The centenary of Evelyn Waugh’s birth passed on Tuesday (the 28th). In anticipation, critics and reviewers in the last year or two have released a flood of articles on Waugh and his place in the literary canon. Film adaptations have been in the works, including a controversial adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, and Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things, which was released last month in Britain. The Fry film is based on Waugh’s Vile Bodies, a send-up of 1920’s Britain.
On the strength of Vile Bodies alone, it seems to me, Waugh justly holds a reputation as a master satirist. A few Waugh links:
Brideshead Revisited is coming under attack in the Guardian:
What none of [the recent critics] considers, for all their supposed leftwing credentials, is the class politics expressed in Waugh’s most popular novel, Brideshead Revisited. It’s a book whose success made Waugh cringe, and yet it’s also one that expresses more eloquently, if unwittingly, a nostalgia among the English for a privileged stately home past that by definition only a negligible number of them enjoyed….
It’s one that reveals the self-hatred and inadequacy at the core of our postwar culture and it’s one whose persistence shows how distant we are from a truly classless society.
Some 1960 audio interviews with Waugh.
“The Balance,” a short story.
Quotable Waugh: “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.” (From the Diaries of Evelyn Waugh.)
Waugh on Paris: “Paris is bogus in its lack of genuine nationality. No one can feel a foreigner in Monte Carlo, but Paris is cosmopolitan in the diametrically opposite sense, that it makes everyone a foreigner.” (From Labels.)
Waugh on autobiography:
Don’t give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can’t express them. Don’t analyse yourself. Give the relevant facts and let your readers make their own judgments. Stick to your story. It is not the most important subject in history but it is one about which you are uniquely qualified to speak.
From a review of Selina Hastings’ biography:
The question of Waugh’s Catholicism has always been a puzzle, especially for those who were not brought up in that religion. Waugh viewed existence with a Manichean eye, and feared for himself and his soul in a fallen and still falling world: the Church, Hastings points out, ‘offered a safe and solid structure, a discipline, an ordered way of life which, once adopted, held out a clear prospect of salvation’.
In the end, however, with the papacy of John XXIII, even that rock-like edifice began to totter, and Waugh sank into what the Church considered one of the gravest sins: despair. ‘My life is roughly speaking over. I sleep badly except occasionally in the morning. I get up late. I try to read my letters. I try to read the paper. I have some gin. I try to read the paper again. I have some more gin. I try to think about my autobiography, then I have some more gin and it’s lunchtime. That’s my life. It’s ghastly.’ Late on the morning of Easter Sunday, 1966, he collapsed and died in the downstairs lavatory at Combe Florey. He was 63.
Stephen Fry spoke at the Guardian Hay festival about his adaptation of Waugh’s Vile Bodies and “the perils of selling cruelly ironic British films to American money men.”
Somewhat related: George Hunka writes about the experience of reading the autobiography of Auberon Waugh, Evelyn’s son, on the New York City subway. He said it’s “like reading science fiction, so remote from our day is Waugh’s world of vanishing aristocracy, cheerfully irritable public intellectuals and private-school pederasty.”
Please Note: in my original post, Alexander Waugh was quoted and misidentified as Evelyn Waugh’s son. In fact, Alexander was Evelyn’s grandson and Auberon’s son. He is writing a biographical history of the Waugh family. Thanks to Mr. Birns for alerting me to the error.