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Evelyn Waugh, photographed in about 1940
|Born||28 October 1903|
London, United Kingdom
|Died||10 April 1966 (aged 62)|
Combe Florey, Somerset, United Kingdom
|Education||Lancing College, Hertford College, Oxford|
|Genres||Novel, biography, short story, travelogue, autobiography, satire, humour|
|Spouse(s)||Evelyn Gardner (1929-1930, annulled 1936)|
Laura Herbert (1937)
|Children||Maria Teresa Waugh (1938)|
Mary Waugh (1940-1940)
Auberon Waugh (1939-2001)
Margaret Evelyn Waugh (1942)
Harriet Mary Waugh (1944)
James Waugh (1946)
Michael Septimus Waugh (1950)
Evelyn Waugh, photographed in about 1940
|Born||28 October 1903|
London, United Kingdom
|Died||10 April 1966 (aged 62)|
Combe Florey, Somerset, United Kingdom
|Education||Lancing College, Hertford College, Oxford|
|Genres||Novel, biography, short story, travelogue, autobiography, satire, humour|
|Spouse(s)||Evelyn Gardner (1929-1930, annulled 1936)|
Laura Herbert (1937)
|Children||Maria Teresa Waugh (1938)|
Mary Waugh (1940-1940)
Auberon Waugh (1939-2001)
Margaret Evelyn Waugh (1942)
Harriet Mary Waugh (1944)
James Waugh (1946)
Michael Septimus Waugh (1950)
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (/ /; 28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966), known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, biographies and travel books. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer. His best-known works include his early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), his novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) and his trilogy of Second World War novels collectively known as Sword of Honour (1952–61). Waugh is widely recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century.
The son of a publisher, Waugh was educated at Lancing and Hertford College, Oxford, and worked briefly as a schoolmaster before becoming a full-time writer. As a young man, he acquired many fashionable and aristocratic friends, and developed a taste for country house society that never left him. In the 1930s he travelled extensively, often as a special newspaper correspondent; he was reporting from Abyssinia at the time of the 1935 Italian invasion. He served in the British armed forces throughout the Second World War, first in the Royal Marines and later in the Royal Horse Guards. All these experiences, and the wide range of people he encountered, were used in Waugh's fiction, generally to humorous effect; even his own mental breakdown in the early 1950s, brought about by misuse of drugs, was fictionalised.
Waugh had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1930, after the failure of his first marriage. His traditionalist stance led him to oppose strongly all attempts to reform the Church; the changes brought about in the wake of the Second Vatican Council of 1962–65, particularly the introduction of the vernacular Mass, greatly disturbed him. This blow, together with a growing dislike for the welfare state culture of the postwar world and a decline in his health, darkened his final years, although he continued to write. To the public at large he generally displayed a mask of indifference, but he was capable of great kindness to those he considered his friends, many of whom remained devoted to him throughout his life. After his death in 1966, he acquired a new following through film and television versions of his work, such as Brideshead Revisited in 1981.
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born on 28 October 1903 to Arthur Waugh (1866–1943) and Catherine Charlotte Raban (1870–1954), into a family with English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Huguenot origins. Distinguished forebears include Lord Cockburn (1779–1854), a leading Scottish advocate and judge, William Morgan (1750–1833), a pioneer of actuarial science who served The Equitable Life Assurance Society for 56 years, and Philip Henry Gosse (1810–88), a natural scientist who became notorious through his depiction as a religious fanatic in his son Edmund's memoir Father and Son. Of those bearing the Waugh name, the Rev. Alexander Waugh (1754–1827) was a minister in the Secession Church of Scotland who helped found the London Missionary Society, and was one of the leading Nonconformist preachers of his day. His grandson Alexander Waugh (1840–1906) was a country medical practitioner who bullied his wife and children and became known in the Waugh family as "the Brute". The elder of his two sons, born in 1866, was Arthur Waugh.
After attending Sherborne School and New College, Oxford, Arthur Waugh began a career in publishing and as a literary critic. In 1902 he became managing director of Chapman and Hall, publishers of the works of Charles Dickens. He had married Catherine Raban (1870–1954) in 1893; their first son Alexander Raban Waugh (always known as Alec) was born on 8 July 1898. Alec Waugh later became a novelist of note. At the time of his birth the family were living in North London, at Hillfield Road, West Hampstead where, on 28 October 1903, the couple's second son was born, "in great haste before Dr Andrews could arrive", Catherine recorded. On 7 January 1904 the boy was christened Arthur Evelyn St John Waugh, but was known in the family and in the wider world as Evelyn.[n 1]
In 1907 the family left Hillfield Road for Underhill, a house which Arthur had built in the village of North End, Hampstead, in close proximity to Golders Green, then a semi-rural area of dairy farms, market gardens and bluebell woods. Evelyn received his first lessons at home from his mother, with whom he formed a particularly close relationship—Arthur Waugh was a more distant figure, whose bond with his elder son Alec was such that Evelyn often felt excluded. In September 1910 Evelyn began as a day pupil at Heath Mount preparatory school. He was by then a lively child of many interests, who had already written his first complete story, "The Curse of the Horse Race". Waugh spent six relatively contented years at Heath Mount; on his own assertion he was "quite a clever little boy", who was seldom distressed or overawed by his lessons. Physically pugnacious, he was inclined to bully weaker boys; among his victims was the future society photographer Cecil Beaton, who never forgot the experience.
Outside school, Waugh and other children in the neighbourhood performed dramatic works usually written by him. On the basis of a belief then being fostered in the press that the Germans were about to invade England, he organised his friends into a gang called "The Pistol Troop", which built a fort, went on manoeuvres and paraded in makeshift uniforms. After the First World War broke out in 1914, Waugh and other boys from Heath Mount's Boy Scout troop were sometimes employed at the War Office as messengers. He hung about in the corridors hoping to get a glimpse of Lord Kitchener, but never did. Family holidays were usually spent with the Waugh aunts at Midsomer Norton, in a house lit by oil lamps that Waugh recalled with delight many years later. At Midsomer Norton he became deeply interested in high Anglican church rituals—the first stirrings of the spiritual dimension that would later dominate his life—and served as an altar boy at the local Anglican church. During his last year at Heath Mount Waugh devised and edited a school magazine, The Cynic.
