William H Pritchard Reviews New Waugh Books

Noted US literary critic William H Pritchard has reviewed the two new books about Evelyn Waugh by Philip Eade and Ann Pasternak Slater. The article entitled “Evelyn Waugh Revisited” is published in the current issue of The Hudson Review. Prof Pritchard has written widely on 20th Century English literature with full length books on John Updike, Randall Jarrell, and Robert Frost as well as several collections of essays, including one on Waugh’s generation– Seeing Through Everything: English Writers 1918-1940. 

He is disappointed with Eade’s book:

The new biography by Philip Eade seems to have been written without more purpose than providing another readable account of the life. Eade tells us he wrote the book at the request of Alexander Waugh, who gave him full access to the Waugh archives. But although Eade dutifully lists what counts as new material…there is nothing revelatory that I could determine… Eade’s book is smooth reading, but Selina Hastings’ was superbly so, and with incisive treatment of the works.

On the other hand, Prof Pritchard finds much to recommend in Pasternak Slater’s book. He begins with his own categorization of Waugh’s novels into an “early period” (everything pre-Brideshead but including The Loved One and Pinfold) and late period (all the rest). After providing his own assessment and a summary of that of Edmund Wilson, he proceeds at some length to consider how Pasternak Slater deals with the oeuvre. He sees himself in agreement with her that the early books have been given more attention that the later ones and comments that she adjusts that deficiency by herself concentrating on the late ones:

The thirty pages Pasternak Slater devotes to Brideshead Revisited are partly directed at refuting Edmund Wilson’s assertion about the end of the novel…Pasternak Slater insists …that “revelation” is the point of the novel, and that both Ryder and the reader are slowly, sometimes unwillingly, brought to this realization …

Prof Pritchard expresses some reservations on this point but then reaches Sword of Honour:

Of the hundred pages Pasternak Slater devotes to the war trilogy, I will say little except to call it the heart of her book and her appreciation of Waugh. For fullness of presentation, sharpness of argument, I don’t see that it will be bettered… Sword of Honour is the “Catholic” novel that movingly completes thirty-three years of novel writing.

Thanks once again to reader Dave Lull for sending a link to this article. Ann Pasternak Slater is among the speakers scheduled to appear at the Evelyn Waugh Conference to be convened at the Huntington Library near Pasadena, California, in May. 

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