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Evelyn Waugh (Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh) Biography

(1903–66), (Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh), Put Out More Flags, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall

English novelist, born in Hampstead, London, the second son of the publisher and literary critic Arthur Waugh, and brother of Alec Waugh. He was educated at Lancing and at Hertford College, Oxford, where he read Modern History and cultivated an outrageous persona; through his friendship with H. Acton, he was drawn into a literary and artistic circle which included C. Connolly, A. Powell, H. Yorke (Henry Green), and the celebrated aesthete B. Howard (later portrayed as Ambrose Silk in Put Out More Flags and as Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited). He left Oxford with a third-class degree and worked as a schoolmaster for a time, which he loathed. His first published work, a life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1927), was followed by his highly successful first novel, Decline and Fall (1928), which portrayed, in the character of Paul Pennyfeather, an innocent caught up in the decadent games of fashionable London society. In 1928 he married Evelyn Gardner but the couple were divorced in 1930, the year in which Waugh was received into the Catholic Church. Vile Bodies (1930) pursued his fascination with the hedonism and amorality of the ‘Bright Young Things’. The novels of this period are Waugh's Comedie Humaine, capturing the brittle cynicism of the post-war generation and containing some memorably flamboyant characters. They include Black Mischief (1932), written after a trip to Africa (about which Waugh also published a travel book, Remote People, in 1931), which introduced the unscrupulous figure of Basil Seal, a dilettante and adventurer, who becomes embroiled in the politics of an imaginary African country; A Handful of Dust (1934), perhaps his darkest work; and Scoop (1938), his comic account of Fleet Street corruption, based on Waugh's experiences as a war correspondent during the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in the 1930s, about which he also wrote in his collection of essays Waugh in Abyssinia (1936). Other travel writings include his account of a trip to the Mediterranean, Labels (1930), and his description of a journey through South America, Ninety-Two Days (1934). In 1937 he married Laura Herbert, a cousin of his first wife, and established himself as a man of property at Piers Court in Gloucestershire and later at Combe Florey in Somerset. In 1938 the first of his six children was born. With the outbreak of war in 1939 Waugh was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Marines, later transferring to the Royal Horse Guards, in which he served in the Middle East and Yugoslavia. Put Out More Flags (1942), which is set in London in the early months of the war, offers a valediction to the glamorous, if shallow, world depicted in the early novels. Perhaps his most famous evocation of the fin de siècle mood of the period appears in Brideshead Revisited (1945). His later novels also include The Loved One (1948), a macabre comedy about Californian funeral practices, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957), about the terrifying paranoid delusions suffered by a middle-aged Catholic novelist on a Pacific cruise. The latter novel is Waugh's most self-revealing work of fiction, although a more complete picture of the man emerges from his Diaries (1976; edited by M. Davie) and his Letters (1980; edited by M. Amory). His wartime experiences were chronicled in the Sword of Honour trilogy, which appeared in 1965 and was originally published as Men at Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955), and Unconditional Surrender (1961). Waugh's character, in his later years, was increasingly that of the irascible reactionary, renowned as much for the crusty anti-egalitarianism of his views as for his fiction. His novels offer a more subtle range of ideas; whilst they are, on one level, an excoriation of the follies of literary London between the wars, they are also a celebration of it. His other works include a collection of short stories, Work Suspended (1943), and the autobiographical sketch A Little Learning (1964), which deals with his childhood and youth at Oxford.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Robert Penn Warren Biography to Kenneth White Biography