A review of The Loved One has appeared in the Italian language religious website Radio Spada. This is by Luca Fumagalli who has been working his way through Waugh’s oeuvre as well as that of his contemporaries. This latest installment is entitled: “‘The dearly departed’ by Evelyn Waugh: a satirical novel on the spiritual emptiness of the modern world (and of the United States in particular).” The Italian title of the book is “Il caro estino”, literally translated as “the dearly departed”. After an introduction explaining Waugh’s inspiration for the story during his 1947 trip to Hollywood and a summary of the story, the article concludes with this assessment:
…In a reality of widespread ugliness and madness, joke characters move lazily, bodies without brains who struggle to make a living amidst the small incidents of everyday life. None of them, however, is as detestable as the protagonist, a concentration of selfishness, insensitivity and cynicism. Mr Joyboy, basically a good-natured idiot, can’t do it, much less the unfortunate Aimée, perhaps the most elusive character in the whole story. The girl’s personality is such a high concentration of inconsistencies that Guido Almansi, in the introduction to the Italian edition of the novel by Bompiani, defines it as “the unsolved problem of the book”. […]
More generally, beyond the mockery of the Hollywood culture of appearances and that Anglo-American impasse which has its most successful manifestation in the British expatriate community – in this regard it should not be forgotten that the original subtitle of the novel is “An Anglo-American Tragedy” -, with Il caro estinto, the main goal of the author remains that of revealing the spiritual emptiness that characterizes modernity, a goal pursued through harsh criticism of the funeral business .
[…] Waugh wrote to Cyril Connolly that “there is no such thing as the American. They are all rootless: exiled, transplanted and doomed to sterility. The ancient gods who abjured eventually came back to take them.” Again, years later, when Jessica Mitford was immersed in research for her book The American Way of Death, Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford on the same wave-length: “Warn Decca before she makes fun of American customs that all the features of their funerals that appear gruesome to our eyes can be traced in the papal, royal and noble rites of the last five centuries. What is unique and deplorable will most likely not bother one like her; I’m talking about the theological void, the belief that the purpose of a funeral is to console the bereaved person and not to pray for the soul of the deceased”.
The infantilism and vulgarity of similar funerary customs also find a correspondence in the practices of the animal cemetery, where every distinction between beasts and human beings vanishes, thus ending up totally denying that sense of memento mori, seasoned with skulls, skeletons and worms, which had made Renaissance art great […] (Waugh reiterates this in his article about Forest Lawn for Life magazine). After all, the world of Il caro extinto is a spiritually brutalized universe, inhabited by dubious holy men and scrupulous preachers. Iconic, in this sense, are some lines that Aimée addresses to the Brahmin Gurù: “I am progressive and therefore I have no religion; but I consider religion something not to be mocked, because it makes many people happy, and not everyone can be progressive at this stage of Evolution.”
If Waugh’s intent, in the words of George Mikes, was to point out “the contrast between the treatment of the dead by a soulless commercial society and that of the Catholic Church”, it is quite evident that the target […] has been centered. But, after all, The Loved One– brought to the cinema in 1965 by director Tony Richardson – did not want [it] to be a Catholic novel or a spiritual text in the broad sense of the author. Waugh was only interested in lashing out against modern irreligion, showing how much comic and tragic there is in it. Perhaps he hoped that the reader, confronted with the disease of his time, would immediately rush out of the house in search of a doctor.
The retranslated quotes have not been corrected or edited but the Google translation in this case seems readable and generally correct. A few minor edits have been made. It is worth looking at the Italian original for the illustrations, especially an Italian version of the poster for the 1965 Hollywood film adaptation. Here is a link.