Evelyn Waugh, by Martin Stannard
The novelist Evelyn Waugh would present a formidable challenge to any biographer. For one thing, his personality was hardly the sort that finds favor nowadays. Far from being “warm, open, and caring,” as the personal ads would have it, he was a master of the savage put-down—a man who not only mocked his acquaintances unmercifully behind their backs (and sometimes in his novels) but who, when invited to dinner, was likely to get drunk and abuse his host. In this Age of the Common Man, as he derisively called it, he refused to regard most of his fellow humans as equals; despite his own middle-class origins, he remained to the end a virulent advocate of the old aristocratic order that everyone else in postwar England was busily trying to dismantle.
Even more daunting is the thought of how Waugh might have felt about any account of his life. He would certainly have considered it presumptuous for a biographer to delve into his psyche, perhaps even to assume he had a psyche in the first place. If he were to be analyzed in any terms, he would expect them to be moral ones—the terms in which he presents the characters in his novels. Not only as a fervent convert to Catholicism but as a man haunted in general by a sense of his own and the world’s evil, he might have expected to be judged harshly, but only in terms he could respect.
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