Evelyn Waugh in Denmark
by Godfred Hartmann
Editor's note: The following passages have been translated by Anne
Marie Køllgaard from the book I delfinens tegn (Under the Sign of
the Dolphin), Copenhagen: Gyldendal,1996. The dolphin is the emblem
of Thaning & Appel, a small but active publishing house once directed by
Niels Helweg-Larsen and Godfred Hartmann. Thaning & Appel published
Evelyn Waugh's work in Denmark.
Foreign authors expect particular care--almost to
be spoilt--when they visit their publishers. Evelyn Waugh was far from
an exception from this. He preferred his Catholic bishop to the
baroness at Rungstedlund [Karen Blixen, a.k.a. Isak Dinesen]. He kept
those around him alert, and there was always quite a lot of disquiet
following him, but Waugh did not care.
“I do not want to be disturbed”
Our windows had been opened up to the great wide
world. American best sellers made their entry, and now and then this
caused quite a stir among publishers in this country. Agreements with
literary agents did not always hold. Publishers who thought they had
the rights to a real best seller suddenly heard that the book would soon be
published by another publisher, and this caused endless debates in the Danish
Publishers’ Association. Arbitration was mentioned, and the chairman
often had to reach for the heavy silver bell, and the company shook their
heads in despair, for that is what Mr. Frimodt in the chairman’s seat did.
However, nobody was to cross our path. The
brief skirmish with Gyldendal about Evelyn Waugh had been put away long ago,
and nobody was thinking in earnest about Upton Sinclair, Eric Linklater,
Scott Fitzgerald, not to mention Henry James. They were, presumably, by
many considered mummies, long since behind the times.
In September 1947 Evelyn Waugh came to Copenhagen.
One day there was a small blue envelope in our
mail. It was obvious that this letter was not from just anybody.
“Piers Court, Stinchcombe” was embossed in Prussian Blue on the flap.
The small letter from England oozed upper-class opulence. We knew the
handwriting from the signatures on our contracts. The letter was from Evelyn
He had been told by his literary agent in London, A.
D. Peters, that a considerable fee was due to him, and since the Daily
Telegraph intended sending him to Scandinavia in order for English
readers to get an impression of life during the occupation in Norway and
Denmark, he would like to draw on his due, since the per diems from the Daily
Telegraph were not likely to cover all his needs.
The letter was kind--long and formal--Dear Sir--and
then followed a number of questions of a more practical nature: about the
weather, currency, and especially about where he was to stay. In a
central location, if possible, but not too noisy.
The hotel would be the most important. We
chose the d’Angleterre. They had a good bar, and surely he would enjoy
walking along Østergade [the most elegant part of the present pedestrian street]
during the rush hour.
The hotel inspector--a gentleman in morning
dress--was quite enlivened at the prospect of such a prominent guest.
They had just the right thing for Mr. Waugh. Lauritz Melchior and his
wife Kleinchen had just left their suite, so this was free.
With awe Helweg and I looked into something to which
we were quite unused. A diplomat’s desk of the kind which is found in
Versailles, where you put your name to alliances or sign a peace
treaty. Heavy curtains and even heavier furniture from Lysberg, Hansen
& Therp--a vast room with large French doors facing Kongens Nytorv, and
as an opulent addition a bathroom with all the peculiar basins shaped after
the body which certain rich people consider a necessity for their personal hygiene.
We accepted but thought that something less grand
would have sufficed. Tactfully we had to tell our most likely underpaid
bookkeeper that in the near future, he would be presented with bills of a
size which it required more than ordinary imagination to envisage.
Slightly hesitant we told him and our staff that we,
too, had looked into an alien world. But we had to emphasize more than
once that this was money which our guest had earned for the benefit of
himself and our little publishing house. We felt we had to do
At Kastrup Airport the press was numerously
represented. Photographers with flashes and journalists waited for Mr.
Waugh who came by plane from Oslo. The Daily Telegraph had
informed the editors what day and by what plane he would arrive. Helweg
and I had bought flowers from Libertas; they looked like nothing in the
high-ceilinged halls of the hotel, and the posh hired car awaited our
prominent guest. To meet him with our little grey Standard Eight would
be absurd. He came from the wealthy Swedish publishers, so the change
ought not to be too abrupt.
We were not in doubt. This must be him.
A heavy, genuine bowler is lifted politely to the air hostess as
farewell. The walking stick and the umbrella are over his arm.
Behind a glass window we can see him talk, the photographers use their
flashes. A small, stout man who could have done with a couple of kilos
less, with red, meaty cheeks and a couple of lively eyes which were likely to
be looking for us, whom he did not know. Heavy leather suitcases are
carried out to the waiting car. The meeting in the arrival hall has
been formal without in any way touching on the cordial.
