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|Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)|
English writer, regarded by many as the leading satirical novelist of his day. Among Waugh's most popular books is Brideshead Revisited (1945), depicting the Oxford world of the late 1920s. It was made into a highly successful television series in 1981, starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. Waugh wrote sixteen novels. He also published travel books and biographies.
'I have been here before,' I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest." (from Brideshead Revisited)
Evelyn Waugh was born in London into a comfortable middle-class family. Catherine (Raban) Waugh, his mother, was born in India, but grew up in England. Evelyn had a better relationship with her than with his his father, Arthur Waugh (1866-1943), a publisher and literary critic, who preferred Evelyn's older brother Alec. Waugh was educated at Lancing College, Sussex, and at Hertford College, Oxford, where he read modern history. For his disappointment, the behavior of the upper-class student was not especially sophisticated - it was savage and amoral, and at Lancing College Waugh was was bullied by his classmates. Later he returned to his experiences in his novels. His college years Waugh spent in drinking.
Alec, his brother, had an homosexual relationship at the Sherborn College. After being dismissed, Alec Waugh wrote an autobiographical book of the event, which in practice had prevented Evelyn from entering the same college. Waugh studied in London at Heatherley's Art School. He then worked for a short time as a schoolmaster at Arnold House in North Wales, and then devoted himself to writing.
Three years before starting his career as a writer, Waugh attempted suicide. He walked out into the water and began swimming but decided to return. Fuelled with admiration for Pre-Raphaelites, Waugh wrote his first book on Rossetti. His literary reputation Waugh established with the novel Decline and Fall, an episodic story of Paul Pennyfeather who is expelled from Oxford. Paul is caught in the web of London Society, but in the end he escapes to a saner and happier life. "Aim high" has been my motto, 'said Sir Humphrey, 'all through my life. You probably won't get what you want, but you may get something; aim low, and you get nothing at all. It's like throwing a stone at a cat. When I was a kid that used to be great sport in our yard; I daresay you were throwing cricket-balls when you were that age, but it's the same thing. If you throw straight at it, you fall short; aim above, and with luck you score. Every kid knows that. I'll tell you the story of my life.' (from Decline and Fall)
Decline and Fall was loosely based on Waugh's experiences while he worked as a schoolmaster at Arnold House. Like Waugh's other works, it continued the tradition of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw - Waugh is as flippant and irreverent. "'The Welsh,' said the Doctor, 'are the only nation in the world that has produced no graphic or plastic art, no architecture, no drama. They just sing, 'he said with disgust, 'sing and blow down wind instruments of plated silver...'" Waugh's next novel, Vile Bodies (1930), which the author described as "a welter of sex and snobbery," caricatured the world of the Bright Young People. Vile Bodies gained a huge success, and contributed to the end of "the freak parties." Black Mischief (1932) was inspired by the coronation of the Emperor Haile Selassie in Abyssinia. A Handful of Dust was an embittered story of adultery, in which the hero is called Tony Last. "What I have done is excellent," Waugh said of his book. Virginia Woolf complained that Waugh did not show interest in social matters as they really were. Also Scoop (1937), which mocked foreign correspondents, was set in Africa, this time in a fictitious country called Ishmaeliah.
The "happy ending" of Vile Bodies was not in tune with Waugh's own life, which was falling apart. He had fallen in love with Diana Guinness (later Diana Mosley), and his wife Evelyn Gardner had left him for a BBC news editor. In 1930 Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism. After the collapse of his marriage, Waugh travelled in Africa and South America. During his career, Waugh published several travel books, and worked as a foreign correspondent, notably in Abessinia to cover the Italian invasion in 1936.
From 1928 to 1937 Waugh travelled widely in Europe, Near East, Africa, and America. In the 1930s, he became a well known figure in aristocratic and fashionable circles, and gradually developed his grandiose vision of aristocracy. His friends and acquaintances provided him with materials for his fiction. In 1937 he married Laura Herbert; the Herberts were all Catholic converts. When he first time met Laura, he described her as a "white mouse". They had six children, though he was believed to be a homosexual.
During the early part of World War II, Waugh served in the Middle East. Put Out More Flags (1942) satirized W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, who did not serve in the army, but emigrated to the United States. Waugh called them "Parsnip and Pimpernell." Disenchantment with the war, Waugh planned to join MI5, but he was turned down without an interview. In January 1944 took leave in order to write Brideshead Revisited (1945), a nostalgic story about beauty and corruption. It gained a great popular success but was also criticized because of its glorifying of the upper class.
