bestselling biographer
Paula will be talking about her new book, Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle at the Woodstock Literary Festival at Blenheim Palace on Sunday 28 September. Belle: The Movie is still in cinemas and will soon be out on DVD.


"Evocative, witty, insightful"
(Sydney Morning Herald)

“Over the years I’ve read all the major biographies of Evelyn Waugh, and Byrne’s is … the fastest moving and the most fun”
Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World


"The author's deliciously rich research details the pampered life of the aristocracy before the Second World War, reflected in 'raspberry crępe de chine shirts', jazz, cocktails and easy promiscuity, all worked seamlessly into a non-fiction narrative that feels like a novel."
Juliet Nicolson,
Country Life


Read an extract
Notes on Sources

A terrifically engaging and original biography about one of England’s greatest novelists, and the glamorous, eccentric, debauched and ultimately tragic family that provided him with the most significant friendships of his life and inspired his masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited.

Evelyn Waugh was already famous when Brideshead Revisited was published in 1945. Written at the height of the war, the novel was, he admitted, of no ‘immediate propaganda value’. Instead, it was the story of a household, a family and a journey of religious faith – an elegy for a vanishing world and a testimony to a family he had fallen in love with a decade earlier. The Lygons of Madresfield were every bit as glamorous, eccentric and compelling as their counterparts, the Marchmains, in Brideshead. William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, was a warm-hearted, generous and unconventional father whose seven children adored him. When he was forced to flee the country by his scheming brother-in-law, his traumatised children stood firmly by him, defying not only the mores of the day, but also their deeply religious mother. In this engrossing biography, bestselling author Paula Byrne takes an innovative approach to her subject, setting out to capture Waugh through the friendships and loves that mattered most to him. She uncovers a man who, far from the snobbish misanthropist of popular caricature, was as loving and complex as the family that inspired him. This brilliantly original biography unlocks for the first time the extent to which Waugh’s great novel encoded and transformed his own experiences. In so doing, it illuminates the loves and obsessions that shaped his life, and brings us inevitably to a secret that dared not speak its name.


"Byrne has written a marvellous book, warm, witty, and enormously readable. She shows intelligently that as the Lygons had an enormous effect on Waugh, so the Flytes do on Charles Ryder ... It’s a mad world, my masters, and this book is a calm pool of sanity among the tumult of massed humanity."

Philip Womack, Daily Telegraph


"Mad World is full of fascinating anecdotes, many of which will be new, even to the most fanatical amasser of Wavian trivia. Paula Byrne has produced a strong and romantic book that is at once a touching story of deep friendships, an astute piece of literary criticism and an important contribution to the canon of Waugh biography."

Alexander Waugh, The Literary Review


"Byrne’s gift as a writer is her ability to combine scholarship with turbo-driven narrative power. Mad World is vibrant, absorbing, stranger than fiction."

Frances Wilson, The Sunday Times


"Explores the people and the story that inspired the book, and does so with acuity and panache ... Byrne shows remarkable perception in her interpretation not only of Waugh's relationship with the Lygons, but of theirs with each other."

Selina Hastings, The Observer

"She has dug deep, and tells the tale with great verve and considerable insight."

Anne Chisholm, Sunday Telegraph

"Riveting, readable and occasionally shocking … Even for the casual reader - and those who may not yet have encountered Waugh’s novels - Byrne’s thoroughly researched biography has the fizz of Waugh’s best fiction and will have readers returning to the books for further pleasure."

Sunday Business Post (Dublin)

"gripping" Oxford Times

"brilliantly done" Daily Express

"fascinating" Daily Mail

"entertaining" The Independent

"a corker" The Spectator

"vivid" Mail on Sunday