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Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh (October 28, 1903 - April 10, 1966) was an English satirical novelist, brother of Alec Waugh and father of Auberon Waugh. He is generally regarded as one the the greatest figures in English literature in the 20th century.
Born in London, Waugh was the son of a noted editor and publisher, Arthur Waugh, and was brought up in middle class circumstances in London. His only brother was the writer Alec Waugh. He was educated at Lancing College, a minor English public school with a High Church Anglican emphasis and then at Oxford University (Hertford College), which he left in 1924 with a third-class degree. At Oxford, he was known as much for his artwork as his writing, although he also threw himself into a vigorous social scene populated by both aesthetes and nobility, in which one of the vogues was queerness. Waugh had at least two gay affairs during this time, (this in addition to amours with other boys at Lancing), before beginning to date women in the late 1920s. In 1925 he taught at a private school in Wales and claims to have attempted suicide by swimming out to sea (turning back, however, when stung by a jellyfish). He was also dismissed from another teaching post for "drunkenness"
He was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker and worked briefly as a journalist, before he had his first great literary success in 1928 with his first completed novel, Decline and Fall. Other novels about England's "Bright Young Things" followed, and all were well received by both critics and the general public. He entered into a rather brief and unsuccessful marriage in 1929 to the Hon. Evelyn Gardner. (Their friends called them he-Evelyn and she-Evelyn). The marriage was annulled in 1936. His second marriage, in 1937, to the Roman Catholic Laura Herbert, daughter of Aubrey Herbert, was more successful, lasting for the rest of his life and producing six children.
Waugh's fame continued to grow between the wars, based on his satires of contemporary upper middle class English society, written in a prose which was both approachable and innovative. (A chapter, for example, writen entirely in the form of a dialogue of telephone calls). His conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1930 introduced a more serious undertone to his writing, and his faith, whether implicit or explicit, underlies all of his later work.
The period between the wars also saw extensive travels around the Mediterranean and Red Sea, Spitsbergen, Africa and South America. The numerous travel books which resulted are not regarded as among his better work. A compendium has been issued under the title When The Going Was Good.
World War II
With the advent of World War II, Waugh used "friends in high places", such as Randolph Churchill - son of Winston - to find him a service commission. Though thirty-six years of age with poor eyesight, he was commissioned in the Royal Marines in 1940. Few can have been less suited to command troops. He lacked a common touch. Though personally brave, he did not suffer fools gladly. There was some concern that the men under his command might shoot him instead of the enemy. Promoted to Captain, Waugh found life in the Marines dull.
Waugh participated in the failed attempt to take Dakar from the Vichy French in late 1940. Following a joint exercise with No.8 Commando (Army), he applied to join them and was accepted. Waugh took part in an ill-fated commando raid on the coast of Libya. As special assistant to the famed commando leader, Robert Laycock, Waugh showed conspicuous bravery during the fighting in Crete in 1941, supervising the evacuation of troops while under attack by Stuka dive bombers.
Later, Waugh was placed on extended leave for several years and reassigned to the Royal Horse Guards. During this period he wrote Brideshead Revisited. He was recalled for a military/diplomatic mission to Yugoslavia in 1944 at the request of his old friend Randolph Churchill. He and Churchill narrowly escaped capture/death when the Germans undertook Operation R?sselsprung, and had paratroops and glider borne storm troops attack the Partisan headquarters where they were staying. An outcome was a formidable report detailing Tito's persecution of the clergy. It was "buried" by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden as being largely irrelevant.
Much of Waugh's war experience is reflected in his Sword of Honour trilogy. The trilogy - and indeed all his work after the 30s - is one of the best books about World War II. Many of his portraits are unforgettable, and a few show striking resemblances to noted real life personalities. Many feel that the fire eating officer in the novels, Brig. Ben Ritchie-Hook, was based on Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart, V.C., a friend of the author's father-in-law. Waugh knew Carton De Wiart somewhat from his club. The fictional commando leader, Tommy Blackhouse, was based on Major-General Sir Robert Laycock, a real-life commando leader and friend of Waugh's.
The period after the war saw Waugh living with his family in the West Country at his country homes, Piers Court, and from 1956 onwards, at Combe Florey in Somerset, where he lived as a country squire. He bequeathed the latter to his son, the writer and journalist Auberon Waugh. He made his living through writing and became a self-parodying reactionary figure. He was bitterly disappointed when the Roman Catholic Church, which he in part loved for what he perceived as its timelessness, began to adopt modern vernacular liturgy and other changes.
Some of Waugh's best-loved and best-known novels come from this period. Brideshead Revisted (1945), is a brilliant evocation of a vanished pre-War England, while The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) is amazing for its dispassionate recounting of the hero's steady descent into madness - the experience was actually Waugh's own, the result of taking medication which induced a bout of severe paranoia on a sea-voyage to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Less successful was Helena, (1953), a fictional account of the Empress Helena and the finding of the True Cross. Waugh regarded this novel as his best work, a verdict which few others have ever shared.
Latterly Waugh put on a lot of weight, and the sleeping pills he took, combined with a heavy intake of alcohol, cigars and little exercise, weakened his health. His writing productivity gradually ran down, and there was a very noticeable falling off in the quality of what fiction he did write (his last published work, Basil Seal Rides Again, taking up some of the characters from his very earliest satirical works, fails to reach any dramatic climax). At the same time, he continued to produce valuable journalism, where the demands of sustained construction were less severe; and his power of delivering fearsome insults remained intact. Upon hearing that Randolph Churchill hadhad a non-malignant tumour removed, Waugh complained: "It was a typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it." His duties as paterfamilias brought him little pleasure: "My unhealthy affection for my second daughter has waned. Now I despise all my seven children equally."
He died, aged 62, on 10 April 1966, on returning home from Mass on Easter Sunday. His estate at probate was valued at 20,068 pounds sterling. This did not include the value of his lucrative copyrights, which Waugh put in a trust for his children.
" Decline and Fall (1928) Satire of the upper classes and social climbers
" Vile Bodies (1930) Brilliant satire with Waugh at his best. Adapted to the screen by Stephen Fry as Bright Young Things in 2003
" Black Mischief (1932) Satire on Emperor Haile Selassie and his attempts to modernize his realm (Waugh was deeply critical of modernity and notions of rational progress).
" A Handful of Dust (1934) Subtle critique of civilization set in English country house and British Guyana
" Scoop - the rush of war reporters to a thinly disguised Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) (1938)
" Put Out More Flags (1942) Satire of the phony war and wartime sillinesses
" The Loved One (subtitled An Anglo-American Tragedy)- about the excesses of a Californian funeral business
" Brideshead Revisited (subtitled The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder) - details the spiritual lives behind the facades of an aristocratic family and their friend, the protagonist (1945)
" Helena (1950) Historial fiction about the Empress Helena and the founding of pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land, also a Catholic apologetic about the True Cross
" Love Among the Ruins. A Romance of the Near Future (1953)
" The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957)
" Sword of Honour Trilogy
o Men at Arms (1952)
o Officers and Gentlemen (1955)
o Unconditional Surrender (1961)