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The Diaries Of Evelyn Waugh Paperback – 5 Jun 1995
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Travel in Africa,the English aristocracy,the bungling and courage of military life,post-1945 America, all these are favourable sites for the diaries of one of the harshest and funniest English novelists of this century.
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However, if I actually toted up the writers who were more or less horrible human beings, I wonder if they would outnumber those who seem to have been gentlepersons? I certainly wouldn't have wanted to have lunch with the following great writers who were arguably mean swine in life: Ernest Hemingway, Wyndham Lewis, Jonathan Swift, Kingsley Amis, de Sade, Genet, Philip Larkin ... and likely at the top of this list of unspeakable people would be Evelyn Waugh, with V.S. Naipaul a shadowy second.
Sadly, Waugh is probably the writer I like most of those I've mentioned, although Amis is certainly very entertaining at his best, even enlightening at times (THE GREEN MAN, e.g.).
Waugh was a snob in both the ordinary and religious senses, a boor in all senses of the word (someone once mentioned that he looked like a stuck pig). Reading the biography by Christopher Sykes, a close friend and fellow Catholic, makes you wonder if Sykes intended to damn Waugh with very faint praise.
He wasn't even kind to his family, treating his children in such a heavy-handed way that even Auberon, the most successful of them in worldly terms, never overcame his father's mistreatment. Laura, his wife, appears to have been his automoton and baby factory, even though those who knew her testified to her intelligence.
His bad nature permeates the book under review, as well as a capacity for boredom and depression that was likely organic. An appreciation and understanding of other great writers wasn't part of his equipment: though he apparently could read French fluently, he dismissed Proust as middling and declared that the characters in Stendhal's CHARTREUSE were psychologically implausible.
So why are Waugh's novels worth reading? First, because his prose style was perfect of its kind. (He claimed that the study of classical languages in boyhood was a requirement for being the kind of writer he was, though Kingsley Amis and V.S. Naipaul give the lie to that.).
His best books (DECLINE AND FALL, BLACK MISCHIEF, SCOOP) are wickedly hilarious and stylistically near-perfect.
Even his "serious" fiction, including BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, which is partly propaganda for the worst sort of mindless Catholicism, deserves to be read because it's so well-written.
Susan Sontag once opined that literature was not an equal-opportunity employer. In the case of Waugh, this is true to the nth degree.
He was a first-class s---, but I'll rereread his best books until I too become a portion of eternity.
1. If you love his novels, you should read his diaries.
2. You will realize where A Handful of Dust came from.
3. This book could knock a grown man out, both figuratively and literally.
4. if you love his novels, maybe you shouldn't read where his brilliance came from.
5. Read Scoop afterward to wash away the bittersweetness.
At the time of the African military campaign on Saturday, 15 May 1943, Sir Dudley Pound was addressed by Lady Cunard, called Emerald in the text, with a comment I quote:
Evelyn here is with Dicky, planning the Second Front. (p. 537).
Readers in 2017 might be aware of the Putin dimorphism in which guys gang up on the girls with special weapons to render people powerless. Piffle people who do not appreciate authoritarians creating pornographies of power nobody should know about could avoid reading this book to preserve their sanity.