David Blackburn

The Party’s Over

Text settings

This article was originally published on the Spectator’s Cappuccino Culture blog. It is republished here because it relates to last week’s episode of the gripping if smaltzy adaptation of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, the story of one writer’s journey through the twentieth century. The second episode begins with the outbreak of the Second World War, the party interrupted. It airs at 9pm tonight on Channel Four.

Without need of an occupation, a small band of the well-born lit up the 1920s with mischief and indolence. The last of their number, Teresa Jungman, died aged 102. Many of the dilettante Bright Young Things went on to ‘Great Things’ – William Walton composed, Cecil Beaton photographed and Rex Whistler painted. Teresa Jungman, or ‘Baby’ as she was known, retired to obscurity in Gloucestershire with her sister, where they delivered meals to the needy and occasionally (very occasionally) received visitors from their past – James Lees-Milne and Evelyn Waugh. The latter is the reason that Teresa Jungman is a noteworthy figure.

After the collapse of his marriage to ‘She Evelyn’ in the late twenties, Waugh fell passionately in love with Jungman and she influenced his writing. Connections between fictional characters and real counterparts are largely imagined and certainly strained. No one character is ever mined from one physical source. Anthony Powell’s later life was beset by interminable assertions that Widmerpool was the judge Reginald Manningham-Buller, that Ralph Barnby was the painter Adrian Daintrey, that Hugh Moreland was the composer Constant Lambert.

The same rule applies, but elements of Teresa Jungman colour some of Waugh’s leading female characters. Waugh’s second novel Vile Bodies describes the superficial and capricious world of the 20s socialite, from Waugh’s perspective at least. To some Wavians, the habitually affianced Nina Blount bears more than a passing resemblance to the habitually affianced Teresa Jungman, and both invented bizarre late night escapades. Nina tearing through London impersonating dowagers and Jungman posed as Mme Vorolsky, a flirtatious White Russian émigré.

As a contrast to the joie de vivre, some Wavians see strains of Jungman’s diffidence in Julia Flyte - perhaps sensing a parallel between Charles Ryder’s and Julia’s relationship and Waugh’s unrequited love for Jungman.

However, these ingenious links between fact and fiction are inherently absurd: Waugh said of the unremitting and grim Unconditional Surrender: ‘Every character, without question, is based on Baby Jungman’.

Of far more importance is the enormous volume of letters he sent her, letters that only she saw. Waugh’s letters are a trove of waspish insights into London Society. ‘Boaz’, as he called himself was an all seeing attendant, a party goer who was also lionised by the Wodehousian dowagers of the day. Jungman destroyed the letters years ago, but her death marks the end of High Society’s most enduring era.