1.4.3 Selina Hastings’ viewpoint

Retrieved from:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/1994/oct/30/biography.evelynwaugh


– Evelyn Waugh: A Biography by Selina




The young Waugh has always been seen as misanthropic, loutish, drunken and cold, and certainly this is how he liked to present himself. Hastings, however, does not waste much time on this elaborately assembled disguise, pushing it aside without comment to reveal the anguished young man cowering behind it. She quotes at length a very beautiful and heartbreaking love letter from Joyce Gill, a woman he had known from his student days at Oxford written after Waugh had married for the second time: ‘I think of you all the time when I am making love, until the word and Evelyn are almost synonymous! And in the darkness each night and in the greyness of each morning when I wake I remember your face and your voice and your body and everything about you so earnestly and intensely that you become almost tangibly beside me.’ A man who could provoke such love cannot have been the intolerant drunkard and religious reactionary of legend.

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.

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