The Temple at Thatch (lost manuscript of unpublished novel; 1924-1925)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its discussion of suicide.


Evelyn Waugh, the author of The Temple at Thatch.

Status: Lost

The Temple at Thatch was an unpublished novel written by the British author Evelyn Waugh. He started working on it in 1924 during college, but after his friend, Harold Acton rejected the novel (and also due to other unfortunate personal events), he burned the manuscript to The Temple at Thatch and attempted suicide by drowning. However, he decided to abandon the attempt, wrote his actual first novel in 1928, and became a successful writer.



In May 1924, Evelyn Waugh wrote a letter to an old school friend of his, Dudley Carew. He stated that soon, he was going to write a "little book" titled The Temple at Thatch, and stated that it was going to be all about "magic and madness".[1]

On June 22nd, 1924, he came up with the basic premise for the novel. It involved an undergraduate inheriting and moving into a "country" house (or what remains of it, that being a folly from the 18th century), and practicing black magic inside it.[2]

According to Waugh's diary, he started writing The Temple at Thatch on July 21st, 1924 and wrote down that he thought it was quite good.[3] However, around September, he started to lose hope in the novel, saying that Thatch was at risk of "becoming dull", and stated that he thought it would never be finished.[3] But, he soon regained his confidence in his novel after reading William Drummond of Hawthornden's A Cypress Grove, and even thought about renaming his novel to The Fabulous Paladins after a passage in A Cypress Grove.[4]

Needing money, Waugh started applying for jobs in private schools, and his diary entry from December 17th, 1924 stated that he was still trying to apply for jobs at private schools and that he was still attempting to rewrite The Temple at Thatch.[1] Eventually, he got a job as an assistant manager at the Arnold House Preparatory School in Denbighshire, North Wales. He left for Arnold House on January 22nd, 1925, and took the manuscript for The Temple at Thatch with him.[5]

At Arnold House, Waugh found very little time to be able to write Thatch, and his interest in writing the novel waned. However, after Easter, he again regained his confidence in his novel, even considering making a "cinema film" out of its first chapter. He considered the novel as "rather good".[6] When June came around, he was confident enough in his story to send the manuscript of it to his friend Harold Acton, stating that he was "asking for criticism and hoping for praise" on his novel.[2]

Rejection And Attempted Suicide

While Waugh was waiting for Acton's reply on Thatch, he discovered that his brother Alec had gotten him a job in Italy as a secretary to the Scottish writer Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff. He subsequently quit his job at Arnold House.[3]

Harold Acton's response to The Temple at Thatch was described as "polite but chilling". Acton's letter itself has been lost, so the response has been recalled by Waugh in his autobiography.[4] Acton stated that The Temple at Thatch was "too English for [his] exotic tastes" and that there was too much "nid-nodding over port".[5] He did, however, recommend that Waugh make a couple of copies to send to his close friends.[2]

Dejected over Acton's critical response to Thatch, Waugh went down to his school's furnace and burnt the manuscript to his novel.[5] As the final nail in his coffin, he was soon informed that his job opportunity as secretary to Scott Moncrieff had fallen through. In July 1925, he wrote "The phrase 'the end of the tether' besets me with unshakable persistence".[3]

Waugh went down to the beach one night, took off all his clothes, and started swimming out into the ocean, intending to commit suicide by drowning himself. He left a suicide note including a quote from the Greek tragedian Euripides about how the sea washes away all ills. However, after getting stung by jellyfish, he decided to abandon the suicide attempt and turned around to swim back to land.[2] He still resigned from Arnold House, and moved to London.[5]


As mentioned above, due to Harold Acton's criticism of it subsequently causing Waugh to burn it out of depression, The Temple at Thatch currently has no surviving copies. Most of the information on Thatch and its plot have been collected either due to Waugh himself recounting it in his autobiography, or historians writing biographies on Waugh's life. The actual book itself will likely be lost forever due to its destruction.

However, some traces of Thatch can be found in a short story Waugh published later in 1925, titled The Balance. The short story also occasionally makes references to Thatch. Both stories take place in an "Oxford setting", and both stories are formatted like a film script (in the case of Thatch, the first chapter is formatted like one).[6]