The most important event in a busy year was the publication of Christopher Sykes' long-awaited Evelyn Waugh: a Biography (London: Collins; Boston: Little Brown, 1975), 468 pp. Despite manifest excellences, Sykes' discreet and sympathetic biography suffers from a tendency to ramble into personal reminiscence and literary criticism; the former fault has it compensations, the latter none. After two sparse, workmanlike chapters on Waugh's childhood and adolescence, which the reader accepts as necessary preliminaries to something better Sykes drops the bombshell which proves to be his book's undoing: because (he says) Waugh suffered from "a continuing and distressing psychological abnormality which took the form of self-hatred," his diaries are "suspect". And because they are suspect, it would seem to follow, they may be quoted only when the biographer deems them reliable. In the "self-hatred" argument (which in itself is probably correct) we no doubt have the reason why such an astoundingly small amount of diary material is admitted into the text. But the inquiring reader might well protest that he would like the chance to judge the reliability of the diaries for himself. Writing of Waugh's Knox biography, Sykes says, "Evelyn well knew the literary dangers attending labours of love, and so he attempted detachment. In this he was not quite successful." Nor, despite these remarks, is Sykes.
Sykes by no means ignores the diaries, but once he has discredited them he is forced to turn to his own memories and to the letters and memories of others, notably Nancy Mitford, A.D. Peters and Laura Waugh. This technique works well enough for the period after 1930, when Sykes met Waugh, but makes the account of the 'twenties disappointingly thin. A typical refrain here is: "to give a detailed account is unnecessary the record is especially suspect at this point." Thus, instead of Waugh's view of Waugh, we get other people's views of Waugh. The approach is anecdotal; it reads all too often like a longer version of the "reminiscences" which already abound - indeed, Sykes has not scrupled to quote extensively from these same, easily accessible reminiscences. At the expense, therefore, of what is new but "suspect," there is much that is old and tedious: the many excerpts from A Little Learning, the account of The Scarlet Woman, Acton's two Memoirs, Lady Diana Cooper's set-speech, The Tablet controversy over Black Mischief, Randolph Churchill and the tired anecdote of the white coat, "the Edmund Wilson affair," the story of Los Angeles and Whispering Glades, the Nancy Spain law-suits, "The Priestley battle," the "U and non-U" controversy and (to glance at Sykes as literary critic) the revelation, produced triumphantly like a rabbit from a hat, that Ludovic's novel in Unconditional Surrender is really a parody of Brideshead Revisited.
Not only is much suppressed (details about the Oxford period; the "two affairs of the heart" of the early 'thirties involving "a married woman with whom [Waugh] had enjoyed a liaison" and "a girl he hoped to marry"; the whole story behind the Crete debacle), but many valuable sources are ignored. While Sykes lists some fifty-seven acquaintances to whom he is indebted for "letters, advice and discussion," he casually dismisses scholarly material: "the bibliography which the student needs to master is not large," he says, producing a comically brief list of books which the "researcher needs to consult." Just one example of skimpy homework is Sykes' failure to bother obtaining transcripts of Waugh's radio and television broadcasts, readily accessible in the B.B.C. archives.
But there is at the same time a sense in which such objections do not count, since Sykes' narrative is plainly not directed toward an academic audience. After the scholar has registered his complaints concerning omissions, the inadequate index and the non-existent footnotes and has taken his (undeserved) lumps for engaging in "pedantic debate about trifles," there is much to assuage his disappointment.
It is extremely interesting to learn, for example, that Waugh's first wife "never loved Evelyn" and "had married Evelyn only to escape parental tyranny." One of the most remarkable and moving things in the book is Waugh's letter proposing marriage to Laura - blunt, tender and defensive all at once. The account of Waugh's meeting with Mussolini is not common knowledge, though one could have wished for more. Not new, but candid, is Sykes' account of Captain Waugh's "critical and disruptive" personality during the war. Such was Waugh's "total incapacity for establishing any sort of human relations with his men" that "unknown to Evelyn, Bob Laycock set a special guard on Evelyn's sleeping quarters." Equally remarkable, when one knows Waugh's expressed distaste for psychology, is the news that Pinfold originated as therapy. And after so much evidence of Waugh's rancour, it is soothing to read about his charity in helping Alfred Duggan and Moray McLaren.