Alec Waugh, like his father, had gone to school at Sherborne, and it was assumed that Evelyn would follow. However, in 1915, Alec was asked to leave, after a homosexual relationship came to light. He departed for military training and, while waiting for his commission to be confirmed, wrote a novel of school life, The Loom of Youth, which was published by Chapman and Hall. The novel, which alluded to homosexual friendships in what was recognisably Sherborne, caused a public sensation and offended the school sufficiently to make it impossible for Evelyn to go there. Much to his annoyance, he was sent in May 1917 to Lancing, in his view a decidedly inferior establishment.
Waugh soon overcame his initial aversion to the school and settled down. He began to establish a reputation as an aesthete and, in November 1917, had an essay "In Defence of Cubism" accepted by the arts magazine Drawing and Design—his first published article. Within the school, he became mildly subversive, mocking the school's cadet corps and founding the Corpse Club "for those who were weary of life". The end of the war saw the return to the school of younger masters such as J. F. Roxburgh, who encouraged Waugh to write and predicted a great future for him. A biography of Roxburgh (who went on to be first headmaster of Stowe School) was the last work given a literary review by Waugh, in The Observer on 17 October 1965. Another mentor, Francis Crease, taught Waugh the arts of calligraphy and decorative design; some of the boy's work was good enough to be used by Chapman and Hall on book jackets.
In his later years at Lancing, Waugh achieved conventional success, becoming a house-captain, editor of the school magazine, president of the debating society, and winning numerous art and literature prizes. He also shed most of his religious beliefs. He started a novel of school life, untitled, but after around 5,000 words, the attempt was abandoned. He ended his schooldays by winning a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, and left Lancing in December 1921.
Waugh arrived in Oxford in January 1922. He was soon writing to old friends at Lancing about the pleasures of his new life; he informed Tom Driberg: "I do no work here and never go to Chapel". During his first two terms he generally followed convention; he smoked a pipe, bought a bicycle, chewed sweets, and gave his maiden speech at the Oxford Union, opposing the motion that "This House would welcome Prohibition". Waugh wrote reports on Union debates for both Oxford magazines, Cherwell and Isis, and acted as a film critic for Isis. He also became secretary of the Hertford College debating society, "an onerous but not honorific post", he told Driberg. Although Waugh tended to regard his scholarship as a reward rather than a stepping-stone to academic success, he did sufficient work in his first two terms to pass his "History Previous", or preliminary examinations.
The arrival in Oxford in October 1922 of the sophisticated Etonians Harold Acton and Brian Howard changed Waugh's Oxford life. Acton and Howard rapidly became the centre of an avant-garde circle known as the Hypocrites, whose artistic, social and homosexual values Waugh adopted enthusiastically; he later wrote: "It was the stamping ground of half my Oxford life". He began drinking heavily, and embarked on the first of several homosexual relationships, the most lasting of which were with Richard Pares and Alastair Graham. He continued to write reviews and short stories for the university journals, and developed a reputation as a talented graphic artist, but formal study largely ceased. This neglect led to a bitter feud between Waugh and his history tutor, C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, dean (and later principal) of Hertford College. When Cruttwell advised him to mend his ways, Waugh responded in a manner he admitted later was "fatuously haughty", from which point relations between the two descended into mutual hatred. Waugh continued the feud long after his Oxford days, by using Cruttwell's name in his early novels for a succession of ludicrous, ignominious or odious minor characters.[n 2]
Waugh's dissipated lifestyle continued into his final Oxford year, 1924. A letter written that year to a Lancing friend, Dudley Carew, hints at severe emotional pressures: "I have been living very intensely these last three weeks. For the last fortnight I have been nearly insane ... I may perhaps one day in a later time tell you some of the things that have happened." He did just enough work to pass his final examinations in the summer of 1924 with a third class degree, a poor result which led to the loss of his scholarship. This effectively prevented him from returning to Oxford to complete the nine terms' residence that, under the University's statutes, were necessary before his degree could be awarded, so he left without one.[n 3] Back at Underhill he began a novel, The Temple at Thatch, and worked with some of his fellow Hypocrites on a film, The Scarlet Woman, which was shot partly in the gardens at Underhill. He spent much of the rest of the summer in the company of Alastair Graham; after Graham departed for Kenya, Waugh enrolled for the autumn at a London art school, Heatherley's.
Waugh began at Heatherley's in late September 1924, but became bored with the routine and soon abandoned his course. He spent weeks partying in London and Oxford before the overriding need for money led him to apply through an agency for a teaching job. Almost at once he secured a post at Arnold House, a boys' preparatory school in North Wales, beginning in January 1925. He took with him the notes for his novel, The Temple at Thatch, intending to work on it in his spare time. Despite the gloomy ambience of the school, Waugh did his best to fulfil the requirements of his position, but a brief return to London and Oxford during the Easter vacation only exacerbated his sense of isolation.
In the summer of 1925 Waugh's outlook briefly improved, with the prospect of a job in Pisa as secretary to the Scottish writer Charles Scott Moncrieff who was engaged on the English translations of Proust's works. Believing that the job was his, Waugh resigned his position at Arnold House. He had meantime sent the early chapters of his novel to Acton for assessment and criticism. Acton's reply was coolly dismissive, so that Waugh immediately burnt his manuscript; shortly afterwards, before he had left North Wales, he received the news that the Moncrieff job had fallen through. These twin blows were sufficient for him to consider suicide. He records that he went down to a nearby beach and, leaving a note with his clothes, walked out to sea. An attack by jellyfish changed his mind, and he returned quickly to the shore.
