Waugh’s Twofer in First Things

There are two articles on Waugh in the recent print and digital editions of First Things, a nondenominational religious journal. The first is a long essay on Waugh’s work and religion by Paul V Mankowski, SJ that is combined with a review of Philip Eade’s recent biography. This appears in the October 2017 print edition of the journal and is entitled “Waugh on the Merits”. It opens with a discussion of Waugh’s prose style. This is followed by a consideration of his religion and an illustration of his beliefs as displayed in his short story “Out of Depth.” Mankowski then discusses Waugh’s satire and explains how that is informed by his religion. Here he relies primarily on examples from Put Out More Flags and Helena.

After these matters are concluded. Mankowski turns to Eade’s biography. He explains how Eade has relied on prior biographies and uses unpublished materials to fill out and update these earlier works. He concludes:

With commendable moderation and, I think, insight, Eade permits the severest judgments on the character of Waugh—and they were severe—to be those attested by Waugh himself, whereas the evidence for virtues contrary to his self-constructed image of truculent misanthropy comes from the first-person testimony of recipients of his silent but exceptional and exceptionally frequent acts of generosity. One gets the sense throughout his work that Eade has set his hounds to sniff out the documents and interviews that give the truth, even if unsensational, rather than the racy or amusing anecdote; yet in the end his evenhandedness serves to sharpen rather than blur the likeness he has crafted. In sum, Eade succeeds in giving a convincing picture of a complex man—one more interesting, in human terms, than the portrait the artist gave us of himself.

In the journal’s online edition, Senior Editor Matthew Schmitz has written a shorter article about Waugh’s religious beliefs: “Christianity is for Cucks.” This starts with a quote from the same story “Out of Depth” cited by Fr Mankowski:

Dishevelled white men were staring ahead with vague, uncomprehending eyes, to the end of the room where two candles burned. The priest turned towards them his bland, black face ….

Evelyn Waugh knew that a vision of Africans proclaiming the faith to whites would startle his readers in 1933…I sometimes think we are heading toward the world described by Waugh. He got the idea from John Gray’s novel Park, whose hero is transported to a future in which savage Englishmen live underground while civilized Africans cultivate England’s green and pleasant land, celebrating splendid Latin liturgies, studying the perennial philosophy…

Schmitz goes on to describe emails from alt-right commenters arguing that, for reasons such as those described by Waugh, ‘Christianity is for cucks’, the alt-right’s abbreviation  for cuckolds. He goes on to explain that this attitude wouldn’t bother Waugh, citing as an example Guy Crouchback, one of Waugh’s best-developed religious characters, who goes through three volumes of Sword of Honour in a state of cuckoldry but comes out of it a better person.

“Out of Depth” originally appeared in Harper’s Bazaar (London) in December 1933 where it was subtitled “An Experiment Begun in Shaftesbury Avenue and Ended in Time”). It later was included (without the subtitle) in the 1936 collection Mr Loveday’s Little Outing and Other Sad Stories and is currently available in The Complete Short Stories.

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