Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Evelyn Waugh

On this day in 1966 the English novelist Evelyn Waugh died at the age of sixty-three. Even those commentators who disagreed with Waugh's views and behavior thought him the best stylist of his day -- a writer, said Gore Vidal, of "prose so chaste that at times one longs for a violation of syntax to suggest that its creator is fallible, or at least part American." Many regard Waugh's earlier satires -- Decline and Fall, A Handful of Dust, Put Out More Flags -- as his greatest achievement; some prize the elegiac Brideshead Revisited; many prefer the less-filtered Waugh of the posthumously published letters and diaries. In different measure, all three categories combine the master stylist and the arch-conservative for our amusement and alarm: "Of children as of procreation -- the pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable" and "The only human relationships I abide are intimacy, formality and servility." Personally, Decline and Fall is still my favorite of all even though I admire tremendously the beauty and achievement of Brideshead Revisited. My disagreement with the philosophical point of view expressed in that book outweighs the stylistic achievement in my mind. I plan to read the Sword of Honour trilogy and look forward to more pleasure from the pen of this master.

2 comments:

copernicus said...

Of the Waugh I've read, Sword of Honour seemed to me the least arch and pretentious and the most like a work of art.

It doesn't suffer from the English problem of conventionalism so that even while the style is impeccable and the prose occasionally poetic, it doesn't bullshit the reader.

The big question to consider before reading it, however, is whether to acquire the three separate volumes in which it was originally published or to buy the single volume edition which Waugh revised when he was older and more conventionally committed to his Catholic faith and aggressive snobbery.

For me it was a no-brainer. Bought it in three parts, as orginally published.

James said...

Thank you for your comment. I was unaware that Waugh had revised his novels for the single volume edition of the trilogy and I appreciate the information.