Mark McGinness Notes Anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s Death

The Australian literary critic Mark McGinness has published an article in The Oldie that commemorates the 58th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s death on 10 April 1966. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Twenty years ago, Alexander Waugh wrote a brilliant collective life of his family, Fathers and Sons (Hodder). So what better time to recall a remarkable literary dynasty than the anniversary of his grandfather Evelyn’s death on 10 April 1966? It was Easter Day and Evelyn, that master of prose, monstresacre, and devoted Catholic, had just attended Mass in the ancient Latin rite said by his favourite Jesuit, Fr Philip Caraman, SJ, and walked home, in a mood of contentment, with his family to Combe Florey, his Somerset seat. As his friend and first biographer, Christopher Sykes, delicately put it: He retired to the back part of the house. He was found dead a few hours later. He had had a heart attack. He was only 62. How sad – yet ironic – that he would meet his Maker on the most sacred day in the Christian calendar but on the lavatory – such a profane spot – just like Apthorpe who met his death when the thunder box exploded in Men In Arms. How much more tranquil had Waugh expired in his sanctuary, among his books in the library?

But back to Alexander. The old Oxford English Dictionary apparently defines Waugh, when an adjective, as “tasteless and insipid” and when a noun as “an exclamation indicating grief, indignation or the like. Now chiefly attributed to N. American Indians and other savages.” Alexander claims that JRR Tolkein told his father Auberon that ‘waugh’ was the singular of Wales and effectively meant a single Welsh person. “Papa gleefully told this story to Diana, Princess of Wales, but to his dismay she didn’t appear to understand it.”…

The full article is available on The Oldie’s weblog and can be viewed at this link. Just for the record, I think Apthorpe met his maker not in his thunder box but in his sickbed in a West Africa military hospital after Guy Crouchback unwisely gave him the present of a bottle of whiskey while he was recuperating from some jungle fever acquired while on leave “up country.” The explosion in the thunder box may well have contributed to his early demise, however (Men at Arms, London, 1952, pp. 305-06).

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