Yesterday, 28 October, was Evelyn Waugh’s 118th birthday. He was born on that date in 1903. This event was marked in several brief announcements (including one showing that actress Elsa Lanchester was born on the same day, something the two of them once discussed at some length). There were at least two postings that offered more extensive comments. One was on the Roman Catholic website Church Militant which posted an article entitled “Waugh Contra Mundum”. It opened with this:
Perhaps best known for penning Brideshead Revisited, Waugh serves as an especial model for the laity, having faced and anticipated many of the difficulties Catholics grapple with today. Upon his conversion to Catholicism in 1930, he wrote, “The trouble about the world today is that there’s not enough religion in it. There’s nothing to stop young people doing whatever they feel like doing at the moment.” The same is, sadly, still true today.
The article by Samuel McCarthy goes on to discuss Waugh’s conversion to Roman Catholicism and his defense of the Latin Mass as well as other elements of the pre- Vatican II traditions.
The other was posted by author, satirist and radio presenter Garrison Keillor on his website The Writer’s Almanac:
…He came from a literary family: His father was the managing editor of an important British publishing house and his older brother was a distinguished writer. But Waugh didn’t do well in school and he left Oxford without receiving a degree. He tried working as a teacher but he got fired from three schools in two years. He said, “I was from the first an obvious dud.” He was seriously in debt, without a job, and had just been rejected by the girl he liked, so he decided to drown himself in the ocean. He wrote a suicide note and jumped in the sea, but before he got very far he was stung by a jellyfish. He scrambled back to shore, tore up his suicide note, and decided to give life a second chance.
He didn’t know what else to do so he wrote a novel about a young teacher at a private school where the other teachers are all drunks, child molesters, and escaped convicts; and the mother of one student is running an international prostitution ring. His publishers forced him to preface the book with a disclaimer that said, “Please bear in mind throughout that it is meant to be funny.” The novel, Decline and Fall, was published in 1928, and it was immediately recognized as a masterpiece of modern satire.