There are, in addition, many wonderful new anecdotes: Waugh writing on "The Mothers of the Younger Generation" when it should have been "Manners"; forgiving Richard Heygate for adultery by postcard ("O.K.E.W."); confusing Teheran and Baghdad; his pop-eyed jealousy when Sykes was chosen to parachute; his demand that Sykes should hand over his treasured hat; refusing to carry two watches lest he "should be made to look ridiculous"; "gurgling between ear-splitting ululations 'I-want-the-book-now'" in Wilton's Oyster Bar; needling T. S. Eliot's friend Tom Hayward when Eliot refused to meet him; drilling his Intelligence section of three men ("form fours!") at dawn beneath the Commandant's window for revenge; smug in middle age because Acton had called him a faun; laughing by mistake at Paul Claudel's photograph; giving up his ear-trumpet when Ann Fleming pounded on it with a spoon; and receiving letters from Dame Edith Sitwell, his "loving god-daughter." Bonus gems include Randolph Churchill bellowing details about his "top-secret" Croatian venture, Tito's side of the lesbian story, and Professor Whittemore's description of Henry James: "Heavy."
Among a multitude of "identifications" we learn that Rex Mottram "is closely modelled on Brendan Bracken" (not Beaverbrook): that Mr. Samgrass is Sir Maurice Bowra: that Anthony Blanche is Harold Acton after all, and that Ivor Claire is not Sir Robert Laycock, as astutely alleged by Ann Fleming. For some reason the identity of Ritchie-Hook is coyly concealed. Guy Crouchback, we are told, is probably Harry Scrope.
Sykes is at his best among anecdotes. When he strays into literary criticism, his judgments are capricious and feeble: thus, the early Waugh resembles Scott Fitzgerald because both refer to the weather; the plot of Scoop is "as complicated as the plot of the most sophisticated French or English eighteenth-century farce"; Atwater is "the most successful and amazing of all Evelyn's imagined characters," and Work Suspended is "a book without blots", "the best thing he had written." Thus, too, "Apthorpe is a bore who bores", Guy Crouchback is a "grave blemish" and his marriage to Virginia is just "part of an under-dog's doom." And Sword of Honour is "an enormous tragedy," a "picture of service life that can stand comparison with Kipling."
Sykes' Evelyn Waugh is a mixed blessing, and has received mixed reviews. Peter Stansky in the New York Times Book Review (Nov. 30, 1975), pp. 2-3, 58-59, finds it "a disappointment irritatingly thin or secretive"; Gerald Clarke in Time (Dec. 8, 1975), pp. R7-R9, dismisses it as "a shoddy and ill-organized homage"; Bernard McCabe in Commonweal (Jan. 16, 1976) pp. 52-54, says, "This biography is simply premature"; Noel Annan in The New York Review of Books (February 5, 1976), pp. 19-22, finds it "an excellent book, civilized and enormously readable"; L. E. Sissman in the New Yorker (February 9, 1976), pp. 106-8, approves of it as "a voyage of discovery in the variousness of human nature," and Angus Wilson in T.L.S. (October 3, 1975) pp. 1116-17, doubts that any subsequent Waugh biography can be better. Sykes' Evelyn Waugh will fascinate the general reader, for whom it will serve as an urbane introduction into Waugh's savage world. But the scholar, who likes facts, will resent the fundamental evasiveness at the heart of this biography, which in the end, conceals Waugh while pretending to reveal him.
In contrast to Sykes' achievement, Dudley Carew's A Fragment of Friendship (London: Everest, 1974) 96 pp., is meagre in the extreme. Sub-titled "Evelyn Waugh as a Young Man" and dedicated "to E.A. St. J. W. as I knew him," the book surrounds an idealized young Evelyn Waugh with a nostalgic, self-indulgent and (at times) imperfectly remembered golden aura rather creakily re-invoked for the occasion. With a barely-concealed resentment at what Waugh later became, Carew's bitter-sweet "tribute" deals with that far-distant time (1920-30) "before wine and anger had got to work on those eyes, before there was any cigar to jab."
