Evelyn Waugh’s Centenary at Oxford

This month marks the centenary of Evelyn Waugh’s matriculation at Oxford. He started his Oxford career at Hertford College on 8 January 1922. That was the beginning of Hilary Term in 1922; this year, it begins next Sunday, 16 January 2022. The decision to start in a by-term rather than in the Fall or Michaelmas Term was primarily his father’s and had unhappy consequences later in his Oxford career. As Waugh explains in his autobiography, his father:

… in January 1922 decided to send me at once to Oxford in the by-term. I was eager enough to go and my father was showing his habitual impatience to get a task finished; in this case my education. He was growing weary of routine at Chapman and Hall’s and looked forward to retirement. He believed (a delusion as things turned out) that when I had my degree I should be off his hands and he so much the nearer to leisure or to less exacting work.

The original plan had been that, if I had won a scholarship, [which he did] I should go for nine months to France to get some command of the language. It has been my life-long impediment that I never did this. But I do not regret my premature matriculation. It sent me to university as a lone explorer.

Many men were content to confine their interests and friendships to their colleges. I do not know if I should have been, if I had come up at the normal time. As things were, I had little choice but to be a rover. A Little Learning, p. 135 (CWEW, v. 19).

In his third and final year, he faced final degree exams in the the Trinity Term (April to June). Because he started early, this was his 8th term of the 9 required for a degree. He planned to spend the following Michaelmas term in residence (in a flat to be shared with Hugh Lygon on Magdalen Street) in anticipation of little pressure of course work or exams. Because he passed with a poor third-class, however, he lost his scholarship, and his father refused to pay the costs of that final term. Waugh, therefore, left without a degree. This was not because he failed his exams (as many think) but because he was unable to complete the residency requirements. I have been told by Oxford officials that, under today’s practice, a request for waiver of the residency requirement would be routinely granted to any student who had passed his final exams before completing the 9 terms in residence. I wonder if it has ever occurred to the University that it might be a worthwhile gesture to bestow that degree posthumously.




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