Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Beautiful Letter: Evelyn Waugh to Ann Fleming, June 3, 1963

Ann Fleming (1913-1981)

Combe Florey House

TO ANN FLEMING                                                                
3 January, 1963

Dear Ann

        I am very sorry to hear of your sister’s distressing death. [1]  You must pray for her soul.   This is best done by going to a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.  The most convenient for you is Westminster Cathedral;  go up the far left aisle under the screen.  Kneel.  Dispel from your mind all other considerations.  Say, not out loud but in your mind : “I have no right to ask you for anything.  Please don’t consider my merits or my sister’s.  You made her and me what we are.  But you sent Jesus to die for us.  Accept his sacrifice.  With luck I have a few years left in me to make amends.  She hasn’t.  So please accept anything good I have ever done as a negligible contribution to the immeasurable sacrifice of the incarnation, and let my sister into heaven.’  Easy?  Yes, really, particularly for you who have no pride.  Try it anyway.

        I will proudly dedicate my little story to you. Thank you for allowing it.  Would you like your full name on the page or just ‘A.F.’? [2]

        We are almost totally cut-off.  Only H.M. mails plod through.  I cleverly ordered a regular supply of tasty little pies from Fortnum and Mason during Meg’s caviar season.  These arrive stale but regularly, so I am not hungry.  The rest of the family live on tinned beans.

        I don’t suppose you remember this house.  The back part is a glass-roofed courtyard.  This is now quite dark with accumulated snow.   Local wiseacres say that when the snow falls off the roof the whole glass house will collapse.  It holds a hogshead of Burgundy (French not Portuguese) waiting to be bottled.

Disaster is certain . . . .

                                                                                                                          Yours ever affect.

Combe Florey House, Taunton, Somerset

[1]  Mary-Rose Charteris (1919-62)  She married in 1940 Roderick Thesiger and in 1949 Francis Eggerton Grey.

[2]  Basil Seal Rides Again is prefaced with an explanatory note in the form of a letter to ‘Mrs. Ian Fleming,’ beginning:

Dear Ann

In this senile attempt to recapture the manner of my youth I have resurrected characters from earlier stories which, if you ever read them, you will have forgotten.’

Combe Florey River


Ann Fleming.   Ann Charteris, granddaughter of the Earl of Wemyss, married in 1932 Baron O’Neill, who was killed in 1944;  1945-52 Viscount Rothermere; and in 1952 Ian Fleming who created James Bond the next year and died in 1964.  Though a cousin of Laura Waugh’s and an acquaintance as Lady Rothermere the political hostess, she became a close friend of Waugh’s at the same time she married Ian Fleming and he stayed with them in Jamaica.  Stylish and witty, she was not in the least afraid of Waugh and when he used his large ear-trumpet more than necessary she struck it with a spoon.  ‘The noise, Evelyn told me later, was that of a gun being fired an inch away.’  Evelyn Waugh by Christopher Sykes, p. 374.

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)


  1. this is a nice piece about something i know so little -- thank you for bringing to light. But what is the reference to "Meg's caviar season?" I am not sure.


  2. Evelyn Waugh is probably one of the cleverest writers of the 20th century. I discovered Brideshead Revisited this year and fell in love with it. In the letter you can really see how he is a fervent Catholic. Very good post!

  3. Hi Lewis. I believe "Meg" refers to Waugh's daughter Margaret and that he's making an affectionate reference to the extravagant tastes of a beloved child by contrasting his own humbler (meat, I assume) Fortnum and Mason pies and the rest of the family's tinned beans with Meg's F&M caviar necessities. Sounds great to me and promotes some nostalgia. Caviar is now so far out of sight as an extravagance. Waugh's letters are enjoyable to read and often very funny. I think this one is extremely moving and you feel his friendship for Ann Fleming both in the serious and specific advice he gives her and in the way he tries to lighten the burden of grief. Mrs. Fleming's husband, James Bond author Ian, was already ill, I believe, at that time and would die the following year. The Flemings had a very difficult relationship that began and ended under trying circumstances. I hope that the other really Anonymous commenter Anonymous visits again and I thank you for visiting this time. Curtis