Carew is best when dealing with the Lancing years, when he played Boswell to Waugh's Johnson, "hoarded Evelyn's letters and any writings, school essays and so on of his" and insisted "that Evelyn would be a great man and author." He repudiates A Little Learning as "that disastrous book," the "worst book Waugh ever wrote," and laments that in it Waugh was "fanatically determined on wiping from the earth all memory of the marvellous creature that was Evelyn Waugh when young." Like Sykes, he discredits the diaries, contending that Waugh wrote them to capture material for his creative writing and that they are "one long exercise in his own particular brand of fantasy." Even more than Sykes, Carew rejects the evidence Waugh himself left behind: far from being blasé and biased against Lancing, Waugh was in fact "bursting with ideas and enthusiasms"; he was affectionate, aggressive, spirited, opinionated, noisy and full of "cheerful invective"; he really admired Roxburgh more than he ever admitted and Crease a good deal less. The idyllic picture which Carew draws of the Lancing years, when he enjoyed with Waugh "an intellectual friendship cemented by affection," is almost completely at odds with the bleak account we get in A Little Learning. The accuracy of Carew's account must be measured against the golden haze which so evidently colours his memories, and it may be distorted further by his resentment at being rejected by Waugh later and ignored in A Little Learning. Nevertheless, there may be a useful corrective to the latter book in Carew's insistence that Waugh was determined to "falsify all that he was, and all that happened to him, during those Lancing years."
Sensationally sub-titled, "The Fact Behind His Fiction," Gene D. Phillips' Evelyn Waugh's Officers, Gentlemen and Rogues (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975) 180 pp., is a concise, well-organized and readable text based on the thesis that "Waugh was able to transmute into fiction whatever experiences life offered him." Thanks to the diaries, Phillips says, "The reader can now grasp just how close the personal vision of Waugh the novelist is to that of Waugh the man." Phillips confines himself to the fiction but supports his analyses with information drawn from Waugh's diaries, journalism, travel-books and from comments made by Waugh's family and friends. Throughout there is (almost excessive) stress on the religious nature of Waugh's vision.
On closer consideration there are certain problems attached to Phillips' correlation of fact and fiction. Many of the correlations solve no real problems and too often the "facts" fail to fulfill the promise of the title. (Perhaps Phillips has not been allowed to tell all - once again, for example, we fail to learn who Ritchie-Hook is). Apart from the main contention that Waugh's life informs his basically religious fiction, there is no overriding interpretive thesis: many analyses tend towards summary. Finally, despite the air of discovery with which it is advanced, the revelation that "the world of Evelyn Waugh's novels did in fact exist" is surely only what we expected. The opposite would have been news. What we might have hoped for was a theory about Waugh's imagination, exploring the possibility that Waugh processed reality according to some discernible pattern.
Fr. Phillips' book is plainly introductory, as witnessed by his explanation of persona, the hypostatic union, accidia and by his reminder that the Yahoos are to be found in Gulliver's Travels. But as an introductory text it seems to me that his book succeeds very well: his style, organization and flow are all excellent, and the analyses are clear. Phillips is at his best in his discussion of Brideshead, into which he integrates his considerable knowledge of the page-proofs, and his account of the trilogy in terms of the accidia theme is also rewarding.
In his extremely interesting illustrated article. "Evelyn Waugh's Drawings," Texas Library Chronicle (N.S. 7, Spring, 1974) 40-57, Alain Blayac explores a hitherto ignored aspect of Waugh's artistry. He lists some 110 items and reproduces a number of drawings (one from the Heatherley period) which confirm Waugh's right to serious consideration as a creator of designs, cartoons, heraldry, Christmas cards, "and, most important of all, the illustrations for his novels." While he observes, "perhaps he could have become a clever cartoonist caricaturing his life and times," Blayac does not in the end make excessively large claims for the merits of Waugh's drawings but notes, justly, that they illuminate his literary themes and "contribute to the total development of his creativity."
The reprint of Rossetti (London: Duckworth, 1975) appeared in October with a new preface by John Bryson, who finds that the book "remains a stimulating introduction both to Rossetti's life and to his work." It is, however, "a young man's book with his provocative prejudices and enthusiasms, and his occasional inaccuracies." Bryson questions Waugh's claim that Rossetti's "spiritual inadequacy" transfers itself to his art and suggests that here Waugh confuses moral and artistic values. Essentially a belated review of Rossetti, Bryson's preface is amusing and informative and though he tactfully disagrees with Waugh on several issues he is far from condemning him: "Here in the making is the writer who was never afraid to give forcible expression to his likes and dislikes."
In "'A Flat in London' and 'By Special Request,'" PBSA, 69 (Fourth Quarter, 1975), 565-68, R.M. Davis compares two versions of the alternate ending for A Handful of Dust. "Even in relatively minor work [Waugh] strove to make the smallest elements of style and detail exactly represent his meaning."