Subtitled 'The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder,' the novel tells of the wealthy Roman Catholic Marchmain family. Ryder, the narrator, is a friend of the family. At Oxford he meets Sebastian Flyte, the younger son of the Marquis of Marchmain, and his sister Julia. Sebastian flees to North Africa and becomes a menial in an African monastery and Julia marries a non-Catholic politician. By the end of the novel, each has shown some sign of acceptance of the faith. Anthony Blanche, one of the minor characters, was modelled on Brian Howard, a poet and aesthete, who worked for MI5 during World War II. (see 'An Oxford Spy' by John Branston, Morning Star, Tuesday 22 March 2005) The acclaimed Granada television drama from 1981, based on the novel, was more homosexually oriented than the novel.
With his friend, Randolph Churchill, Waugh joined in 1944 a British military mission into Yugoslavia and was injured in a plane accident in July. Most of his company died in the flames - Churchill and Philip Jordan were among the other fortunates. Badly burnt, Waugh was sent to hospotal in Bari. His hands were so burned that he could not hold a pen. The Scottish writer Eric Linklater, who met Waugh in Rome, was shocked to see his colleague's frail and shrunken look, "so different from his ordinary compact and hardy appeareance." Waugh was then posted to Dubrovnik, where he served as intermediary between the Allies and the Partisans, who were hostile to British.
After the war, Waugh spent much time at Combe Florey in Somerset, sporting exaggeratedly in Edwardian suits, and using and exaggerated large ear-trumpet. One of his favorite suits was made of checked cloth. Waugh's major work was the trilogy Sword of Honour (1952-1961). Its central character, Guy Crouchback, enlists in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers to establish his identity. He loses his illusions and departs for action in Alexandria. In the last volume Guy volunteers for service in Italy. Eventually he goes to Yugoslavia as a liaison officer with the partisans and rescues a group of Jewish refuges. In the Epilogue Guy has remarried and he is surrounded with a family.
In 1947 Waugh visited Hollywood as a guest of MGM to discuss a possible film version of Brideshead Revisited. "We drove for a long time down autobahns and boulevards full of vacant lots and filling stations and nondescript buildings and palm trees with a warm hazy light. It was more like Egypt - the suburbs of Cairo or Alexandria - than anything in Europe. We arrived at the Bel Air Hotel - very Egyptian with a hint of Addis Ababa in the smell of the blue gums." Hollywood saw Brideshead purely as a love story. Waugh refused to accept proposed changes and confessed in his diary that he was relieved when the project failed. Next year he made fun of the work of morticians in California in The Loved One (1948).
The biography of Ronald A. Knox (1959) was about Waugh's friend, Father Knox, who was a priest and scholar and prolific essayist, satirist, and novelist. Knox's translation of the Bible, for which he devoted his later life, appeared in 1955. He also published detective novels. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) was based on the Waugh's bout of hallucinations caused by his use of both alcohol and sleeping potions. The first volume of Waugh's unfinished autobiography, A Little Learning, came out in 1964. His letters were published in 1980. Waugh died on April 10, 1966, in Combe Florey, Somerset - he collapsed and died in the toilet. The posthumously published Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976) was described by Auberon Waugh as showing "that the world of Evelyn Waugh did, in fact exist." According to an literary anecdote, the author Nancy Mitford had asked Waugh how he could behave so abominably and yet still consider himself a practicing Catholic. "You have no idea," had Waugh replied, "how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being."
For further reading: Roman Holiday by A.A. DeVitis (1956); Evelyn Waugh by M. Bradbury (1964); The Satiric Art of Evelyn Waugh by J.F. Carens (1966); My Brother Evelyn, and Other Profiles by A. Waugh (1967); Evelyn Waugh by D. Lodge (1971); Evelyn Waugh by Christopher Sykes (1975, rev. 1977); Evelyn Waugh by C.W. Lane (1981); The Picturesque Prison by J. Heath (1982); Evelyn Waugh by Martin Stannard (1986); Evelyn Waugh by Selina Hastings (1994); The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography by Douglas Lane Patey (2001); Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne (2009) - Note 1: The Finnish writer Anja Kauranen used Brideshead Revisited as a basis for her novel Arabian Lauri (1997). The structure of story, characterizations of central persons and the general nostalgic atmosphere are similar. Kauranen set the events in the 1980s Helsinki. The novel can be read as an independent piece of art, but it was not until the question of plagiarism arose, Kauranen acknowledged her source. Note 2: Evelyn Waugh's father was head of the publishers, Chapman and Hall, and had contributed to The Yellow Book. Alec Waugh's (1898-1981) works include The Loom of Youth (1917), Island in the Sun (1956), The Mule on the Minaret (1965), My Brother Evelyn and Other Profiles (1967), A Spy in the Family (1970), A Year to Remember (1975). Evelyn Waugh's eldest son Auberon Waugh (d. 2001) published his first book, The Foxglove Saga, in 1960. Among his other works are Country Topics (1974), The Diaries of Auberon Waugh: A Turbulent Decade 1976-85 (1985), Another Voices (1986).