Evelyn Waugh’s Helena (1950). Said to be the favorite of his books, it is a slight, spare, comical fable about the life of Saint Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine and a Catholic convert who searched in her later years for the true cross on which Christ was crucified.
Other books on the list from writers of Waugh’s generation are I, Claudius by Robert Graves and The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault. There is an extended discussion of The Robe, both film and novel, but it is not included in the list. It is more “pop” than “literary.
A quote from Waugh also appears in today’s posting by Terry Teachout on his daily artsblog About Last Night:
As happier men watch birds, I watch men. They are less attractive but more various.
This comes from near the beginning Waugh’s final travel book, A Tourist in Africa (London, 1960, pp. 17-18). It concludes Waugh’s description of his encounter with a helpful travel agent’s representative on a Paris railway platform where Waugh changes trains and wonders about the man’s nationality and social background.