We exchange polite phrases on our way to town and in
the grand suite. The flowers meant to be our welcome are dimly seen far
away. Mr. Waugh is pleased. Unseen, he presses a button.
Waiters appear with white napkins and aprons as long as christening
gowns. He looks questioningly at us. “Whisky and soda?”
Mr. Waugh is in town. The metre has started
On Louis XIV’s desk we had put a written message of
welcome and hoped he would enjoy his stay. At any time he could count on
us--and draw on what was due to him. I think there was also a
suggestion for excursions in classical North Zealand and greetings from Karen
Blixen at Rungstedlund who looked forward to receiving him one day for
tea. They were sure to have many communal friends from Kenya. In
any case she looked forward to meeting him.
His reaction was astonishing. Already in 1947,
Karen Blixen possessed a certain international fame, but it was as if the
famous lady at Rungstedlund was of no importance whatever to him. He
looked unkindly at us, almost angrily. All that business with Karen
Blixen must be the second priority. “I want to meet my bishop”.
This was plain talking. Bishop Suhr at Farumgaard was far more
important than tea with the baroness at Rungstedlund.
It required a certain skill to manage to squeeze the
chubby Waugh into the front seat of our small Standard Eight.
We must have crossed the Amalienborg Castle
square, passed the Little Mermaid, gone through the Hareskoven [forest]
and have pointed excitedly to the Furesøen [lake]. He hardly turned his
head. The bowler hat was tightly glued to his round head, and he had
his heavy walking stick between his legs.
Since from his silence we understood that he was
filled more by the meeting with Bishop Suhr than by the beauties of North
Zealand, we became quiet as we got closer to the stronghold of the Ursuline
Walking and on bicycles, nuns were flying about like
village swallows round Farumgaard. In groups they stood on the
well-kept lawns and followed the small grey car with their eyes.
Since we had no wish whatsoever to take part in the
meeting between the primate of the Catholic Church and our silent guest, we
withdrew and spent the waiting time at William’s Hotel in Farum, where we
sweetened our much-needed break with an invigorating drink.
It was quite obvious that before the meeting with
his bishop he had had his own little quiet prayer, where our praises of
nature can only have annoyed him. Now he approached us smilingly--with
a flock of Ursulines and clergy dressed in white following him. Now he
was looking forward to a good lunch at Store Kro [a fine hotel and restaurant
in Fredensborg, town of the royal summer residence], and even the meeting
with the baroness was mentioned in controlled, more optimistic words.
But at least it was mentioned.
Although we had secured permission beforehand to
drive into the castle yard, since Mr. Waugh did not walk so well, the castle
seen from the outside was more than enough for him. Being far from
unacquainted with the architecture of Europe, neither Frederiksborg [castle]
nor Fredensborg [castle] could bring him to express such admiration as we are
now used to from tourists. Now he was talking about Danish herrings, a
glass of good beer and the cold, famous schnapps. Mr. Waugh was mellowing.
Well pleased Helweg and I watched his blushing cheeks--and unseen we hid the
bill to be kept for our wondering bookkeeper.
Kronborg [Hamlet’s castle at Elsinore] was something
quite different from Frederiksborg, which at a quick glance reminded him of
the railway station at Elsinore.
We must have been on time, for Karen Blixen was
standing in the door to greet us.
There is something about particular
situations. Suddenly they are there, we have them in our inner eye, and
they never leave us. This is not a bad thing. Perhaps he had had
too much Port with his Stilton at lunch, perhaps the sudden arrival surprised
him, when he had to get out of the small car. It was as if he got stuck
in a peculiar way while the hostess moved like an agile gazelle outside.
Perhaps he was annoyed by this. She greeted him smilingly, kindly, he
was grim and said little. A terrier who now and then would look angrily
at an elegant greyhound.
The conversation touched on mutual acquaintances
without really being of interest. There was hot water in antique
kettles, freshly baked buns and polite conversation about pictures of
ancestors and old houses. Africa was mentioned and there were polite
questions about old friends back home in England, which were replied to briefly,
and then silence.
It was as if a change of scene was needed. He
was to see the garden, and he was to hear the birds sing. Generally, he
was to sense the particular mystique of this place, but it was as if she
sensed that he would find this difficult. The two of them went in
advance along the wide garden path. She in a trouser suit with a scarf
round her head. She made keen gestures, then stopped and looked at him
with her deep, dark eyes. He was heavy, leaning on his stick and with
the heavy bowler hat on his head. Was he surprised? Perhaps a
little overwhelmed, for on the way back to town he did not say
anything. Did he feel that he had been a loser?
