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Evelyn Waugh: A Biography (Vintage Lives) Paperback – 30 Oct 1995

5.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New edition edition (30 Oct. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099436957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099436959
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 4.1 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,303,455 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


‘...gripping and thoughtful on every page.’ -- Mail On Sunday

‘A brilliant, three-dimensional portrait’ -- Country Life

‘Evelyn Waugh was one of the funniest writers in the language. Selina Hastings’s book is alive with his humour’ -- Sunday Express

‘Her style is supremely elegant and her eye for detail brings dazzle and wit to every page…This is a monumental book’ -- Independent on Sunday

‘Perceptive, witty and beautifully written’ -- Daily Mail

Book Description

'Evelyn Waugh was the most complicated of men-It is the first great virtue of Selina Hastings's splendid biography that she never forgets it. Consequently she has written a sympathetic and highly intelligent book which also - rarity of rarities these days - reads rapidly. It is sympathetic also because, like Waugh himself, the author adores gossip.'Daily Telegraph

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My introduction to Evelyn Waugh came when I had to read 'A Handful of Dust' for my English Lit 'A' level, well over thirty years ago. That intro led me to read all of his novels and most of his short stories. He was a brilliant chronicler of the British upper middle classes and minor aristocracy in the inter-war years, and reading this biography brilliantly illuminates the background to his novels, the real-life basis for some of his most memorable characters, and the events which informed much of his fiction. Selina Hastings manages to tell Waugh's story with a real lightness of touch that still manages to convey the weight and importance of Waugh's work. he doesn't always come across as a very likeable person, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; Hastings reveals the at times ugly truth of Waugh's character whilst telling the story with wit, warmth and charm, and the cumulative effect is all the more potent as a result. It never gets bogged down, is never 'worthy', frequently salacious, and always a delight. And it makes you want to go back to Waugh's novels with a renewed vigour, matching the real life characters to their fictional counterparts - sometimes they're elisions of the two, but the important thing is the real regard that Hastings obviously holds Waugh's work. If you have any interest in Waugh's work, do yourself a favour and buy this book - it does not disappoint.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am reading this book for the second time, and have been trying to work out why reading Selina Hastings is such unalloyed pleasure.

I got a clearer idea when I picked up a book by another writer I had ordered and skimmed a few pages, only to be hit by a familiar weariness.

Too many writers in English fall into one of two categories: their style is too academic or too informal. In both situations the reader is aware of the writer as an uncomfortable presence.

Selina Hastings' writing is absolutely clear: she never uses a difficult word when a simple one will do the job better; it is absolutely graceful: she is incapable of either pretentiousness or vulgarity; she is sometimes laugh-aloud funny, and she is always amusing.

One of her great gifts is to present a short account of each of Waugh's books which such economy and clarity that she arouses one's interest whether one knows the book inside out or has never read it.

Above all, and what a relief this is, she is non-judgmental. She presents her subjects exactly as she finds them, and yet manages to make them lovable. This is particularly useful here, because, as she states in the opening chapter:

"The reputation of Evelyn Waugh rests on two premises: that he was one of the great prose stylists of the twentieth century, and that as a man he was a monster."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have enjoyed Evelyn's Waugh's books for many years and, when I finally deciding to read a biography about his life, there seemed to be only one choice of author. Selina Hastings has written intelligent and in depth biographies of W. Somerset Maugham and Nancy Mitford, among others and her knowledge of that period of literature, and the people associated with it, are second to none.

I must admit that I was somewhat worried at reading about the personal life of Evelyn Waugh. Having read books by his brother, Alec Waugh, I was aware that he became more difficult with age and I was concerned that he would simply come across as utterly unlikeable . Selina Hastings certainly does not make her subject nicer than he was, but she does give a sympathetic portrait of him as a man and as a writer.

The book takes us from his childhood and the difficult relationship with his father Arthur, who saw his elder son, Alec, as "the son of his soul" and who found Evelyn a difficult and emotional child. Evelyn resented his father, was a bully at school and a priggish, religious child. At Oxford he was, of course, among the Bright Young Things and saw University as the chance for three years of idleness. His failure to achieve a good degree saw him having to take a job at prep schools; one of the most depressing times of his life.

We move through his first, disastrous, marriage to Evelyn Gardner (He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn), the shock and humiliation when he discovered she had been unfaithful and the beginning of his success as an author. Hastings follows his career as a novelist, travel writer and his attempts to annul his marriage and his second marriage to Laura Herbert.
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Format: Hardcover
I knew very little about Waugh before I bought this book. I only got it because of the author - Selina Hastings. I had read her biography of Anthony Blunt which I found very well researched. This one is just as good. Her research is second to none, and uses not only papers and diaries from Waugh himself but from those with whom he worked, lived and had contact so you do get quite a rounded picture of the man. He unfortunately lived up to his reputation as being quite unpleasant and irascible most of the time but when circumstances pleased him he would flower into a completely different person whose stories and mimicry could hold the crowd mesmerised. That wasn't very often though. He was a notorious drunk and that surfaces with regularity too.

And he was a snob - proud of it too. Loved his high quality food and deemed it a necessary not a luxury. I like the story where he met the Queen Mother for lunch at her home. She had two glasses of champagne ready. 'Isn't this a treat' she said. 'Champagne at lunchtime!' 'Is it?' he replied. He took it for granted and the Queen Mother was partial to a drop too but no where near what Waugh indulged in.

For a man who took his religion to the extreme right he lacked a lot of the finer graces of belief and was a most uncharitable man - to those he barely tolerated (most people) and his own children. Charity didn't start at home and went no further either. On the positive side he took his writing seriously when it suited him and Hastings gives us the good, bad and indifferent reviews of this writings at the time. He wasn't held in high esteem by everyone or every publisher. I felt I had met the man on completing the book or rather I knew a man I probably wouldn't like to meet would be more accurate.
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