Waugh and Mr. Toad

Novelist Andrew Martin has written a column in the Financial Times in which he confesses to enjoy reading fiction about the very rich. His favorite hero is Mr. Toad

not because he was, as he characterised himself, “handsome” and “clever”, but because he thought he was. His overconfidence — fatally combined with the means to enact his every whim — was the wellspring of all the action, and the rich do have great utility in fiction, because they have the power of agency.

Other examples of those who have written successfully about the rich include Jane Austen, Alan Hollinghurst and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Evelyn Waugh. Martin continues:

This does not mean, I hope, that I am craven towards the rich, or that I want to live a rich life vicariously, like the downtrodden suburbanite picking up Tatler in the doctor’s waiting room. Such wistfulness can afflict authors as well as readers, and it’s detectable in Evelyn Waugh’s portrayal of the gilded Flyte family in Brideshead Revisited, as he later admitted in a letter to Graham Greene: “I re-read Brideshead and was appalled. I can find many excuses — that it was the product . . . of spam, Nissen huts, black-out — but it won’t do for peacetime.”

The letter was dated 27 March 1950 and went on to say “The plot seemed to me excellent.   I am going to spend the summer rewriting it.” (Letters, p. 322)

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