Vile Bodies Inspired by Misery

In today’s Boston Globe, columnist Alex Beam has an article bemoaning what he sees as the seemingly inexorable spread of gratuitous happiness. He cites Evelyn Waugh as an example of what it’s opposite can inspire:

What’s so great about happiness? I can’t think of anyone I admire who was happy. I’m reading “Vile Bodies,” the wonderful Evelyn Waugh novel that introduces the character of Mr. Chatterbox, the gossip columnist who makes things up. (Can you imagine?)
While writing this gossamer, light-hearted book, Waugh was as unhappy as a man could be. In the middle of composing “Bodies,” his wife Evelyn, or “she-Evelyn” as he called her, left him for another man. “I did not know it was possible to be so miserable and live,” Waugh wrote to his friend Harold Acton.  And yet he wrote a wonderful book. As always — paging Herr Kafka! — happiness is the enemy of great art. Misery worked for Evelyn Waugh. The Modern Library says he wrote three of the hundred best novels of the 20th century. Maybe it can work for you.

In his letter to Harold Acton, Waugh added “but I am told that this is a common experience” (Letters, p. 39).

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