Aridea Fezzi Price writing in Il Giornale, an Italian language newspaper published in Milan, reviews Precocious Waughs. This is one of the first volumes published in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project and the first of 12 to be included in the Personal Writings series, edited by Alexander Waugh. After briefly describing the other three CWEW volumes thus far published, “randomly”so far as Price can see, the focus centers on Precocious Waughs because it contains mostly content that has not been previously published. According to Price:
… The most incisive and less amiable traits of Waugh’s personality are evident from an early age, drawings and caricatures illustrate vigorously the first ungrammatical writings of the diary, but his aesthetic sense is already so developed that he spontaneously criticizes himself for writing “a mediocre phrase” . The sloppy writing was always unacceptable to him.
These are the pages that best tell the… life of English public schools day by day, the behaviors and hierarchies, the role of sport, the comrades, in a purely English institution. From the pages of 1912-14, at the age of twelve, Waugh emerges already full of life, energetic, curious, sure of himself, ready to defend what he considers right and to oppose with his fists or bad irony what he perceives to be incorrect. We already have the material that he will rework in his novels from A Handful of Dust to Brideshead Revisited. But his sharp eye never ceases to review and criticize these journals even if many years later he will consider them “naive, trite and pretentious like all the diaries of adolescence”.
Rereading them later while writing his autobiography, he concluded, as Alexander Waugh cites now in the introduction, a lucid and ruthless verdict: “If what I wrote about myself is true, I was cold and heartless, arrogant, insensitive, presumptuous, a rogue. I would like to believe that in this private diary I disguised a more generous nature, that I knew the absurdity of considering the evidence, page after page, of my underlying malevolence”. The success of his first novels never calmed an unhappiness that for scholars is the basis of his conversion to Catholicism. Letters and diaries were always important for Evelyn, a way of life.
The first correspondence in this volume is written at four years, in pencil in block letters on a postcard to his brother Alec with whom he will always have a difficult relationship, as with his father, a severe publisher. He began to write the diary in 1911 at the age of seven, and, with rare interruptions, he will keep it until the year before his death, on Easter 1966…Writing his diary with cynicism gave him obvious pleasure. It was not by chance that he identified himself with Samuel Butler … Like Samuel Butler, mordant and ironic, Evelyn always knew how to look deep inside, and it was this Butlerian detachment from the outside world and from himself, which made him vehemently lift his pen against excessive emotions, “the old ones with their visions, the young with their dreams”. Precocious Waugh, already all in a nurshell.
The translation is by Google with a few edits and deletions. No attempt has been made to conform the English language quotations to the original.