Several bloggers have commented on or recommended the works of Evelyn Waugh in the past week. In Antick Musings, Andrew Wheeler recommends Waugh’s first novel Decline and Fall which he recently read for a second time:
Decline and Fall focuses intensely on the English social and class system of its day — as it was already beginning to crumble around the edges under the weight of modernity, the Great War, and the pressure of an unsustainable empire… This is actually one of Waugh’s sunnier novels, with something like a happy ending. And that ending might help some readers to miss the satire along the way … But early Waugh is one of the great nasty writers of all time, and his books are particularly good for those who spend too much time watching PBS costume dramas about the struggles of the deserving rich, with their four-hour dinners and their endless plans for advantageous marriages.
Another blogger (Casey Chalk) writing in Catholic Thing recommends Sword of Honour for its Roman Catholic viewpoint. After summarizing Guy Crouchback’s disappointing experience in WWII, Guy’s religious beliefs are brought to bear:
This is no heroic, good-versus-evil tale like “Patton” or “Saving Private Ryan,” but an epic pervaded by irony and deep cynicism regarding English bureaucracy and objectives. In spite of all this, Waugh does not leave the reader with the typical existential disenchantment in post-World War II literature. Rather, Guy remains a quiet but faithful Catholic in spite of failure and disappointment. That’s most visible in Guy’s determination to save 100 or so elderly Jewish refugees seeking exfiltration from Yugoslavia, while other British officers are advancing their careers or simply surviving… [Finally] towards the end of the trilogy, his estranged wife discovers she has been impregnated by one of Guy’s fellow officers. Unable to procure an abortion, she humbly begs Guy to take her – and the offspring of a man Guy detests – under his protection. These kinds of choices invite ridicule and social alienation. Guy notes that saying yes was “not the normal behaviour of an officer and a gentleman.” … Waugh writes: “in a world of hate and waste, he was being offered the chance of doing a single small act to redeem the times.”
Finally, Tod Worner posting on Aleteia recommends G K Chesterton’s works to Roman Catholic readers, a point on which Waugh would agree. When Waugh lectured to audiences at US Catholic colleges and unversities in 1949, Chesterton was one of the three British convert writers Waugh himself recommended–the other two were Ronald Knox and Graham Greene. Worner also recommends the biography of Chesterton by Maisie Ward as a helpful aid to understanding Chesterton’s work but overstates things a bit on one point:
Ward (of the famous Catholic couple and publishing firm, Sheed and Ward, which brought the world Christopher Dawson, Ronald Knox, Jacques Maritain, Hilaire Belloc and Evelyn Waugh) puts Chesterton in context… no small feat when contending with a genius of millions of words and countless insights.
Sheed & Ward were a relatively small firm that specialized in books by and about Roman Catholics and were responsible for the first US edition of Edmund Campion in 1935. They commissioned and published it jointly with Longmans, Green & Co. which issued the UK edition. This was a period of transition in Waugh’s US publishers. His previous book A Handful of Dust (1934) was published in the US by Farrar & Rinehart, and he had no US publisher for his next, Waugh in Abyssinia (1936). Little, Brown then picked him up, after having published a limited edition of Mr Loveday’s Little Outing and Other Stories, also in 1936, and became his regular US publisher with Scoop in 1938. R M Davis, et al., Bibliography of Evelyn Waugh (1986, pp. 8-11). So Sheed & Ward stepped in at a helpful time to assure US publication of Edmund Campion but could hardly be said to have “brought Waugh to the world.”