EVELYN WAUGH NEWSLETTER AND STUDIES
Auberon Waugh, 1939-2001
eldest son of Evelyn Waugh, died at his home, Combe Florey in Somerset, in
January 2001. He was 61 years
My Father the Anarchist
In his autobiography, Will
This Do?, Auberon Waugh touched on the problem of writing about his
father. “I had thought, at one stage,
of a short memoir of Evelyn Waugh but could not decide what to call him:
Evelyn? Unthinkable. Papa?
Too sentimental. Waugh? I did not dare. The problem remains unresolved . . . .”
Will this do?
© 2001 by B. Douglas Russell
When Nancy Mitford reported Nicholas
Nabokov's desire to turn The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold into an opera,
Waugh's response was in the affirmative, "if I may sing in it &
design the scenery." Those entertained by the idea of Waugh on
stage may be intrigued by the English Chamber Theatre's Dearest Nancy,
Darling Evelyn, a dramatization of his lengthy correspondence with
Mitford. Fenella Fielding, who (if you recall as I do) literally
smouldered in Carry on Screaming, plays Nancy to a corpulent Roger Hammond's
Waugh. Seeing the fourth-ever performance in Dorking, I was struck by
the skill with which 600 pages of letters have been pruned and compressed
into a dialogue of two 50-minute halves, without either figure being unduly
misrepresented. Jane McCulloch, who devised and directed the show,
admits the process was a challenge, more so than her previous adaptation of
the correspondence between Roosevelt and Churchill. While those men's
letters were in the public domain, in this instance she had to seek the
approval of the Mitford Estate, the Waugh Estate ("more difficult")
and Charlotte Mosley, whose edition of the letters she was using.
"We finally arrived at a version that all three were happy with."
Waugh once wrote of the poet Stephen Spender (1909-1995) that "to see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee" (Tablet, 5 May 1951). This is not an emotion likely to be experienced by any reader of Waugh, who wrote more often like an angel than like an ape, but nevertheless his prose does have one great and puzzling flaw. He did not avail himself of the full richness and delicacy of the English language, because he did not use its relative pronouns well. In other words, he consistently used "which" when he should have used either "that" or nothing at all. This is puzzling not only because he violates the genius of the language, but also because he would have been clearly warned against it by H.W. Fowler (1858-1933), to whom he professed great devotion and who wrote with his brother Frank (1871-1918) in The King's English (1906):
Waugh began his career using the relatives well, though a strict Fowlerian might demand no relative at all in these examples from the opening pages of Decline and Fall (1928):
It is the pedantic Dr Fagan who uses "which" as a defining relative early in Decline and Fall:
Later, Waugh himself succumbs too and uses what is otherwise a rare defining "which":
This mixture of forms, with defining "which" more and more prevalent, is found throughout Waugh's work. In Work Suspended (1942), for example, he uses three forms of the defining relative in a couple of pages, two of them in contiguous lines:
There's a similar mixture in A Little Learning (1964):
It's difficult to see what principles Waugh is following, though rare occurrences of relative "that" in Sword of Honour (1952-61) seem to be triggered when the antecedent is governed by a preposition:
It seems possible that Waugh used "that" by instinct more often than this, but miscorrected to "which" during revision by a depraved taste he had succumbed to more and more after writing Decline and Fall. He was not a great innovator, but he was a great stylist, writing prose of a purity and limpidity that remain unsurpassed, and this flaw is both puzzling and worthy of further study.
In the 1980s, Auberon Waugh gave me permission,
on the condition that the result was never to appear in England, to collect
and publish what he called scraps from his father's wastebasket in Evelyn
Waugh, Apprentice: The Early Writings, 1910-1927. Now eighteen
stories from that volume and twenty-one previously collected and more
widely-known works of short fiction have been gathered in what the
dust-jacket flap calls "a dazzling distillation of Waugh's genius"
that, as the publicity release maintains, shows that Waugh "was also a
master of the short form."
The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography, by Douglas Lane Patey. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. 448 pp. $59.95. Paperback, 2001. $24.95. Reviewed by Sebastian Perry.
If Evelyn Waugh took active steps to encourage popular perception of him as snob and right-wing reactionary, he was in a sense only giving the public what it wanted. When, in June 1960, he reluctantly agreed to participate in the BBC television series Face to Face, the questions posed by interviewer John Freeman were of a sort all too familiar.
What distinguishes Douglas Lane Patey's biography from previous efforts in
the field is that it concentrates almost entirely on those aspects of his
life that Waugh himself thought most important and, in the case of his
artistic vocation and his religion, inextricable. The result is a
detailed and unexpectedly likeable portrait that complements rather than
supersedes other recent studies. While J. H. Wilson has dedicated an
entire volume to Waugh's childhood, adolescence and undergraduate days,
Patey (perhaps sharing his subject's scorn for the "Voodoo,
Bog-magic" of psychology) allows that period only fifteen pages.
Nor does he wish to better Selina Hastings's vivid account of Waugh as
socialite, soldier, cuckold and curmudgeon, choosing instead to compensate
for her scant literary criticism and puzzling inattentiveness to Waugh's
religious beliefs. Adopting a position akin to C. S. Lewis's on
Milton (i.e., that Waugh without his theology is like "centipedes when
free of their irrelevant legs, or Gothic architecture without the pointed
arches"), Patey examines the novels in the light of his spiritual
concerns. It is tempting to regard Waugh's Catholicism as a fait
accompli, but in fact he spent a lifetime attempting to reconcile his
creed with his artistic gifts. His fiction, Patey argues, was where he
gradually formulated his sense of an individual's ordained purpose sub specie
aeternitatis, culminating in Sword of Honour's exempla, Guy
Crouchback and his doppelgänger Ludovic. Brideshead Revisited,
which Patey calls "a masterpiece" (xvii), is lovingly and
sensitively elaborated upon over a whole chapter; even the pietistic Helena
is made to seem much more interesting than a first reading of it would
suggest. More startlingly, Patey propounds the thesis that, far from
being works of frothy frivolity or nihilistically black humour (as has long
been assumed), Waugh's pre-Brideshead, "comic" novels are
serious and fundamentally Christian in their preoccupations and satiric
intent--even those that pre-date his conversion. Patey is a first-rate
literary critic, but I cannot help feeling that his persuasive and exhaustive
defence of this assertion constitutes something of a Pyrrhic victory.
If two generations of benighted critics have propagated the "tenacious
myth" of these novels' playful secularism (58), Waugh must be held at
least partly responsible for this persistent misunderstanding.
"All literature," wrote Waugh in 1961, "implies moral
standards and criticisms--the less explicit the better". By
explicating the mechanics of Waugh's didacticism so thoroughly, Patey risks
inadvertently putting the reader off the very works whose virtues he is
seeking to promote.
It has been said that a
camel is a greyhound designed by a committee. Anyone doubting that
apothegm need only read this book and its credence will hit one squarely
between the eyes with refulgent force.
to be Filmed
Scholarship in India
Two Stories by Travelman
Evelyn Waugh Website
Trilogy on the Web
Brideshead Revisited in Japan
Biography of God