The Australian magazine Quadrant has a review in its online edition by Mark McGinness of the early volumes of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh published earlier this week. The article is entitled “Total Waugh.” McGinness begins with an effort to make sense out of the selection of these first volumes for publication:
The first four volumes, published this week, cleverly encompass the young Waugh – his personal writings, his first biography, his second novel, and his autobiography.
Waugh’s early journalism will complete the package and, as noted by McGinness, this volume (the first of four devoted to this facet of his writing) will be published later this year.
Waugh’s first and last sentences are so elegantly apt. He begins A Little Learning with “Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.” The memoir closes in July, 1925, after a suicide attempt in Wales where he swam out to sea and met a school of jelly-fish; and swam back to shore. His last sentence reads, “Then I climbed the sharp hill that led to all the years ahead.”
The volume Precocious Waughs is the first of 12 devoted to personal writing and, to McGinness, this one contains the greatest revelation. It includes his schoolboy diaries and adolescent letters published for the first time. According to the editors (Alexander Waugh and Alan Bell):
“The clarity of his writing, even in adolescence, and his sharp eye for the absurdity of formal situations and social intercourse – the same traits that combined so artfully to make his fiction – are here all shown in their earliest forms, fusing to create a vivid critical and comical commentary on everyday life.”
McGinness concludes with a congratulatory message to OUP for undertaking this ambitious project, foreseeing what he describes as a “tsunami of Waviana” :
One might have expected this sort of honour to be restricted to Shakespeare, Austen or James. Instead it has been conferred on a twentieth-century writer, an abiding enemy of both the Common Man and the Modern Age, but one of the greatest stylists in the English canon. Even committed Wavians may quake at the fulsomeness of it all — four done and 39 to go – but the style, the tone, the presentation and erudition displayed so far, deserve the widest acclaim.
McGinness’s review is cited and linked in the “Prufrock” column of the Weekly Standard magazine which adds its comment:
The first volumes of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh will be published in a few weeks—a massive undertaking to print every word Waugh wrote. “One of the fascinating aspects of Evelyn Waugh is how much of his life he poured into his art. When his Diaries were published in 1976 his eldest son, Auberon, declared, ‘[They] show that the world of Evelyn Waugh’s novels did in fact exist.’”