During the following two years Waugh taught at schools in Aston Clinton (from which he was dismissed for the attempted drunken seduction of a school matron) and Notting Hill in London. He considered alternative careers in printing or cabinet-making, and attended evening classes in carpentry at Holborn Polytechnic while continuing to write. A short story, "The Balance", written in an experimental modernist style, became his first commercially published fiction when it was included by Chapman and Hall in a 1926 anthology, Georgian Stories. An extended essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was printed privately by Alastair Graham, using by agreement the press of the Shakespeare Head Press in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was undergoing training as a printer. This led to a contract from the publishers Duckworth for a full-length biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which Waugh wrote during 1927. He also began working on a comic novel; after several temporary working titles this became Decline and Fall. Having given up teaching, he had no regular employment except for a short, unsuccessful stint as a reporter on the Daily Express in April–May 1927. That year he met (possibly through brother Alec) and fell in love with Evelyn Gardner, the daughter of Lord and Lady Burghclere.
In December 1927 Waugh and Evelyn Gardner became engaged, despite the opposition of Lady Burghclere, who felt that Waugh lacked moral fibre and kept unsuitable company. Among their friends they quickly became known as "He-Evelyn" and "She-Evelyn". Waugh was at this time dependent on a £4-a-week allowance from his father, and the small sums he could earn from book reviewing and journalism. The Rossetti biography was published to a generally favourable reception in April 1928: J. C. Squire in The Observer praised the book's elegance and wit; Acton gave cautious approval; and the novelist Rebecca West wrote to express how much she had enjoyed the book. Less pleasing to Waugh was the Times Literary Supplement's references to him as "Miss Waugh".
When Decline and Fall was completed, Duckworth objected to its "obscenity", but Chapman and Hall agreed to publish it. This was sufficient for Waugh and Gardner to bring forward their wedding plans. They were married in St Paul's Church, Portman Square, on 27 June 1928, with only Acton, Alec Waugh, and the bride's friend Pansy Pakenham present. The couple made their home in a small flat in Canonbury Square, Islington. The first months of the marriage were overshadowed by a lack of money, and by Gardner's poor health, which persisted into the autumn.
In September 1928 Decline and Fall was published to almost unanimous praise. By December the book was into its third printing, and the American publishing rights were sold for $500. In the afterglow of this success Waugh was commissioned to write travel articles in return for a free Mediterranean cruise, which he and Gardner began in February 1929 as an extended, delayed honeymoon. The trip was disrupted when Gardner contracted pneumonia and was carried ashore to the British hospital in Port Said. The couple returned home in June after her recovery. A month later, without warning, Gardner confessed that their mutual friend, John Heygate, had become her lover. After an attempted reconciliation failed, a shocked and dismayed Waugh filed for divorce on 3 September 1929. The couple apparently met again only once, during the process for the annulment of their marriage a few years later.
Waugh's biographer, Christopher Sykes, records that after the divorce friends "saw, or believed they saw, a new hardness and bitterness" in Waugh's outlook. Nevertheless, despite a letter to Acton in which he wrote that he "did not know it was possible to be so miserable and live", Waugh soon resumed his professional and social life. He finished his second novel, Vile Bodies, and wrote articles including (ironically he thought) one for the Daily Mail on the meaning of the marriage ceremony. Between September and January 1930, when the novel was published, Waugh moved between the various houses of his friends, a practice he was to continue as he was to have no settled home for the next eight years.
Vile Bodies, a satire on the Bright Young People of the 1920s, was published on 19 January 1930 and was Waugh's first major commercial success. Despite its quasi-biblical title, the book is dark, bitter, "a manifesto of disillusionment", according to biographer Martin Stannard. As a best-selling author Waugh could now command larger fees for his journalism. Amid regular work for The Graphic, Town and Country and Harper's Bazaar, he quickly wrote Labels, a detached account of his honeymoon cruise with She-Evelyn.
On 29 September 1930 Waugh was received into the Roman Catholic Church. This shocked his family and surprised some of his friends, but the step had been contemplated for some time. Although he had lost his Anglicanism at Lancing and had led an irreligious life at Oxford, from the mid-1920s there are references in his diaries to religious discussion and regular church-going. On 22 December 1925 Waugh writes: "Claud and I took Audrey to supper and sat up until 7 in the morning arguing about the Roman Church". The entry for 20 February 1927 includes "I am to visit a Father Underhill about being a parson". Throughout this period Waugh was influenced by his friend Olivia Plunket-Greene, who had converted in 1925 and of whom Waugh wrote later: "She bullied me into the Church". It was she who led him to Father Martin D'Arcy, a Jesuit, who persuaded Waugh "on firm intellectual convictions but little emotion" that "the Christian revelation was genuine". In 1949 Waugh explained that his conversion followed his realisation that life was "unintelligible and unendurable without God".
On 10 October 1930 Waugh, representing several newspapers, departed for Abyssinia to cover the coronation of Haile Selassie. He reported the event as "an elaborate propaganda effort" to convince the world that Abyssinia was a civilised nation, concealing the truth that the emperor had achieved power through barbarous means. A subsequent journey through the British East Africa colonies and the Belgian Congo formed the basis of two books; the travelogue Remote People (1931) and the comic novel Black Mischief (1932). Waugh's next extended trip, in the winter of 1932–33, was to British Guiana (now Guyana) in South America, possibly taken to distract him from a long and unrequited passion for the socialite Teresa Jungman. On arrival in Georgetown, Waugh arranged a river trip by steam launch into the interior. He travelled on via several staging-posts to Boa Vista in Brazil, and then took a convoluted overland journey back to Georgetown. His various adventures and encounters found their way into two further books: his travel account Ninety-two days, and the novel A Handful of Dust, both published in 1934.
