It is a gift to the satirist to live in turbulent times but there still remains the task of encapsulating them. In Vile Bodies, an ostensibly superficial comic novel (Waugh wrote to Harold Acton, “It is a welter of sex and snobbery written simply in the hope of selling some copies”) Evelyn Waugh brilliantly, hilariously, unflinchingly but always humanely pinions a society that is in the thrall of gossip and decadence, traumatized by war and financial catastrophe yet unable to stop itself rushing headlong into further and deeper cataclysm. This is a book as much for our age as for Waugh’s.
Other books from writers of Waugh’s lifetime include Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis), Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) and Catch 22 (Joseph Heller). Waugh didn’t much care for the work of Amis or Heller, but another book on the list was one of his favorites: Diary of a Nobody (George and Weedon Grossmith). The quote is from a letter to Harold Acton written in July 1929 while Waugh was still writing the novel and just before he learned that his first wife had left him (Letters, p. 37).