EVELYN WAUGH, A Life Revisited by Philip Eade
One of the disadvantages of reviewing a biography is that unless it is about someone very famous and well-documented… someone who has left an extraordinary mark in public life such as John F. Kennedy or Princess Diana… or one who has lived a flamboyant life in society or the arts such as Marilyn Monroe or Elvis, reading a single bio about that person is usually enough to satisfy one’s curiosity. Reading just one however, makes it impossible to make a comparison to other available publications in accuracy, quality, and content. There are at least a dozen biographies on the market about Evelyn Waugh and this is the only one I have read. My review therefore, is based solely on the level it satisfied my curiosity while providing information of personal interest.
What sparked that interest is the fact that three of Evelyn Waugh’s works are on the Modern Library list of the best novels ever written; A Hand Full of Dust is No. 34, Scoop is No. 75, and Brideshead Revisited is No. 80. I’ve read and reviewed all three. No. 34 and 80 were excellent fiction. Scoop– on the other hand- was not nearly as good.
Biographies of writers are fascinating. They often bring a clearer understanding of the author’s philosophy and reveal the reason for the themes they have developed in their writing. There are several questions the reader must ponder. What was Evelyn Waugh all about? What drives a genuine artist like Waugh to make a career of his talent? Where did he get the ideas for his novels? It’s been said that an author of fiction should only write about things they know first hand. Did Waugh do that? And how did the social and political climate of his time effect the content of his books?
Evelyn Waugh, A Life Revisited did answer all these questions. The content was detailed and thorough, with quotes from Evelyn Waugh and many of his family members, friends, acquaintances, and business associates. His life is covered from birth to death.
He was neither a man of extraordinary public life, nor very flamboyant in his personal life. In fact, he appears to have been a very private man. He abhorred the decline of the upper-class of which he was a part and never overcame his awkward discomfort at socializing and mingling with common people. He was a snob. Of Americans he said, “My book has been a great success in the United States which is upsetting because I thought it in good taste before and now I know it can’t be.” Many people who knew him- including some friends- disliked his snobbish manner and snarky sarcastic attitude.
Many of the details of Evelyn Waugh are mundane. At least 50 pages are dedicated to his life during WW II. He served his country but not in active duty- primarily in administrative and correspondent duties- and much of his time was spent on personal writing projects. He was a highly respected writer and through his work, came in contact with officials of the highest level including the Pope.
Evelyn Waugh cleverly combined traits from various friends and acquaintances to fabricate his characters. He used authentic settings to model the locations utilized within his stories. And the comic satire of his books was part of his real personality.
The only thing missing in Evelyn Waugh, A Life Revisited, are authentic family photos which might have been included. I suppose that Philip Eade assumed that his readers would already be familiar with Waugh’s life. Surely, photographs of his wife, children, parents, and various locations of importance in his life would have appealed to the reader’s curiosity & senses.
Rated 4 Stars July, 2016
All contents © 2016 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.