1.2 BIOGRAPHY

  • Name: Evelyn Waugh
  • Birthname: Arthur St. John Waugh
  • Born: 28 October 1903
  • Place of birth: London, England, UK
  • Died: 10 April 1966
  • Place of death: Combe Florey, Somerset, England, UK 
     

     

     
     

     

     

     

    Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh was born in a suburb of London in 1903, the son of a busy man-of-letters. Waugh’s origins were gentlemanly but in no way aristocratic, a point he seems to have been inordinately touchy about even as a boy. He was sent to Lancing, one of England’s less fashionable public schools; and from there he won a scholarship to one of Oxford’s decidedly less fashionable colleges. At Oxford, however, his wit, good looks, and resolute preference for the elite carried him into the company to which he aspired. There is a striking portrait of him at this time in Harold Acton’s Memoirs of an Aesthete:

     

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        • ” Oh, I adore Evelyn. He’s so frightfully witty and so fearfully rude. Terribly conceited, of course — and, poor sweet, rather ridiculous. But such a good writer!” Waugh died in 1966. In 2001, three of his books were named as part of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the editorial board of the American Modern Library.
          “He grows more old-fashioned every day. He seeks to live in an oasis.” Waugh himself affirmed with pride that he was “two hundred years” behind the times, and that there is no political party in existence which he finds sufficiently (in the strictly literal sense of the word) reactionary. He refused to learn to drive a car. He wrote with a pen which had to be continually dipped in the inkwell. And he preferred to communicate even with his neighbors by written message rather than resort to the telephone. A literary friend of Waugh’s once delivered a summation which neatly reflects the tenor of the anecdotes about him. It went:

           

      • “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.

        After the war, Waugh settled for many years at Piers Court in a secluded part of Gloucestershire, from which he occasionally made sorties to his London clubs. “I live in a shabby stone house,” he wrote in Life, “in which nothing is under a hundred years old except the plumbing, and that does not work. I collect old books in an inexpensive, desultory way. [His major avocation was the study of theology.] I have a fast emptying cellar of wine and gardens fast reverting to jungle. I have numerous children [three girls and two boys] whom I see once a day for ten, I hope, awe-inspiring minutes.”

        A few years previous Randolph Churchill said of Waugh:

         

    • “I still see him as a prancing faun, thinly disguised by conventional apparel. His wide apart eyes, always ready to be startled under raised eyebrows, the curved sensual lips, the hyacinthine locks of hair, I had seen in marble and bronze at Naples …” Other Oxford contemporaries have spoken of him in a harsher vein: “A bitter little man” — “A social climber.”

      After two years, Waugh voluntarily left Oxford without a degree, and, like Paul Pennyfeather of Decline and Fall, took a job in a school for backward boys. Later, he worked for sixteen days on Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express. His ambition was to be a painter, but a stint at art school left him dissatisfied with his talent. At this time, he has said, he was a pagan and “wanted to be a man of the world” — a well-rounded English gentleman in the eighteenth-century tradition. He joined in the whirl of Michael Arlen’s Mayfair. He “gadded among savages and people of fashion and politicians and crazy generals … because I enjoyed them.” But he was a worldling who could relish all this and still find it wanting. In 1930, after instruction from the celebrated Father D’Arcy, Waugh entered the Catholic Church.

      A few months earlier, his marriage to the Honorable Evelyn Gardner had ended in divorce. In 1937, he married again. His second wife was a Catholic: Laura, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel The Honorable Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert, second son of the Earl of Carnarvon.

      For nine years, Waugh had traveled often and widely, by preference to wild places. The best parts of the four travel books written during this period were later reprinted in When the Going Was Good, and they are still lively reading. One is periodically reminded, however, that Waugh’s touch is surer and more sparkling when he is using these same materials in his comic novels.

      With the advent of World War II, Waugh entreated ‘friends in high places’, such as Randolph Churchill – son of Winston, to find him a service commission. Though in his late thirties and of poor eyesight, he was commissioned into the Royal Marines and found more suited for intelligence duties than that of a line officer. He was promoted to Captain but found life in the Marines dull. Following a joint exercise with No.8 Commando (Army), he applied to join them and was accepted earning credit during the evacuation of Crete. Following he was placed on extended leave for three years and reassigned to the Royal Horse Guards as a result of an anti-Catholic purge in the Commandos by Lord Lovat. During this period he wrote ‘Brideshead Revisited’. He was recalled for a military/diplomatic mission to Yugoslavia at the request of his old friend Randolph Churchill. An outcome was a formidable report detailing Tito’s persecution of the clergy which was ‘buried’ by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (who also attempted to discredit Waugh) to save diplomatic embarrassment as Tito was then a required ally of Britain and official ‘friend’.

      In 1947 Waugh visited Hollywood as a guest of MGM to discuss a possible film version of Brideshead Revisited.

     

     

     

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