Mrs. Melrose Ape in China

The South China Morning Post recently ran a story by Jason Wordie about the activities in China of the American evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson . While best known for her Angelus Temple of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Los Angeles, the precursor of today’s megachurches, her missions to China and South Asia also influenced later waves of U.S. missionaries. The article goes on to mention her inspiration of one of Waugh’s characters:

While she enjoyed a tremendous following, not everyone was a fan. In Vile Bodies, his delicious satire of the 1920s, Evelyn Waugh lampooned McPherson as Mrs Melrose Ape – a woman evangelist with her travelling troupe of “angels”. This cutting novel was written some years before conversion to Catholicism transformed Waugh into a humourless, snobbish, religious bigot of another kind.

The article might have mentioned another allusion to Mrs. McPherson. The heroine of Waugh’s novel The Loved One was named after after her.  This was Aimee Thanatogenos, whose father was a follower of McPherson and lost his money in religion at the Foursquare Gospel Church. As Aimee explained:

Dad wanted to change the name after he lost his money. I wanted to change it too but it rather stuck. Mother always kept forgetting what we’d changed it to and then she’d find a new one. Once you start changing a name, you see, there’s no reason ever to stop. (Little, Brown, 1948, p. 90)

Perhaps the SCMP‘s reporter would do well to read the whole of The Loved One before asserting that Waugh’s writing after his conversion to Roman Catholicism was “humourless.” The Loved One was written nearly 20 years after Waugh’s conversion.


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