Back from South America, Waugh faced accusations of obscenity and blasphemy from the Catholic journal The Tablet, which objected to passages in Black Mischief. He defended himself in an open letter to the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Francis Bourne, which remained unpublished until 1980. In the summer of 1934 he went on an expedition to Spitsbergen in the Arctic, an experience he did not enjoy and of which he made minimal literary use. On his return, determined to write a major Catholic biography, he selected the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion as his subject. The book, published in 1935, caused controversy through its forthright pro-Catholic, anti-Protestant stance but brought its writer the Hawthornden Prize. He returned to Abyssinia in August 1935, to report the opening stages of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War for the Daily Mail. Waugh, on the basis of his earlier visit, considered Abyssinia "a savage place which Mussolini was doing well to tame", according to his fellow reporter William Deedes. Waugh saw little action, and was not wholly serious in his role as a war correspondent. Deedes remarks on the older writer's snobbery: "None of us quite measured up to the company he liked to keep back at home". However, in the face of imminent Italian air attacks, Deedes found Waugh's courage "deeply reassuring". Waugh wrote up his Abyssinian experiences in a book, Waugh in Abyssinia (1936), which Rose Macaulay dismissed as a "fascist tract" on account of its pro-Italian tone. A better-known account is his novel Scoop (1938), in which the protagonist, William Boot, is loosely based on Deedes.
Waugh's social circle in the 1930s expanded and he relied on aristocratic friends for places to stay when he returned from his travels. Amongst his acquaintances were Diana Guinness and Bryan Guinness (dedicatees of Vile Bodies), Lady Diana Cooper and her husband Duff Cooper, Nancy Mitford who was originally a friend of Evelyn Gardner's, and the Lygon sisters. Waugh had known Hugh Patrick Lygon at Oxford; now he was introduced to the girls and their country house, Madresfield Court, which became the closest that he had to a home during his years of wandering. In 1933, on a Greek islands cruise, he was introduced by Father D'Arcy to Gabriel Herbert, eldest daughter of the late explorer Aubrey Herbert. When the cruise ended Waugh was invited to stay at the Herbert family's villa in Portofino, where he was introduced to Gabriel's 17-year-old sister, Laura Herbert.
On his conversion, Waugh had accepted that he would be unable to remarry while Evelyn Gardner was alive. However, he wanted a wife and children, and in October 1933 began proceedings for the annulment of the marriage on the grounds of "lack of real consent." The case was heard by an ecclesiastical tribunal in London, but a delay in the submission of the papers to Rome meant that the annulment was not granted until 4 July 1936. In the meantime, following their initial encounter in Portofino, Waugh had fallen in love with Laura Herbert. He proposed marriage, by letter, in Spring 1936. There were initial misgivings from the Herberts, an aristocratic Catholic family; as a further complication, Laura Herbert was a cousin of Evelyn Gardner. Despite some family hostility the marriage took place on 17 April 1937.
As a wedding present the bride's grandmother bought the couple Piers Court, a country house near Stinchcombe in Gloucestershire. Their first child, a daughter, Maria Teresa, was born on 9 March 1938 and a son, Auberon Alexander, on 17 November 1939. Between these events, Scoop was published in May 1938 to wide critical acclaim. In August 1938 Waugh, with Laura, made a three-month trip to Mexico after which he wrote Robbery under Law, based on his experiences there. In the book he spelled out clearly his conservative credo; he later described the book as dealing "little with travel and much with political questions".
At the outbreak of the war in September 1939, Waugh left Piers Court and moved his young family to Pixton Park in Somerset, the Herbert family's country seat, while he sought military employment. He also began a novel, in a new style using first-person narration. Work on this project ceased when in December Waugh was commissioned into the Royal Marines and began training at Chatham naval base. The novel was never completed; fragments were eventually published under the title Work Suspended.
Waugh was soon involved in a daily training routine that left him with "so stiff a spine that he found it painful even to pick up a pen". In April he was promoted temporarily to captain and given command of a company; however, he proved an unpopular officer, haughty and curt with the men. Even after the German invasion of the Low Countries his battalion was not called into action. Waugh's inability to adapt to regimental life meant that he soon lost his command and became the battalion's Intelligence Officer. In this role he finally saw action, as part of the force sent in August 1940 to Dakar in Western Africa to support an attempt by Free French troops to install General de Gaulle as leader there. Hampered by fog, and misinformed about the extent of the town's defences, the mission was a failure, and on 26 September the British forces withdrew. Waugh commented that "Bloodshed has been avoided at the cost of honour."
In November 1940 Waugh was posted to a commando unit and after further training became a member of "Layforce" under Brigadier Robert Laycock. In February 1941 the unit sailed to the Mediterranean, where it participated in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture Bardia, on the Libyan coast. In May the force was required to assist in the evacuation of Crete; Waugh was shocked by the disorder, loss of discipline and, as he saw it, cowardice of the departing troops. On the roundabout journey home in July by troopship Waugh wrote Put Out More Flags, a novel of the early months of the war written in his familiar 1930s style. Back in England, more training and waiting followed, until in May 1942 Waugh was transferred, on Laycock's recommendation, to the Royal Horse Guards. On 10 June 1942 Laura gave birth to a fourth child, Margaret.[n 4]
Waugh's elation at his transfer soon descended into disillusion as he failed to find opportunities for active service. The death of his father on 26 June 1943, and the need to deal with family affairs, prevented Waugh from departing with his brigade for North Africa, as part of Operation Husky. Despite his undoubted courage, his unmilitary and insubordinate character was making him effectively unemployable. After spells of idleness at the regimental depot in Windsor, Waugh began parachute training at Tatton Park, landed awkwardly and fractured a fibula. Recovering at Windsor, he applied for three months' unpaid leave to write the novel that was forming in his mind. His request was granted, and on 31 January 1944 he departed for Chagford in Devon, where he could work in seclusion. The result of his labours was Brideshead Revisited, the first of Waugh's explicitly "Catholic" novels and, biographer Douglas Lane Patey observes, "the book that seemed to confirm his new sense of his writerly vocation".
