Wednesday, October 28, 2015

BIRTHDAY: Oct. 28–Evelyn Waugh (Updated Feb. 18, 2017)

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966)
This day in 1903 was born Evelyn Waugh in London, England. A latter-day Oscar Wilde, he was a witty novel-writer who shone between the two world wars.

His was the son of Arthur Waugh, director of a publisher with the rights to Charles Dickens' novels, for which Waugh did not care. Both Evelyn and his elder brother Alec became well-known novelists.

Evelyn wrote his first fiction at 7, called 'The Curse of the Horse Race," of which he was proud. He  told a Paris Review interviewer: "It was vivid and full of action." His poem "The World to Come" was written in the meter of Hiawatha.

Waugh was close to his mother Catherine but envied the bond between his father and older brother. Due to a homosexual scandal involving his brother at the Sherborne School, Waugh was required to attend a less-prestigious religious institution called Lancing. Nonetheless Waugh earned a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, which he loved. He rode a bicycle and smoked a pipe and "drank for Hertford" while constantly thinking of clever things to say or write. He neglected his academics trying to be an artist and writer.

Of his contemporary Graham Greene, who suffered from depression while at Oxford and kept to himself, Waugh reported that Greene
looked down on us (and perhaps all undergraduates) as childish and ostentatious. He certainly shared in none of our revelry.
A Balliol man, Greene graduated in 1925 with average honors in history. Waugh left Oxford without a degree.

After going down, Waugh took a series of low-paying teaching jobs while trying to be an artist. A friend, Anthony Powell, an editor at Duckworth, got Waugh a commission to write a biography of artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti. However, Waugh was displeased with his book. Still in debt, Waugh attempted suicide by drowning himself, but was stung by a jellyfish so he ran back out.

Pulling himself together, Waugh then wrote his famed first novel Decline and Fall (1928), about a schoolteacher named Paul Pennyfeather whose name betrays a lightweight character. Pennyfeather is sent down from Oxford for running across campus pantless. Then the only job he can find is at a school where other teachers are pedophiles or noisy drunks or both. About to marry the mother of one of his students, he finds that her income comes from South American brothels.

Waugh had a series of military appointments, travels and an unhappy marriage, all of which he used as material for his writing. Besides novels, he wrote travelogs and short stories. In 1930, Waugh covered Haile Selassie I's coronation as Ethiopia's emperor, calling it "an elaborate propaganda effort" to cover up the emperor's brutality.

Waugh based some later novels on his World War II service. His most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited (1945), was semi-autobiographical. It became a famed 12-hour PBS television series (1982) and then a well-regarded two-hour movie. Here is a greatly abbreviated description from Amazon:
Brideshead Revisited: Directed by Julian Jarrold, adapted by Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock. Evelyn Waugh's 1945 text follows artist-turned-soldier Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) as he enters Oxford and meets Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), black sheep of the Catholic Marchmains. Ryder falls for Flyte's sister, Julia (Hayley Attwell), though indomitable Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson) disapproves of his atheism. Sebastian wants Charles and his drinking accelerates when Ryder shows preference for Julia. Goode is as deft as Jeremy Irons in the TV series, but in both cases the shows lose steam when focus shifts from Sebastian to Julia.
Waugh died in Somerset, England, in 1966.

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