When the Christopher Sykes biography of Evelyn Waugh appeared in 1975, I reviewed it at some length in Books and Bookmen. It had been commissioned as the official, not to say definitive, biography and I was slightly irritated to read Sykes’s disclaimer of any such role in the first sentence of his Preface. It was already nine years since its subject’s death, and as I wrote at the time:
Since many of EW’s surviving friends have died in the last nine years and many, if not most of the rest have lost that keen grasp of events which might make their recollections useful to a biographer, this is not ground which can ever be covered again ...
Of one thing I am certain, that nobody else could write a better biography now, and so far as the suggestion of another one is concerned, it must be written without my help or the use of any material which remains in copyright.
People might reasonable ask under those circumstances, how Mr Stannard’s huge work – these 540 pages are only a first instalment – came to be written with the co-operation of the Trustees of the Library Estate, who are my wife and I. The answer is slightly curious. About eight years