Jerome Meckier, in "The Case for the Modern Satirical Novel: Huxley, Waugh and Powell ," Studies in the 20th Century, 14 (Fall 1974), 21-42, argues that rather than speaking merely of satire in the novel we may regard the modern satirical novel as a distinct genre, a question over which much ink has been spilled. Insofar as the article concerns Waugh and his circular plots and symbols, Meckier says little that Kernan has not already noticed. And insofar as his over-all thesis is concerned it will, as Meckier himself admits, "always be safer to speak of satire in the novel."
In an amusing but occasionally tasteless interview, "I was Evelyn Waugh's Batman," Punch (Nov. 19, 1975), 960-61, Peter Buckman tries to tempt Ralph Tanner to incriminate his former superior officer. Despite leading questions, Tanner loyally maintains that Waugh was not a tyrant, did not exploit him, was not irascible, nor rude, never got roaring drunk, never fell asleep in evening-dress in a cold bath, did not pick his toe-nails nor vomit: "This reputation he's supposed to have for rudeness is totally alien to the Waugh I knew."
Calvin W. Lane's "Evelyn Waugh's Radio and Television Broadcasts, 1938-1964" EWN 9, ii (Autumn 1975) 1-4, is an extremely good account of Waugh's brushes with the B.B.C., many of them notable for their hostility. This might be the place to add that there is a very amicable Waugh interview by the Canadian broadcaster Nathan Cohen which appeared in Anthology, CBC radio (August 14, 1956), ranging over a variety of interesting subjects and ending with Waugh offering Cohen a glass of sherry. Other CBC Waugh broadcasts are "A Profile of Evelyn Waugh," Tuesday Night (October 28, 1969) and Sunday Supplement (October 26, 1975) in which Christopher Sykes is interviewed about his recent biography.
My own recent efforts in Waugh criticism are "Waugh's Decline and Fall in Manuscript," English Studies, 55, vi (Dec. 1974), pp. 523-30, a comparison of the manuscript and published versions, and "Brideshead: The Critics and the Memorandum," English Studies, 56. iii (June 1975), pp. 222-30, an account of the critical response to Brideshead and the memo Waugh wrote to explain his novel to M.G.M.
Not available at the time at writing this "Year's Work" are D. Paul Farr's "The Novelist's Coup: Style as Satiric Norm in Scoop," Connecticut Review, 8 (April 1975), 42-54; B.W. Wilson. "Sword of Honour: The Last Crusade," English, 23 (Autumn 1974), 87-93; Philip Knightley, The First Casualty. . . The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth-Maker (New York: Harcourt-Brace); Brian Wicker, The Story-Shaped World: Fiction and Metaphysics (London: Athlone Press); Allan Rodway, English Comedy, Its Role and Nature (U. of California Press). These and other items will be reviewed, all being well, next year.
The Waugh-Betjeman correspondence at the University of Victoria has grown since it was first mentioned in these pages (see EWN, 6 (1972), 2-3). Since then an additional seven letters and ten postcards, dating from the period 1940-1966 have come to light, bringing the total correspondence to forty-seven letters, thirty-four postcards and one telegram from Waugh to Betjeman, and two letters from Betjeman to Waugh.
Included with the correspondence are another two letters from Waugh written to Betjeman's wife Penelope, and a questionnaire compiled by Lady Betjeman, and completed and returned by Waugh.
Of particular interest, in the light of the correspondence previously described here, is a four page letter from Betjeman dated Christmas Eve, 1946. It is an eloquent, carefully reasoned apology for Betjeman's Anglo-Catholic beliefs, and forms an important link with Waugh's long and zealous letters attempting Betjeman's conversion.
Also noteworthy are Waugh's many anecdotes and accounts of outrageous incidents and eccentric acquaintances.
Probably the greatest value of the new correspondence, however, lies in its contribution to a balanced picture of Waugh himself, as he is shown in the process of a long exchange of praise and criticism, empathy, entertainment and interests shared with Betjeman.
Recently, sixty-five of Waugh's cards and letters to Betjeman were transcribed and edited by James O. O'Connell as a University of Victoria M.A. thesis (1972): Letters to a Friend: Some Letters and Postcards from Evelyn Waugh to John Betjeman, 1936-l960.
From time to time, EWN has published some Waugh letters which were of interest. We continue this custom with the following two items. The first letter is undated, but based upon the type of notepaper, monogram, etc., it can be pinpointed to March 1931. The second letter, to an American admirer, was written January 9, 1954.