The press followed like bloodhounds in his
tracks--and this suited him fine. The Daily Telegraph was not
likely to mind seeing results of his Odyssey in the Scandinavian
Following his return, in two articles he did not
hide that he much preferred the smiling Stockholm to ghastly Oslo, although
he found the Swedes “bloody dull”. He is shaken by the architecture of
the Stadshuset [the Stockholm town hall], and once the town hall of Oslo is
finished, it will simply be the ugliest building in Europe! Generally,
he does not like anything in Oslo. The men walk about in their shirtsleeves
eating ice cream, and the meeting with Sigrid Undset is a complete
failure. She may be famous and long since have received the Nobel
Prize, but Waugh is not impressed. “She did not say a word--drank a lot and
looked like a vicious boarding house landlady”.
It was better with Karen Blixen. He is pleased
to leave Oslo and travel to Copenhagen.
On the occasion of his visit we had invited him for
dinner. All the stops were being pulled in our little house as regards
the food and arrangements. We had invited Kai Friis Møller, [Kjeld]
Abell, Svend Kragh-Jacobsen and a couple of other journalists--all of
them accompanied by their wives. Now we were going to show our guest
that we might not be related to the Bonnier family on the Nedre Manilla[street
in Stockholm], but at Hesselvangen no. 5 we were able to keep up. There
was an external cook and help with white headgear to shove the heavy platters
in between the guests.
But one thing we had not considered. The
thought had not even entered our heads.
Evelyn Waugh had met the press in the afternoon, and
this wrought havoc on our dinner party for him. Everything suddenly
threatened to collapse. Perhaps we would have to eat our roast lamb
In an interview he gave a statement on the PEN
Club. He called the members of the PEN Club a gathering of confused
communists whose company one simply could not keep.
This could not have been worse. Kai Friis
Møller was chairman of this group of headstrong stray communists, and
after what had been said, the two of them just could not be together--let
alone sit at our festive table. When the telephone went, I knew it
would be Kai Friis Møller.
With his soft, smirky voice he expressed his
loathing for our guest of honour. He refused to be with him, if I did
not at once call Mr. Waugh and ask him to call back his statements through
Ritzau’s Bureau [the leading Danish news agency]. If this did not take
place, he and his wife must unfortunately refuse the invitation, roast lamb
or not. For once this did not matter to him.
That I even considered such a mad thought just shows
my deferential attitude towards Friis Møller and my fear for our dinner party
being totally called off.
I considered more than once. Hesitantly I
called Hotel d’Angleterre. “Mr. Waugh does not want to be
disturbed”. But I was firm: This was a matter of life and death.
How could I make myself do this!
I heard him fumble with the telephone among the fine
sheets. “I do not want to be disturbed!”--and the receiver was slammed
down. I don’t think I managed to say a word--and this may have been
just as well. There was no choice. At once, my wife and I drove
to the Rådhuspladsen [the address of Politiken, a leading
daily]. Now Kai Friis Møller had to behave like the gentleman he would
like to be, in spite of his irritation. But he was quite firm about
it. Smirkily and sweetly he put his case to two young people who did
not understand his anger.
The conversation must have been loud. Suddenly
Kai Skov appeared in the narrow office. He was the reporter for church
matters of Ekstra Bladet, which today may seem sensational.
Quietly he listened to the problem. Then he turned to his friend Kai
Friis Møller: “How can you think to behave like this, Kai. Imagine
putting a couple of young people in that situation. Shame on you!”
If Friis Møller felt shame I could not say. He
and his wife came--and they brought flowers. Under four eyes before
dinner he and Evelyn Waugh had a conversation. In order to loosen up
the atmosphere they were given a carafe and a couple of glasses. At the
table, everything was pure idyll, and when we got to the cognac, the
friendship was close on cordial.
Evelyn Waugh had sent flowers from Libertas.
He looked about in wonder--no flowers. I have a namesake. His
name is exactly like mine. He had received all the flowers, and he kept
them. On the other hand I received all his wife’s milliner’s bills for
a number of years. I stared at them--and forthwith sent them on to my
The nasty remarks about the suspect members of the
PEN Club, which indeed must have bothered the chairman, were quickly
forgotten with new partying in sight. The PEN Club laid on a dinner at
the Skovriderkroen [a hostelry at the wealthy outskirts of Copenhagen]
in honour of Evelyn Waugh. The chairman sat at the end of the table and
had next to him Svend Kragh-Jacobsen, ageing graduate in law, and Sven
Clausen the language purist. Further Kjeld Abell and Tove Ditlevsen,
who must have been included in order to at least have a youthful supplement
to the quiet gathering where language difficulties
--especially in the case of Sven Clausen--hindered an easy conversation.
