Blandings Castle

The hunt goes on.  Out and about quite a bit.   Rather disappointing book-fairs in Dorking and London – only managed to find four books and a map at the first.  One of the books was simply to read, another simply for reference, and a third – boldly pencilled “first edition” by its vendor – turned out to be no such thing and, moreover, it only took seconds to establish this once I got it home.  Gross incompetence or downright deceit?   Either way, there’s a bookseller with a shop in Kent I won’t be visiting anytime soon.

I did rather better in the familiar haunts of Cecil Court – a couple of sparkling Seamus Heaneys and a few other good things from Stephen Poole; a clutch of P. G. Wodehouse from Marchpane; a really difficult early Nancy Mitford from Peter Ellis ; a John Betjeman, a D. H. Lawrence, an Arnold Bennett, and a couple of other things from Tindley & Chapman.  People often ask me where I find my books, hoping for some offbeat tips and hints of secret sources – but the plain truth of the matter is that the best place to find a good book is a good bookshop.  Write that down and memorise it.  

A meagre two books found at the second fair.  One was quite spectacularly cheap – the other a gem: a second printing of P. G. Wodehouse’s “Blandings Castle” (1935) in a fairly plain quarter morocco binding – not everyone’s idea of a gem, but pasted in the front was a little bookplate – a crest, a motto, and a name.  But, what a name!   It’s Evelyn Waugh’s copy of “Blandings Castle”.

blandings castleIt was Waugh, of course, who once said, “The gardens of Blandings Castle are that original garden from which we are all exiled”.  He was a fervent fan of Wodehouse.  “One has to regard a man as a Master”, he told his friend and neighbour Frances Donaldson, “who can produce on average three uniquely brilliant and entirely original similes to every page”.  Donaldson recalled that “Evelyn had a nearly complete edition of his works which was specially bound in leather.  The books published up to the time of his marriage had been given to him and he had later bound many – I think not all – of the books which subsequently appeared to match the others”.

Evelyn Waugh BookplateWaugh’s own recollection was that his Wodehouse collection had been complete until “sadly depleted by theft” – theft of quite what and by whom is not made clear.  As late as 1961, he still awaited with “unappeasable appetite” the appearance of every new Wodehouse title.  It was in that year also that Waugh did so much to rehabilitate Wodehouse’s reputation with a radio broadcast denouncing the wartime libels – the “blasted blithering Beaverbrook blighter’s bilge”, as Wodehouse himself put it.  

Not wholly endorsed by many at the BBC, but backed by Director General Sir Hugh Greene (brother of Graham), Waugh broadcast that “Twenty years ago on 15 July 1941 listeners to the BBC Home Service Postscript were shocked to hear a virulent denunciation of [P. G. Wodehouse] as a collaborator with the enemy …  Let it be said at once that no-one connected with the BBC had any responsibility for this utterance.  All the governors formally protested … they were rebuffed, and the incident provides a glaring example of the danger of allowing politicians to control public communications … The impression I got later from my friends who had heard the broadcast outburst of 15 July was a sense of vicarious guilt that we had descended to the methods of our enemy in our official propaganda … I take this opportunity to express the disgust that the BBC has always felt for the injustice of which they were guiltless and their complete repudiation of the charges so ignobly made through their medium”.

Although they corresponded, I believe the two men met only once – a lunch in New York.  “It wasn’t very amusing”, Waugh told Frances Donaldson, “I couldn’t persuade him to talk on any subject except income tax”.

Waugh was passionate about his books.  Making plans to evacuate his library to the country to escape potential destruction in the Blitz, he mordantly noted in his diary, “At the same time I have advocated my son coming to London.  It would seem from this I prefer my books to my son.  I can argue that firemen rescue children and destroy books, but the truth is that a child is easily replaced while a book destroyed is utterly lost”.

The major part of his library – some 3,500 books – survives at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, but curiously there seem only to be a handful of Wodehouse titles there, none seemingly in a leather binding.   The story relating to “Blandings Castle” is that it came from a group of books sold at auction in the west country by Auberon Waugh some years ago, so I imagine the bound Wodehouse collection was held back  by the family.  Do we know where the rest of the titles now are?  

The question remains as to why as fastidious a man as Waugh would be satisfied with a second printing, when a first could so easily have been procured.  The answer, I imagine, assuming that the marriage referred to above was his second, to Laura Herbert in 1937, is that this particular book was one of “the books published up to the time of his marriage” which were given to him as a set at that time and which he later added to.  It was bound by the Oxon Bindery, a business only listed in the Oxford telephone directory between 1934 and 1942 (at 131A High Street from 1934 to 1937 and at 67 St. Aldates thereafter), which at least sets a time-frame for the binding.

So pleased to have it, so reluctant to let it go, but the customers come first.  It will certainly be featuring on my next catalogue, due to go to the printer’s next week.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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2 Responses to Blandings Castle

  1. Enjoyed reading this, especially the background to Wodehouse/Waugh. I’ve got a project underway recreating Evelyn Waugh’s library. Plenty use of Evelyn’s bookplate, facetious and otherwise. It’s introduced here:


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