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Fact into fiction in the country house novel: who was the model for Charles Ryder?

Dakers, Caroline (2014) Fact into fiction in the country house novel: who was the model for Charles Ryder? In: The Country House in Britain, 1914-2014, 6-8 June 2014, University of Newcastle, Department of English.

Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Dakers, Caroline

In 1937 Tooth & Sons held an exhibition called ‘Gentle Savage and other new paintings’ in their prestigious gallery in New Bond Street. It was a one-man show. The artist Richard Wyndham had recently returned from Southern Sudan with paintings, photographs and notes for a book, The Gentle Savage (published shortly before the show); all featured the striking men and women of the Dinka tribe.

In Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (written between December 1943 and June 1944) Evelyn Waugh gave artist Charles Ryder a one-man show in London. Ryder had recently returned from Central America with ‘unhealthy’ paintings of jungle life. The date was shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Waugh knew Wyndham (they moved in overlapping circles) and I shall argue that Waugh based aspects of Ryder on Wyndham; he not only borrowed the ‘Gentle Savage’ show, but also his career as an ‘architectural’ painter, relying on access to the country houses of his friends. And just like Ryder, when given the opportunity to depict subject matter from another, very different culture, Wyndham could not, in the words of Anthony Blanche, escape ‘playing tigers’.

There are, however, marked differences which reflect the relationship of Wyndham, Ryder and indeed Waugh to the English country house. Unlike Ryder (and Waugh), Wyndham came from an aristocratic background but chose to give up his ancestral home in favour of the life of the ‘champagne bohemian’. He disposed of Clouds in Wiltshire, famously designed by Philip Webb, the same year as his exhibition at Tooths (the house was part-demolished shortly after). He also sold his inherited collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and bought instead the works of Modernists.

For Waugh, the English country house and its life-style represented an ideal; he acquired Piers Court in Gloucestershire also in 1937 and became a country squire. And Ryder was seduced by Brideshead, or at least the Brideshead he discovered with Sebastian Flyte. It was not just a subject for his art but offered sexual and aesthetic escape from his stultifying middle-class upbringing. Clouds, however, was Wyndham’s prison and the walls had to be torn down.

Official Website: http://countryhouseconference.wordpress.com
Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: Painting, literature, architecture, interwar cultural history
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Central Saint Martins
Date: 7 June 2014
Event Location: University of Newcastle, Department of English
Date Deposited: 16 Jun 2014 10:41
Last Modified: 16 Jun 2014 10:41
Item ID: 6797
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/6797

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