Thursday, July 28, 2016

Portraits of Waugh …

 Evelyn Waugh by Ann Pasternak Slater and Evelyn Waugh by Philip Eade – review | Books | The Guardian. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Admiration set to one side, however, it has to be said that Waugh is an imperfect novelist. My feeling is that the “chaotic life” versus “imperishable art” counterpoint that he imposed on himself often let him down. Pasternak Slater would not agree – she sees intricate, complex artistic patterns where I would see bolted-on “literary” themes. For me, A Handful of Dust is a sustained act of revenge against Waugh’s first wife, Evelyn Gardner, and her shocking desertion of him. Even the pretentious title can’t disguise the fact. Brideshead Revisited is thinly veiled nostalgic autobiography – at its best – not “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters”, as Waugh himself intoned in the novel’s preface. The Sword of Honour trilogy is essentially Waugh’s war recounted, with all its absurdity, personal slights and bitterness, not some symbolic conflict between the values of Christendom and the atheistic impulses of Soviet Russia, and the shameful compromises of Britain’s wartime alliance with her.
I beg to differ. I don't know if there are any "perfect" novelists, but I think Waugh comes near perfection at times. And I think Waugh's description of Brideshead is quite correct. That is certainly how it struck me when I first read it in college.


  1. The works I have most recently re-read are Scoop and Put Out More Flags. Both could be called slight. But the former has a continuing hold on the imagination of journalists, at least: else why should Tina Brown call her site The Daily Beast, and why should have Murray Kempton tossed "Up to a point, Lord Copper" into an essay of 1980 or so, with expectation that it would be recognized? And the latter is very well done.

  2. I tend to agree, Frank. Thanks for the post. (And thanks, Dave, too.)