First published in Great Britain by Chapman and Hall, 1930
For those out there who thrive on the pages of magazines, where otherwise unknown celebrities physically and mentally expose themselves in a vain hope to be remembered and to achieve that immortal title ‘Famous,’ then you were indeed born in the wrong era. For you have read nothing on the life of the celebrity until you have read this novel.
Vile bodies by Evelyn Waugh, who once described the book as, ‘a welter of sex and snobbery,’ fictionalises the rise and fall of the glamorous, hardcore, ‘Bright Young People’ of the 1920’s whose increasingly bizarre and elaborate lives attracted the daily attention of diary columnists. A time of new media, of reading about yourself in tabloid newspapers and taking cocaine (‘naughty salt’) whilst wearing Chanel during the day and a Schiaparelli ball gown by night.
Such ‘Bright young people’ the book fictionalises includes such names as Daphne Guinness’s grandmother Diana Mosley, one of the notorious Mitford sisters, who later in life had Hitler to often dine with her as her guest of honour; Stephen Tenant, who’s appearance of normality was dressed in a football jersey with earrings and gold dusted hair, whilst maintaining an affair with war poet Siegfried Sassoon; and finally perhaps the most recognised name Cecil Beaton who’s legacy has left him with some of the most beautiful photos to ever grace the pages of Vogue.
The names may not appear as breath taking to some as the mere mention of celebrities today who shave their heads instead of singing, or who have names of boyfriends tattooed and crossed out onto their arm like a human shopping list, but this novel depicts when the word Celebrity echoed Glamour.
Glamour amongst parties, ‘masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties…almost naked parties in St Johns Wood, parties in windmills, ships and hotels – all that succession and repetition of massed humanity.’ A form of a world which through Waugh’s clever acid wit, could only be described as an inverted Alice in Wonderland existence, where everything of heart pounding excitement is nonchalantly described as ‘dull,’ ‘boring,’ ‘bogus,’ and ‘incredibly shy-making.’ Women die swinging from chandeliers dressed as men or as a ‘hottentot’ woman, achieve insanity through driving sports cars, and where living at the Ritz is described as ‘common,’ all the while looking for their next party, their next fix, their next moment to achieve their, ‘frightfully bogus’ fifteen minutes of fame, which like the term ‘Bright Young people,’ quickly burn out through the growing of age and the bright explosions of bombs that herald the Second World War.
Vile Bodies allows you to enter this world; a world of depicted truth, of glamour, and possibly of a cautionary tale, but once you are able to remove your hands from the book, you will want to put on your bow tie and dance shoes in the vain hope that you to could be a dull, boring, bright young thing.