Today’s Irish Times has a review of Philip Eade’s biography of Evelyn Waugh. The reviewer is Matthew Adam who begins with his own catalogue of some of Waugh’s nastier traits as recounted by Waugh’s friends and acquaintances as well as by Waugh himself. He then turns to Eade’s treatment of this theme:
Waugh needed his vices, cultivated them, was as proud of them as he was ashamed. As Philip Eade puts it in this brisk and entertaining new biography, they were both “defences against the boredom and despair of everyday life” and the outward signs of a hatred of the sentimental and demonstrative. They were also occlusive of the kinder and more generous facets of Waugh’s personality. Or so Eade argues. He quotes many of Waugh’s friends and acquaintances to support this proposition.
Adam is not convinced by Eade’s attempt to build a case for a kinder and gentler Waugh from sources such as his letters to Teresa Jungman:
Where Eade is more persuasive – and more interesting – is in his account of the forces that contributed to Waugh’s peculiarly fraught relationship with the question of love and friendship. The account takes us back to Waugh’s childhood, which was marked by a debilitating absence of love from his father, the publisher and literary journalist Arthur Waugh.
After describing Waugh’s troubled childhood and his distant treatment of his own children, the review concludes:
Eade is not much interested in Waugh’s literary achievements (he says at the start of the book that this is not a critical biography), but the limited use he makes of his work is intelligent and illuminating. These qualities are also apparent in his narration of Waugh’s troubled and troubling existence. Although one might wish for a more concerted engagement with the ways in which the tensions and the contradictions of Waugh’s personality are inscribed and modified in his writing, this biography nevertheless amounts to the best single-volume life of the author available. To read A Life Revisited is to experience a reckoning with a man whose life, like his work, is both a solace and a stimulus. And also, inimitably, a challenge.