Or are you Father Robertson now? I have just returned from central Africa to find heavy snow and six months mail - amongst it your very kind letter of December 4th. You must have thought me very discourteous in not answering. Please forgive me.
I will probably be in Rome some time this Spring and will certainly came to see you. I want to learn Italian. Perhaps you will put me on to a good tutor?
Dear Mr. Rappaport,
Many thanks for your kind letter of 29th Dec. It is a most generous thought to offer me a first edition of Mr. Loveday. I possess one already so please do not put yourself to the trouble of sending it.
I wish I could send you a photograph of myself. I am afraid I don't possess one. I can assure you that it will be no 'decoration' to your house. I am dead plain.
With all good wishes for the New Year I am, sincerely yours,
Christopher Sykes, Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, Boston: Little, Brown, 1975, $12.50 462 pages - Reviewed by Charles E. Linck, Jr.
Mr. Sykes may now join the ranks of the greater humorists. As a latter day continuation of Oxford rags, Evelyn Waugh: A Biography qualifies him.
True, a biography should paint a portrait of a personality, in this case of "An Ungentle Gentleman," to steal from the Commonweal reviewer; but it never occurred to me for a minute that Mr. Sykes was going to ignore the factual data available to him to the extent that he has done.
It is equally incomprehensible to me that he ignored the exchange of letters between Mr. Greenidge and myself and my loan of my dissertation. Since my work (Univ. of Kansas, 1962), one important item has appeared: Waugh's Diary; one important collection has become available; Waugh's personal library at the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas; a good list of all available items in Evelyn Waugh: A Checklist, by R.M. Davis, et al, (Whitson, 1972); one autobiography: Waugh's A Little Learning; and now we have the official biography from Mr. Sykes. Both of the latter must be labeled as suspect so far as accurate historiographical work is concerned. In my PREFACE I remarked the absolute need for documentary correctives to fuzzy memory found in undocumented memoirs.
Mr. Sykes' new book is an undocumented memoir, depending heavily on the Diary; on A Little Learning; an otherwise unavailable collection of letters from, to, and about Waugh; and Mr. Sykes' personal, British-Upper Classes-biased memories. One all-pervading principle, in addition to the usual man-of-letters, slow release of information (for one does not interfere with others' literary property, does one?), is the avoidance of repetition. That is, if others have remarked certain details, facts, data, then one does not incorporate those in one's work; for that would require footnotes, and, perhaps, copyright permissions. Thus Mr. Sykes offers much new material, which is good.
However, a caveat: the authority of an official biography, necessarily and for all time, casts doubt, for all time, on omitted details, facts, data by the very omission, which is bad. No casual student of the future is likely to hunt for, even think to hunt for, much less believe, facts which the official biographer omits.
What we expected was a scholarly biographical account by such as a Carlos Baker, and we have waited a long time for it. Mr. Sykes, who had all the stuff under his control, has ignored our need and his duty; he merely attempts to paint an impressionistic portrait of the still saleable author of a series of more-or-less controversial comic books. The books have created some interest in the creative personality and Mr. Sykes attempts to render his view of that cantankerous person, not especially to cover up any facial blemishes but to unify the author with his books. He does allow in his PREFACE a remark that other biographical accounts will be necessary.
Unfortunately they will have to depend on Mr. Sykes' slow release of document, will be a long time a-coming thus, and will be defective unless all his resources are available for examination and unless all his own memories are scrutinized for correction in the light of valid supportive data.
As stated, it is difficult for me to understand that Mr. Sykes ignored my own dissertation, or avoided repetition, or even denied some documented events, some of each, for he had inveigled me through Mr. Greenidge for a copy and permission to use it and our exchange of over two hundred letters apiece on the subject of Waugh. We even arranged that Terence would further correspond with me on same specific points that Christopher wanted explained, routing the letters first to the latter who would then send them on to me, which he never did, thus terminating our correspondence in effect. This hurt Terence's feelings; Christopher dismisses Terence merely as "an extreme eccentric" (p.38).