Waugh managed to extend his leave until June 1944. Soon after his return to duty he was recruited by Randolph Churchill to serve in a military mission to Yugoslavia, and early in July flew with Churchill to the Croatian island of Vis. Here they were introduced to Marshal Tito, leader of the Partisans who, with Allied support, were leading the fight against the occupying Axis forces. Waugh and Churchill returned to Bari in Italy before flying back to Yugoslavia to begin their mission, but their plane crashed on landing, injuring both and delaying them for a month.
Eventually the mission arrived at Topusko, where they established themselves in a deserted farmhouse. The group's duties—liaising between the British army and the Partisans—were light; in any event, Waugh had little sympathy with the communist-led Partisans and despised Tito. His chief interest became the welfare of the Catholic Church in Croatia, which he believed had suffered at the hands of the Serbian Orthodox Church and would fare worse when the communists took control. He expressed these thoughts in a long report, "Church and State in Liberated Croatia". After spells in Dubrovnik and Rome, Waugh returned to London on 15 March 1945 to present his report, which was suppressed by the Foreign Office who were anxious to maintain good relations with Tito.
Brideshead Revisited was published in London in May 1945. Waugh had been convinced of the book's qualities, "my first novel rather than my last". It was a tremendous success, bringing its author fame, fortune and literary status. Happy though he was with this outcome, Waugh's principal concern as the war ended was the fate of the large populations of Eastern European Catholics, betrayed (as he saw it) into the hands of Stalin's Soviet Union by the Allies. He now saw little difference in morality between the war's combatants, and later described it as "a sweaty tug-of-war between teams of indistinguishable louts". Although he took momentary pleasure from the defeat of Churchill and the Conservatives in the July 1945 Election, he saw the accession to power of the Labour Party as a triumph of barbarism and the onset of a "Dark Age".
In September 1945, after release by the army, he returned to Piers Court with his family (another daughter, Harriet, had been born at Pixton in 1944), but spent much of the next seven years either in London, or travelling. In March 1946 he visited the Nuremberg Trials, and later that year he was in Spain for a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the death of Francisco de Vittoria, said to be the founder of International Law. Waugh wrote up his experiences of the frustrations of post-war European travel in a novella, Scott-King's Modern Europe. In February 1947 he made the first of several trips to the United States, in the first instance to discuss filming of Brideshead. This project collapsed, but Waugh used his time in Hollywood to visit the Forest Lawn cemetery, which provided the basis for his satire of American perspectives on death, The Loved One. In 1951 he visited the Holy Land with his future biographer, Christopher Sykes, and in 1953 he travelled to Goa to witness the final exhibition before burial of the remains of the 16th-century Jesuit missionary-priest St Francis Xavier.
In between his journeys Waugh worked intermittently on Helena, a long-planned novel about the discoverer of the True Cross, "far the best book I have ever written or ever will write". Its success with the public was limited, although it was, his daughter Harriet later said, "the only one of his books that he ever cared to read aloud". In 1952 Waugh published Men at Arms, the first of his semi-autobiographical war trilogy, in which he depicted many of his personal experiences and encounters from the early stages of the war. Other books published during this period included When The Going Was Good (1946), an anthology of his pre-war travel writing, The Holy Places (published by the Ian Fleming-managed Queen Anne Press, 1952) and Love Among the Ruins (1953), a dystopian tale in which Waugh displays his contempt for the modern world. At 50, Waugh was old for his years, "selectively deaf, rheumatic, irascible", increasingly dependent on alcohol and on drugs to relieve his insomnia and depression. Two more children, James (born 1946) and Septimus (born 1950), completed his family.
From 1945 onwards Waugh became an avid collector of objects, particularly Victorian paintings and furniture. He filled Piers Court with his acquisitions, often from London's Portobello Market and from house clearance sales. His diary entry for 30 August 1946 records a visit to Gloucester where he bought "a lion of wood, finely carved for £25, also a bookcase £35 ... a charming Chinese painting £10, a Regency easel £7". Some of his buying was shrewd and prescient; he paid £10 for Rossetti's "Spirit of the Rainbow" to begin a collection of Victorian paintings that eventually acquired great value. Waugh also began, from 1949, to write knowledgeable reviews and articles on the subject of painting.[n 5]
By 1953 Waugh's popularity as a writer was declining. He was perceived as out of step with the Zeitgeist, and the large fees he demanded were no longer easily available. His money was running out, and progress on the second book of his war trilogy, Officers and Gentlemen, had stalled. Partly because of his dependency on drugs, his health was steadily deteriorating. Shortage of cash led him to agree in November 1953 to be interviewed on BBC radio, where the panel took an aggressive line. "[T]hey tried to make a fool of me, and I don't think they entirely succeeded", Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford. Peter Fleming in The Spectator likened the interview to "the goading of a bull by matadors".
Early in 1954 Waugh's doctors, concerned by his physical deterioration, advised a change of scene. On 29 January he took a ship bound for Ceylon, hoping that he would be able to finish his novel. Within a few days he was writing home complaining of "other passengers whispering about me" and of hearing voices, including that of his recent BBC interlocutor Stephen Black. He left the ship in Egypt and flew on to Colombo but, he wrote to Laura, the voices followed him. Alarmed, Laura sought help from her friend Frances Donaldson, whose husband agreed to fly out to Ceylon and bring Waugh home. In fact Waugh made his own way back, by now believing that he was being possessed by devils. A brief medical examination indicated that Waugh was suffering from bromide poisoning from his drugs regime. When his medication was changed the voices and other hallucinations quickly disappeared. Waugh was delighted, informing all of his friends that he had been mad: "Clean off my onion!". The experience was semi-fictionalised a few years later in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957).
Restored to health, Waugh returned to work and finished Officers and Gentlemen. In June 1955 the Daily Express journalist and reviewer Nancy Spain, accompanied by her friend Lord Noel-Buxton, arrived uninvited at Piers Court and demanded an interview. Waugh saw the pair off, and wrote a wry account for The Spectator, but was troubled by the incident, and decided to sell Piers Court; "I felt it was polluted", he told Nancy Mitford. Late in 1956 the family moved to the manor house in the Somerset village of Combe Florey. In January 1957 Waugh avenged the Spain–Noel-Buxton intrusion by winning libel damages from the Express and Spain. The paper had printed an article by Spain, suggesting that the sales of Waugh's books were much lower than they were and that his worth as a journalist was low.
