Kick Kennedy and Evelyn Waugh

Amanda Smith '89, A.M. '92, is a doctoral candidate in English at Harvard. She is also the granddaughter of Joseph P. Kennedy '12 and the editor...

Amanda Smith '89, A.M. '92, is a doctoral candidate in English at Harvard. She is also the granddaughter of Joseph P. Kennedy '12 and the editor of Hostage to Fortune: The Letters of Joseph P. Kennedy (Viking, $39.95). In a section on Kennedy's time as U.S. ambassador to London, Smith tells of an encounter between Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (who would die in the crash of a chartered airplane in bad weather in 1948) and novelist Evelyn Waugh. They had a little trouble with their common language.

 

Kathleen Kennedy walking with Billy Hartington, the duke of Devonshire's eldest son
Kathleen Kennedy and the Marquess of Hartington, circa 1939. They married in the spring of 1944. Billy, in the Coldstream Guards, was killed in Belgium in September.
Richardson's/From the book
Although the new American ambassador would always be regarded with suspicion and disdain in some quarters for his background and ethnicity, his informality (or vulgarity, as some put it), and his new money, both he and his sizable photogenic family met with overwhelming and immediate popularity in London. Within the first month of his arrival, the press on both sides of the Atlantic ballyhooed the new ambassador's hole in one at Stoke Poges. A number of articles and editorials touted his egalitarianism and lack of pretense both in declining to wear knee breeches while presenting his credentials to the king and in discontinuing the practice of presenting ambitious American debutantes at court. His children and his wife, likewise, appeared on the society pages, in a flattering Vogue feature and in snippets in a variety of English and American publications large and small.

Joe and Jack would remain at Harvard until their respective graduations but often spent their longer vacations in London.... Bobby and Teddy were enrolled in day schools in London. Eunice, Pat and Jean boarded at the Convent of the Sacred Heart nearby in Roehampton. Kick and Rosemary, eighteen and nineteen, respectively, at the time of their arrival, lived at Prince's Gate with their parents. Their father's recent decision to end the presentation of American debutantes had only applied to girls coming from the United States for the privilege, not to Americans living in England. As a result, the elder Kennedy girls were presented shortly after their arrival in London. Eunice would make her debut the following year, in the last months of peacetime, during what was said to be the most lavish and spectacular of London seasons....

If the Kennedys were welcome and popular in London at the outset of their stay, then it was Kick who, from the start, was most at home there. Congenial and affectionate, she made quick and deep friendships that would weather her father's declining popularity and eventual disrepute among the English, and last to the end of her short life. The number of her beaux had early on engendered rumors of her marrying in England, despite her religion, a fact that prompted her dinner companion, Evelyn Waugh, to inquire as to the size of her "dot" one evening. Uncertain, but presuming that he referred to her belly button, she could only respond that she didn't think hers was any larger than anyone else's. Waugh pressed the subject, however, arguing that with a noted financier for a father, hers must surely be substantial. It took her several minutes to realize that he was speaking of her dowry. The correspondence with her father that followed upon her abrupt return home after the declaration of war shows a particular fondness and concern for one Billy Hartington, the duke of Devonshire's eldest son.

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