Evelyn Waugh, Essayist

A Spanish language website has reposted a 2011 article from the Guardian’s “Top 10” series in which journalist Harry Mount, now editor of The Oldie, lists his favorite essays. He begins by defining the term:

There’s not much point in trying to define an essay. Its parameters are so broad and slack that they encompass practically any shortish passage of non-fiction which makes a general argument. As a rough rule of thumb, I’d say anything that creeps over 40,000 words is entering book territory; and anything too autobiographical strays into memoir. But, still, you could write 50,000 words about yourself, and it could be an essay in every regard.

Among the 10 examples he selects is Evelyn Waugh’s “A Call to the Orders”:

Evelyn Waugh considered life as a printer, cabinet-maker and carpenter before becoming a novelist. He maintained an interest in the visual arts throughout his life; this plea in defence of the classical orders of architecture appeared some time after his literary success began. The essay is full of angry argument, deep architectural knowledge and lyrical description. “The baroque has never had a place in England; its brief fashion was of short duration; it has been relegated to the holidays – a memory of the happy days in sunglasses, washing away the dust of the southern roads with heady southern wines.” You don’t have to agree with the argument to be compelled by it – a rare thing in an essay.

The essay appeared in a 1938 issue of Country Life, after having been rejected by Harper’s Bazaar. It is collected in A Little Order (p. 60) and Essays, Articles and Reviews. Among the other essays selected by Mount are George Orwell’s “Why I Write” and Isaiah Berlin’s “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, as well as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. Waugh also wrote an essay with Swift’s title taken as his subtitle for “What to do with the Upper Classes”. That appeared in Town and Country for September 1946.

Another member of the Waugh family may be branching into essay writing. Evelyn’s grand  daughter Daisy Waugh has written what is more an essay or op ed piece (which may come to much the same thing) than it is a news article. This is entitled “Unpopular Opinions” and appears in the online newspaper iNews. It addresses issues of political correctness that were favorite targets of both her grand father and her father (Auberon).

UPDATE: The last paragraph was added after posting those preceding it. Thanks to David Lull for sending this along.

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