Pinfold was published in the summer of 1957, "my barmy book", Waugh called it. The extent to which the story is self-mockery rather than true autobiography became a subject of critical debate. Waugh's next major book was a biography of his long-time friend, the Catholic writer and theologian Fr. Ronald Knox, who had died in August 1957. Research and writing extended over two years, during which time Waugh did little other work, delaying the third volume of his war trilogy. In June 1958 his son Auberon was severely wounded in a shooting accident while serving with the army in Cyprus. Waugh remained detached; he did not go to Cyprus, nor did he immediately visit Auberon on the latter's return to England. Critic and literary biographer David Wykes calls Waugh's sang-froid "astonishing", and the family's apparent acceptance of his behaviour even more so.
Although most of Waugh's books had sold well, and he had been well-rewarded for his journalism, his levels of expenditure meant that money problems and tax bills were a recurrent feature in his life. In 1950, as a means of tax avoidance, he had set up a trust fund for his children (he termed it the "Save the Children Fund", after the well-established charity of that name) into which he placed the initial advance and all future royalties from the Penguin (paperback) editions of his books. He was able to augment his personal finances by charging household items to the trust, or by selling his own possessions to it. Nonetheless, by 1960 shortage of money led him to agree to an interview on BBC Television, in the Face to Face series conducted by John Freeman. The interview was broadcast on 26 June 1960; according to his biographer Selena Hastings, Waugh restrained his instinctive hostility and coolly answered the questions put to him by Freeman, assuming what she calls a "pose of world-weary boredom".
In 1960 Waugh was offered the honour of a CBE but declined, believing that he should have been given the superior status of a knighthood. In September he produced his final travel book, A Tourist in Africa, based on a visit made in January–March 1959. He enjoyed the trip, but "despised" the book. Critic Cyril Connolly called it "the thinnest piece of book-making that Mr Waugh has undertaken". This book done, he worked on the last of the war novels, which was published in 1961 as Unconditional Surrender.
As he approached his sixties, Waugh was in poor health, prematurely aged, "fat, deaf, short of breath" according to Patey. Biographer Martin Stannard likened his appearance around this time to that of "an exhausted rogue jollied up by drink". In 1962 Waugh began work on his autobiography, and that same year wrote his final fiction, the long short story Basil Seal Rides Again. This revival of the main protagonist of Put Out More Flags was published in 1963; the Times Literary Supplement called it a "nasty little book". When the first volume of autobiography, A Little Learning, was published in 1964 its often oblique tone and discreet name-changes ensured that friends avoided the embarrassments that some had feared.
Waugh had welcomed the accession in 1958 of Pope John XXIII, and wrote an appreciative tribute on the pope's death in 1963. However, he became increasingly concerned by the decisions emerging from the Second Vatican Council, which was convened by Pope John in October 1962 and continued under his successor until 1965. Waugh, a staunch opponent of Church reform, was particularly distressed by the replacement of the universal Latin Mass with the vernacular. In a Spectator article of 23 November 1962 he argued the case against change in a manner described by a later commentator as "sharp-edged reasonableness". He wrote to Nancy Mitford that "the buggering up of the Church is a deep sorrow to me... We write letters to the paper. A fat lot of good that does."
In 1965 a new financial crisis arose from an apparent flaw in the terms of the "Save the Children" trust, whereby a large sum of back tax was being demanded. Waugh's agent, AD Peters, negotiated a settlement with the tax authorities for a manageable amount, but in his concern to generate funds Waugh signed contracts to write several books, including a history of the papacy, an illustrated book on the crusades and a second volume of autobiography. Waugh's physical and mental deterioration prevented any work on these projects, and the contracts were cancelled. He described himself as "toothless, deaf, melancholic, shaky on my pins, unable to eat, full of dope, quite idle", and expressed the belief that "all fates were worse than death". His only significant literary activity in 1965 was the editing of the three war novels into a single volume, published as Sword of Honour.
On Easter Day, 10 April 1966, after attending a Latin Mass in a neighbouring village with members of his family, Waugh died of heart failure at his Combe Florey home, aged 62. He was buried, by special arrangement, in a consecrated plot outside the Anglican churchyard in Combe Florey. A Requiem Mass, in Latin, was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral on 21 April 1966.
In the course of his lifetime, Waugh made enemies and offended many people; writer James Lees-Milne asserted that he was "the nastiest-tempered man in England". He had been a bully at school and retained an intimidating presence throughout his life; his son Auberon remarked that the force of his father's personality was such that, despite his lack of height, "generals and chancellors of the exchequer, six foot six and exuding self-importance from every pore, quail[ed] in front of him."
However, according to Paula Byrne, whose partial biography Mad World was published in 2009, the common view of Waugh as a "snobbish misanthrope" is a caricature; she asks: "Why would a man who was so unpleasant be so beloved by such a wide circle of friends?" His generosity to individuals and causes, particularly Catholic causes, extended to small gestures; after his libel court victory over Nancy Spain, he sent her a bottle of champagne. Hastings suggests that his outward belligerence to strangers was not entirely serious but, rather, an attempt at "finding a sparring partner worthy of his own wit and ingenuity". He mocked himself as well as others; Byrne believes that the elderly buffer, "crusty colonel" image he presented in his later life was a comic impersonation, rather than his real self.
As an instinctive conservative, Waugh believed that class divisions, with inequalities of wealth and position, were natural and that "no form of government [was] ordained by God as being better than any other". In the postwar "Age of the Common Man," he attacked socialism (the "Cripps–Attlee terror") and complained, after Churchill's return to power in 1951, that "the Conservative Party have never put the clock back a single second". He never voted in elections; in 1959 he expressed a hope that the Conservatives would win the General Election but would not vote for them since "I should feel I was morally inculpated in their follies". He added: "I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants."
