The BBC Radio 4 Open Book episode broadcast today promised a guide to the works of Evelyn Waugh. This was offered in the form of presenter Mariella Frostrup’s interview of novelist and critic D J Taylor. Frostrup opened with a mention of the publication of Philip Eade’s new biography and notes that he writes about Waugh’s life but says little about his work. Taylor concurred that this was a mistake. One of the greatest interests in Waugh’s life was his stratospheric ascent through the British upper classes which can be traced in his writings. Frostrup credits Eade’s book with showing a romantic side to Waugh in addition to his better known satirical persona. Taylor agrees that this is shown in his letters to Teresa Jungman but also notes that it comes across clearly in his works as well, citing his obsessive feelings toward Diana Mitford as reflected in Work Suspended.
After a quote is read from Vile Bodies describing the party organized by Margot Metroland, Taylor notes that Waugh was on the fringes of the Bright Young People (as was his contemporary Cecil Beaton, the photographer). They were both careful not too get to deeply involved, so that after they had gathered their material (for books or photos), they could move on to their next project. When asked which of Waugh’s books should be selected as a starting point, Taylor recommended the first 10,000 words of Decline and Fall (Oxford through Grimes) and concludes that if a reader can’t enjoy that, his soul must surely be dead.
The program is available online on BBC iPlayer.