The latest TLS has a review of the two recently published books about Evelyn Waugh by Ann Pasternak Slater and Philip Eade. The review, entitled “Horrors of Waugh”, is available to read on the internet. It is written by journalist Violet Hudson whose articles frequently appear in the Spectator and Standpoint magazines.
She begins with examples of Waugh’s seeming child neglect as described in Eade’s biography followed by the observation that his children seemed to love him notwithstanding this treatment. She sees an explanation in Eade’s book:
Eade’s fine biography does a good job of pinning down the particular puckish charisma that made Waugh so popular. A large part of this charm, of course, is his comic genius. Waugh is by far the funniest writer of his generation. Eade’s biography is peppered with humour; the letters, liberally quoted, are full of jokes and witty observations. Even when he was unhappy he managed to be funny.
While Eade’s book concentrates on Waugh’s life, mentioning his works only sparingly as they are relevant, Slater concentrates on his works and uses them to illustrate his life:
A renowned Waugh scholar, Slater examines the novels in turn. Her work sheds light on how Waugh’s Catholicism influenced his work; her chapter on Brideshead Revisited is particularly strong…Yet one cannot help feeling that her admiration for his work clouds her judgement of his character. For Slater, Waugh is uncomplicatedly heroic, fighting not only for England in the war but “in defence of embattled Christendom”, as though he is a Crusader. She exonerates him utterly from the charge of snobbery which is often – and with a fair degree of justification – levelled against him, and which Eade is wise enough to keep his counsel on.
The review concludes:
Taken together, these two books admirably reinstate Waugh as the pre-eminent novelist of his era. His talent for deft characterization, mesmeric storytelling and constant originality is rightly celebrated by both writers.