Waugh's Catholicism was fundamental: "The Church... is the normal state of man from which men have disastrously exiled themselves." He believed the Church was the last great defence against the encroachment of the Dark Age being ushered in by the welfare state and the spread of working-class culture. Strictly observant, he admitted to Diana Cooper that his most difficult task was how to square the obligations of his faith with his indifference to his fellow men. When asked by Nancy Mitford how he reconciled his often objectionable conduct with being a Christian, he replied that "were he not a Christian he would be even more horrible".
Waugh's conservatism was aesthetic as well as political and religious. Although he praised younger writers such as Angus Wilson, Muriel Spark and V.S. Naipaul, he was scornful of the 1950s writers' group known as "The Movement". He expressed a belief that the literary world was "sinking into black disaster" and that literature itself might die within thirty years. Waugh, who as a schoolboy had praised Cubism, soon abandoned his interest in artistic modernism. In 1945, he was writing that Picasso's standing was the result of a "mesmeric trick"; his paintings "could not be intelligently discussed in the terms used of the civilised masters". In his 1953 radio interview, he named Augustus Egg (1816–63) as a painter for whom he had particular esteem.[n 6] He came to admire George Orwell because of their shared patriotism and sense of morality.
Waugh's racial and antisemitic prejudices are freely expressed in his works, particularly in those written before the war. The writer V.S. Pritchett observes that Waugh's antisemitism, "like Mount Everest, is there, nonviolent but undeniable"; Wykes calls it Waugh's "most persistent nastiness". The events of the Second World War may, Wykes observes, have modified Waugh's attitudes, though not to an extent discernible in his social behaviour. Waugh's racism, Wykes further asserts, was "an illogical extension of his views on the naturalness and rightness of hierarchy as the [main] principle of social organisation". Orwell, an admirer of Waugh's writing, concluded that Waugh was "almost as good a novelist as it is possible to be ... while holding untenable opinions".
Wykes observes that Waugh's novels reprise and fictionalise the main events of his life, although in an early essay Waugh declares that "Nothing is more insulting to a novelist than to assume that he is incapable of anything but the mere transcription of what he observes". Nor, Waugh emphasises, should it be taken that the author agreed with the opinions expressed by his characters. Nevertheless, according to Ann Pasternak Slater in her introduction to Waugh's Complete Short Stories, "[the] delineation of social prejudices and the language in which they are expressed is part of Waugh's meticulous observation of his contemporary world".
Waugh is widely regarded as a master of style. In the view of critic Clive James, "Nobody ever wrote a more unaffectedly elegant English ... its hundreds of years of steady development culminate in him". As his talent developed and matured he maintained what literary critic Andrew Michael Roberts calls "an exquisite sense of the ludicrous, and a fine aptitude for exposing false attitudes". In the first stages of his 40-year writing career, before his conversion to Catholicism in 1930, Waugh was the novelist of the Bright Young People generation. His first two novels, Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies, comically reflect a society of utter futility, peopled by two-dimensional, basically unbelievable characters in circumstances too fantastic to evoke the reader's emotions. Much use is made of what Slater describes as a typical Waugh trademark: rapid, unattributed dialogue in which the participants can still be easily identified. Alongside these works Waugh mixed into his journalism a few serious essays, such as "The War and the Younger Generation", in which he castigates his own "crazy and sterile" generation. Waugh's conversion did not significantly change the nature of his next two novels, Black Mischief and A Handful of Dust although, in the latter at least, the farcical elements are muted and its protagonist, Tony Last, is recognisably a person rather than a comic cipher. Waugh's first fiction on a Catholic theme was the 1933 short story "Out of Depth", about the immutability of the Mass. From the mid-1930s onwards his journalism and non-fiction writings were increasingly concerned with Catholicism and conservative politics, before he reverted to his former manner with Scoop, published in 1938.
In the 1939 fragment Work Suspended, Waugh's style changes to a form which, with "real" characters and a first-person narrator, presages Brideshead Revisited five years later. Brideshead, which questions the meaning of human existence without God, is the first of Waugh's novels in which his political and religious views come clearly into view. In his 1946 article in Life magazine, "Fan Fare", Waugh writes that "you can only leave God out [of fiction] by making your characters pure abstractions", and in the same article declares his future novelistic intentions as "the attempt to represent man more fully which, to me, means only one thing, man in his relation to God." His next novel was Helena, the most uncompromisingly Christian of his books.
In Brideshead, through the person of the proletarian junior officer Hooper, Waugh introduces a further theme that persists in his post-war fiction: the rise of mediocrity in the Age of the Common Man. In the Sword of Honour trilogy this process is depicted through the semi-comical figure of Trimmer, a sloven and fraud who through contrivance emerges triumphant. Waugh's pessimistic view of the future is summarised in the 1947 story "Scott-King's Modern Europe", by the schoolmaster's admonition: "I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world". This cynicism pervades the short novel Love Among the Ruins (1952), set in a world so disagreeable that euthanasia is the most sought-after social service. Of the post-war novels, Pinfold stands apart as, in Patey's description, "a kind of mock-novel, a sly invitation to a game". Waugh's last fiction, "Basil Seal Rides Again", in which several characters from the prewar novels are resurrected, was "[a] senile attempt to recapture the manner of my youth". Slater notes that this last story begins in identical fashion to Waugh's first, "The Balance", with a "fusillade of unattributed dialogue".
Of Waugh's early books, Decline and Fall was hailed by Arnold Bennett in the Evening Standard as "an uncompromising and brilliantly malicious satire". The critical reception of Vile Bodies two years later was even more enthusiastic, with Rebecca West predicting that Waugh was "destined to be the dazzling figure of his age". However, A Handful of Dust, later widely regarded as Waugh's masterpiece, received a more muted welcome from critics, despite Waugh's own high estimation of the work. The book's ending, with Tony Last condemned forever to read Dickens to his mad jungle captor, was thought by author and critic Henry Yorke to reduce an otherwise believable book to "phantasy". Cyril Connolly's first reaction to the book was that Waugh's powers were failing, an opinion he later revised.
