family and none of us has the money to buy out the others. My father could afford it because he married an heiress and his attitude was that if I wanted to inherit it I should marry an heiress, too, or jolly well roll up my sleeves and earn enough to buy it from my brothers and sisters.
Alexander—whose wife, Liza, is the daughter of Alexander Chancellor, a former editor of The Spectator—says: There is no great sadness on my part because I didn’t grow up expecting to inherit Combe Florey and, although my father adored it, the truth is that my grandpapa was never very happy there.
Evelyn wrote only one novel at Combe Florey, Unconditional Surrender, and his grandson says: He was drinking a lot by then. He was disillusioned by the state of the Catholic Church and because he had agreed to write several books that he didn’t want to write.
I predict that the family will have some ectoplasmic trouble on its hands, when any day now feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing ghoul. (For more on Waugh’s peculiar family, here’s a new book by Waugh’s grandson, Alexander.)