This whole arrangement, in a cold separate room, was
not festive, to put it mildly. There was glaring light from one 100
Watt bulb in the middle. Bottled beer on the table, paper napkins and
food hardly worth remembering, let alone mentioning. I only remember
that the conversation did not go easily. Abell worked hard, and Svend
Kragh-Jacobsen, whom Waugh in his diary called “a literary jagger”, was at
his peak. The journalists were full of stories and wit, but were
brought to be quiet for a moment when a peculiar man from outer space, an
uninvited guest, entered with crash helmet and windproof clothing to
match. His Nimbus [motorcycle] was right outside. Without much
comment, let alone excuse, he took away Tove Ditlevsen. Everyone was
surprised, but nobody said anything. The guest of honour
wondered. What sort of peculiar country had he come to?
When the bill had to be paid, there was
disquiet. The chairman clapped his chest. He dived into roomy but
empty pockets. Really, I have forgotten my wallet. “Abell, what
are we to do?” There was general unrest and whispering. Waugh was
sitting silent, like an uninterested Sphinx. Only Kjeld Abell behaved
like the man of the world that he was. He paid with a smile although he
knew that this would be an outlay not to be paid back for quite some time.
Sven Clausen thanked us politely for an evening
which had not really been his. The rest of us drove to my home at
Hesselvangen. We missed Tove Ditlevsen, but forgot both her and Sven
Clausen when the strong stuff was on the table.
No wonder that Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary for
September 2: “I left Copenhagen with regret”.
And he meant it. The year after there was
again a little blue letter in our mail. This time he would like to show
his wife Laura Copenhagen. Normally she was driving a tractor, and she
did all the work which he knew that he ought to do. Were there
performances at The Royal Opera opposite Hotel d’Angleterre--was he to wear
evening dress when going to the theatre? We were not to misunderstand
him, he was totally without sense of music, but he would like to do something
for his worn-out wife.
Suddenly we got to know a quite different Evelyn
Waugh. The lively, highly intelligent Waugh who only moves in the best
circles suddenly became human. For a couple of weeks, the Upper Class
at their country houses and their hunting in pink coats were pushed into the
background. Evening dress was not necessary, a dinner jacket would
do. But a dark suit would be good enough.
Since Helweg and the director of the theatre were
relations, we succeeded in getting two tickets for The Marriage of Figaro,
but we did mention that these seats were Henning Brøndstedt’s own. Now
that little snob would be impressed by us. This could hardly do any
Laura Waugh was just delightful. She must have
had her problems with him. From where I sat in the amphitheatre I could
see them in the boss’s seats in the orchestra stalls. Egisto Tango
lifts his baton. When the first act is over, there is disquiet in the
row. It is Waugh leaving. I take his empty seat.
But he was the host after the performance in their
suite at the d’Angleterre. He sat in the middle of the grand salon and
had an ice bucket at each side of his grand Queen Anne chair. Champagne
in one and Cherry Brandy in the other.
He was human. Suddenly he was charming, witty
and full of British charm and an irresistible understatement in everything he
After we published Helena in 1961, we went
our separate ways. That book--his “masterpiece”--was to be our last
with him. He wrote to Nancy Mitford, “Nobody is going to like it.
It will be a failure”.
And so it was, but this was not the reason why we
went our separate ways. For us, it was most likely the unfortunate
times. Other publishers took over Evelyn Waugh. I followed him at
a distance. Many books have been written about him, and rightly so.
He did not live to see Brideshead on the
television. He died an unhappy man--a tailor-made wreck. On April 10,
1966 he fell over with a dump sound in his library. He is likely to
have been spared much.
It may have been at the end of the 1940s that Eric
Linklater from Scotland came to Copenhagen. He was of an easier mind
and easier to be with than the stiletto-type Waugh. He was just as
witty, but his wit was kindly.
Editor's Note (from Donat Gallagher of James Cook
University): In “The Scandinavian Capitals: Contrasted Post-War Moods”
(1947), Waugh wrote that "[The Danes] remain the most exhilarating
people in Europe, for the reason that they are not obsessed by politics,
national or international. More civilized than the Norwegians, more
humorous and imaginative than the Swedes, they are a people for whom the
Englishman feels a spontaneous, reciprocated sympathy" (Essays, Articles
and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, 341).