D J Taylor Reviews New Waugh Biography

Novelist and critic (and well-known Waugh fan) D J Taylor has reviewed Philip Eade’s new biography of Waugh in The National (an assertedly independent newspaper published in Abu Dhabi). As is the case with previous reviewers, Taylor’s verdict is mixed. He cites two fundamental problems facing Eade:

The first is that [the book] was commissioned by the subject’s family, meaning that politeness and some rather gratuitous compliments to surviving members of the clan are the order of the day.

The second is that so many previous biographers have staked out the territory…And this is to ignore a well-nigh unquenchable tide of letters to friends and considerations of, as it may be, Waugh at war, or the “Brideshead Generation” of writers who cut such a swathe through the English literary 20th century.

Taylor is not impressed by Eade’s claims to be able to offer important new insights from previously unavailable materials that the family has provided to him, citing the letters to Teresa Jungman and new wartime witnesses as examples:

Eade uses this material well, and is perfectly entitled to crow over it – what biographer wouldn’t? At the same time, he can do little to shift the well-established outline of Waugh’s career…The stones may have been tinkered with, but the pattern of the mosaic remains the same.

Taylor also joins several earlier critics who thought it a pity Eade didn’t take the opportunity to assess the new material’s impact (or not, as the case may be) on Waugh’s works. He concludes his review:

On the credit side, Eade writes neatly and has an eye for a quotation. While always determined to do his best by his subject, Eade is fully alert to the awfulness of a man who, while staying in Hollywood, could publicly refer to his host’s black servant as “your native bearer”, but this long-term Waugh-fancier wasn’t convinced. 

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