Evelyn Waugh (28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966) was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. His best-known works include his early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), and his novel Brideshead Revisited (1945). Waugh is widely recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century.
Waugh died in 1966, but his reputation has never slumped. His books are kept in print and there is every sign that he will become a classic of our prose. […] no general history of the twentieth-century English novel can omit him.
Things going wrong showed that Waugh was right, particularly to have become a Roman Catholic, since the Church was the only means to acceptance of the offer of redemption, the only way out.
It is precisely this distinction between idea and experience that fascinated Waugh. In his novels, actuality always proves too slippery and upsetting for the intellectual categories that had once seemed to make sense of it.
Waugh frequently, and increasingly, insisted that his Catholic faith was crucial for understanding his approach to life and, especially from Brideshead Revisited on, his themes and conceptions of character.
Though from the time he went up to Oxford Evelyn Waugh learned to prefer faster, smarter, and more wordily company than he knew at home, and so escaped his parents' world as quickly as he could, he never denied or sought to exaggerate his background. Nor despite the myriad accusations of snobbery that would be directed against him - and much posturing on Waugh's part contrived to invite such accusations - did he ever seek to mask that his income derived entirely from from he liked to call the 'family business'.
In fact, the mythology of Waugh's ogreish temperament was something largely constructed, with his help, through the popular press.
Evelyn Waugh’s literary contribution to modern culture is immense – memorable novels, insightful travel writing, perceptive journalism – but his greatest legacy is that he wrote stylish prose. He put down biting satire in Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust, wrote elegantly about World War II in his Sword of Honour trilogy of novels and managed to single-handedly create nostalgia for the fading British nobility in Brideshead Revisited.
“The father-and-son relationship provides one of the central themes of his fiction, running, almost obsessively through every book,” Alexander Waugh writes of his grandfather’s work. “But not until his last novel does the reader get to witness a father-son relationship that is even partially successful..."
Evelyn [Waugh] suffered from a melancholia of Johnsonian proportions, and he found life so terribly boring he could hardly endure from day to day; he was often ill, seldom completely well; he was the only person I have ever known who seemed sincerely to long for death; he was terrifying to a stranger, merciless to a friend; but it is true that his house and life revolved round jokes; ver, very funny jokes.
Waugh also exaggerated the social trends of his day to what he imagined to be a satiric extreme. Young people are so sexually experienced that they're no longer even turned on by sex. Gossip becomes front-page news in all the papers, especially a report that the prime minister's daughter has presided over an orgy at No. 10 Downing Street.
The problem was that Waugh's exaggerations were outdated almost as soon as he wrote them.
Putting aside Conrad and Woolf, Waugh may be the greatest English novelist of the century. He was also, quite consciously and for reasons almost inseparable from his rebarbative genius, a great hack. ''The Complete Short Stories,'' 39 of them, include a half dozen that are notable, if not up to the novels; and another eight or so that are interesting failures, or interesting because they so closely prefigure or replay the novels.
The writer of some of the most deadly satire of his age, he crafted some of Western literature's premiere novels exploring the mysteries of faith and the truth of Christianity. William F. Buckley, Jr., considered him the twentieth century's "most finished writer of English prose" (Waugh himself suggested P. G. Wodehouse as the top candidate for that honor), and Russell Kirk declared that "in any good literary history of his time, he should loom nearly as large as T. S. Eliot."
Waugh completed his "Roman Catholic" novel, Brideshead Revisited, during the war, which was published in 1945. A marked departure from his previous satirical style, this novel was a deeply serious examination of the workings of faith and providence in the lives of members of an ancient Catholic family. Considered by some critics to be Waugh's finest work, it was regarded by others as overwritten and snobbish.
Evelyn Waugh was born in London, the son of a publisher. He attended Oxford University, but took little interest in academic life, leaving without a degree.