In the latter 1930s Waugh's inclination to Catholic and conservative polemics affected his standing with the general reading public. The Campion biography is said by David Wykes to be "so rigidly biased that it has no claims to make as history". The pro-fascist tone in parts of Waugh in Abyssinia offended readers and critics, and prevented its publication in America. There was general relief among critics when Scoop, in 1938, indicated a return to Waugh's earlier comic style; critics had begun to think that his wit had been displaced by partisanship and propaganda.
Waugh maintained his reputation in 1942 with Put Out More Flags, which sold well, despite wartime restrictions on paper and printing. Its public reception, however, did not compare with that accorded to Brideshead Revisited three years later, on both sides of the Atlantic. Brideshead's selection as the American Book of the Month swelled its US sales to an extent that dwarfed those in Britain, which was affected by paper shortages. Despite the public's enthusiasm, critical opinion was split. Brideshead's Catholic standpoint offended some critics who had greeted Waugh's earlier novels with warm praise. Its perceived snobbery and its deference to the aristocracy were attacked by, among others, Conor Cruise O'Brien who, in the Irish literary magazine The Bell, wrote of Waugh's "almost mystical veneration" for the upper classes. Fellow writer Rose Macaulay believed that Waugh's genius had been adversely affected by the intrusion of his right-wing partisan alter ego, and that he had lost his detachment: "In art so naturally ironic and detached as his, this is a serious loss". Conversely, the book was praised by Yorke, Graham Greene, and in glowing terms by Harold Acton, who was particularly impressed by its evocation of 1920s Oxford. In 1959, at the request of publishers Chapman and Hall and in some deference to his critics, Waugh revised the book and wrote in a preface: "I have modified the grosser passages but not obliterated them because they are an essential part of the book".
In "Fan Fare", Waugh forecasts that his future books will be unpopular because of their religious theme. On publication in 1950, Helena was received indifferently by the public and by critics, who disparaged the awkward mixing of 20th-century schoolgirl slang with otherwise reverential prose. Otherwise, Waugh's prediction proved unfounded; all the fiction remained in print and sales stayed healthy. During his successful 1957 lawsuit against the Daily Express, Waugh's counsel produced figures showing total sales to that time of over four million books, two-thirds in Britain and the rest in America. Men at Arms, the first volume of his war trilogy, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1953; initial critical comment was lukewarm, with Connolly likening Men at Arms to beer rather than champagne. Connolly changed his view later, calling the completed trilogy "the finest novel to come out of the war". Of Waugh's other major postwar works, the Knox biography was admired within Waugh's close circle but criticised by others in the Church for its depiction of Knox as an unappreciated victim of the Catholic hierarchy. The book did not sell well—"like warm cakes", according to Waugh. Pinfold surprised the critics by its originality; its plainly autobiographical content, Hastings suggests, gave the public a fixed image of Waugh—"stout, splenetic, red-faced and reactionary, a figure from burlesque complete with cigar, bowler hat and loud checked suit."
In 1973 Waugh's diaries were serialised in The Observer, prior to publication in book form in 1976. The revelations on his private life, thoughts and attitudes created controversy. Although Waugh had removed embarrassing entries relating to his Oxford years and his first marriage, there was sufficient left on the record to enable enemies to project a negative image of the writer as intolerant, snobbish and sadistic, with pronounced fascist leanings. Some of this picture, it was maintained by Waugh's supporters, arose from poor editing of the diaries, and a desire to transform Waugh from a writer to a "character". Nevertheless, a popular conception developed of Waugh as a monster. When, in 1980, a selection of his letters was published, his reputation became the subject of further discussion. Philip Larkin, reviewing the collection in The Guardian, thought that it demonstrated Waugh's elitism; to receive a letter from him, it seemed, "one would have to have a nursery nickname and be a member of White's, a Roman Catholic, a high-born lady or an Old Etonian novelist".
The publication of the diaries and letters promoted increased interest in Waugh and his works, and the publication of much new material. Christopher Sykes's biography had appeared in 1975; between 1980 and 1998 three more full biographies were issued, and other biographical and critical studies have continued to be produced. A collection of Waugh's journalism and reviews was published in 1983, revealing a fuller range of his ideas and beliefs. This new material provided further grounds for debate between Waugh's supporters and detractors. The 1982 Granada Television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited introduced a new generation to Waugh's works, in Britain and in America. There had been earlier television treatment of Waugh's fiction—Sword of Honour had been serialised by the BBC in 1967—but the impact of Granada's Brideshead was much wider. Its nostalgic depiction of a vanished form of Englishness appealed to the American mass market; Time magazine's TV critic described the series as "a novel ... made into a poem", and listed it among the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time". There have been further cinematic Waugh adaptations: A Handful of Dust in 1988, Vile Bodies (filmed as Bright Young Things) in 2003 and Brideshead again in 2008. These popular treatments have maintained the public's appetite for Waugh's novels, all of which remain in print and continue to sell. Several have been listed among various compiled lists of the world's greatest novels.[n 7]
Beneath his public mask, Stannard concludes, Waugh was "a dedicated artist and a man of earnest faith, struggling against the dryness of his soul." Graham Greene, in a letter to The Times shortly after Waugh's death, acknowledged him as "the greatest novelist of my generation", while Time magazine's obituarist called him "the grand old mandarin of modern British prose", and asserted that his novels "will continue to survive as long as there are readers who can savor what critic V. S. Pritchett calls 'the beauty of his malice' ". Nancy Mitford said of him in a television interview; "What nobody remembers about Evelyn is that everything with him was jokes. Everything. That's what none of the people who wrote about him seem to have taken into account at all."
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