Evelyn Waugh

(1903-1966)

1903-1966

"You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being."

Birthplace

London, England

Education

Hertford College, Oxford (third-class degree - on being asked what he'd "done" for his college, Waugh replied "I drank for it"); art school.

Other jobs

His unhappy days as an assistant schoolmaster provided rich inspiration for Decline and Fall; he fought in the second world war (see Put Out More Flags).

Did you know?

During his first teaching job he attempted suicide by swimming out to sea but turned back to shore after being stung by jellyfish.

Critical verdict

Waugh was writing short stories from the age of four; his first published work was an essay on the Pre-Raphaelites, followed by Decline and Fall, which brought overnight success at a brat-pack age. An immensely skilled, consummately dry writer, his oeuvre includes social satire, war novels, travelogues and black comedy.

Recommended works

Scoop; The Loved One; A Handful of Dust; Brideshead Revisited

Influences

The early social satires have a strong Huxleyesque flavour.

Now read on

Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Anthony Powell, Rachel Cusk

Adaptations

A project to film Brideshead Revisited fell through when Waugh refused to concede final say on the script. A Handful of Dust (1988) is wobbly but watchable; 1982's TV miniseries Brideshead Revisited featured excellent casting and atmosphere. Stephen Fry's Vile Bodies adaptation, Bright Young Things, was all sugar and no spice.

Recommended biography

Douglas Lane Patey makes Waugh likeable; Selina Hastings puts him in social context; Martin Stannard is highly academic. Waugh's letters, diaries and a volume of autobiography, A Little Learning, have been published. See also the semi-autobiographical The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, written after a series of paranoid hallucinations, and the wonderfully acerbic Diaries.

Criticism

Robert Murray Davis's Bibliography; Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise.

Useful links and work online

Work online
· The Capture of Campion

Background
· A companion to Brideshead Revisited
· Edited transcript of his 1964 interview for Monitor, with audio clips

The GuardianTramp

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Waugh versus Hollywood

Evelyn Waugh's disdain for the cinema is revealed in memos he sent to the 'Californian savages' during negotiations over film versions of Brideshead Revisited and Scoop. Giles Foden decodes two unconventional treatments

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