Further discrediting is accomplished by making fun of American style scholarship, dissertation type: among the letters to Waugh was one from Ms. Mitford. She heard from it "an American writer" in June (1961), who wanted help: "The poor man's distorted idea of Evelyn's earlier life in London society appealed to something cruel in Nancy." She exchanged two nice letters with the poor fellow, then wrote to Waugh in October, but did not write a third letter to the poor man, whose "we" meant his wife and year old boy (p. 409) and who had been encouraged by that time to write a rather silly letter fishing for further response, true. My own rough draft of the first letter to Ms. Mitford indicates the quotation was from Mr. O'Faolain's The Vanishing Hero (Universal Library, 1956), p. xl, the words reproduced by Mr. Sykes being Mr. O'Faolain's. The request of Ms. Mitford was that she aid in decreasing this "sort of half-informed gossiping," and it is my opinion now, reviewing her letters, that she was being helpful; she did not get around to supplying the next, potentially "cruel" missive, which makes one wonder whether Waugh was my good angel and scotched it. Mr. Sykes, who has my work in hand, must actually appreciate that, but perhaps he is responding to my request for some acknowledgement in his PREFACE in the best comic humorous fashion; one is reminded of Waugh's own comic touches in his review of WHO'S WHO that very summer. Yes, my book never found a publisher - all these years it has been laid aside waiting for Mr. Sykes' book. One now regrets it, of course.
These things were done to discredit the authority of other versions of Waugh's life and works apparently. This is not the scholar's way but it fits neatly with the opinions expressed about scholarship such as found in the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter (p. xi), a vetty Bridish attitude, à la Evelyn Waugh's own comic humor.
Well, Mr. Sykes' book does have some goodies, if one can trust them. There is much about Waugh's divorce, his wartime activities, his later career and life, which I have not seen before. Would that one could trust it, would that there were footnotes, would that we did not have to accept it at face value without the evidence of gold bullion or at least certificates of deposit. Certainly the Sykes' method will require much skepticism. Do we have here the newest sort of black humor comedy?
Gene D. Phillips, Evelyn Waugh's Officers, Gentlemen, and Rogues, Chicago: Nelson-Hall, Inc., 1975, $9.95, 180 pages. - Reviewed by James F. Carens
Gene D. Phillips, S. J., gives us a sympathetic account of Waugh's career and a careful exposition of the novels, as he sees them, in terms of Roman Catholic morality and theology. Not the least parochial in attitude, Father Phillips is prepared to regard Helena as a lesser work in the entire oeuvre because of its apologetic strain, to demonstrate the absurdity of the Tablet's puritanic attack on Waugh in 1933, and to explore Waugh' s painful disenchantment with the Church in the final months of his life. Only in his chapter on Brideshead Revisited does Father Phillips' emphasis on theological concerns seem to me a distinct limitation - not because it leads him to be doctrinaire, really, but because it leads him to ignore the emotional and social aspects of Waugh's perspective in the novel. As a result, I think he seems to avoid both the aesthetic defects of what he regards as Waugh's central novel and the substantial critical problems it has raised, for Waugh's admirers. On the other hand, in this Brideshead chapter there is good material on Waugh's own desire, in 1950, to rewrite the novel; on the revisions he made for the 1960 English edition in his effort to prune away certain of the excesses of the original and to emphasize unity of theme; and on his deletions from the page proofs, also with the latter end in view.
In his interpretations and valuations of the individual works, Gene D. Phillips does not depart in significant ways from earlier writers. But he has made good use of Waugh's prefaces to the edition of 1960 in order to illuminate Waugh's own later attitudes towards his works; and he has made good use of his conversations with members of Waugh's family, in particular with the late widow, and with Rev. Martin D'Arcy, S. J., Waugh's close friend. It is interesting to learn that Laura Waugh insisted, in conversation with Father Phillips, that her husband's purpose in depriving Guy Crouchback of children of his own - by a slight revision introduced into the one-volume redaction of the Crouchback trilogy - was to emphasize Guy's generosity in taking Trimmer's bastard as his heir. Indeed, I have always felt that the reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, who indicated that the disappearance of Guy's own children was due to the melancholia and disenchantment of Waugh's final years, was guilty of a simplistic biographical interpretation; thus I particularly enjoyed this biographical detail.
Yet I am not always so happy with the biographical aspect of Evelyn Waugh's Officers, Gentlemen, and Rogues or with the handling of the facts behind the fiction. According to the publisher's blurb, "Professor Phillips is the first critic to be granted permission by the Waugh estate to use Waugh's diaries in making a comparative analysis of his fiction"; but though Auberon Waugh's observation that his father's diaries "show that the world of Evelyn Waugh's novels did, in fact, exist" stands as an epigraph to his study, less is done with the diaries or with the issues they raise about Waugh's imagination than one would expect. I cannot help feeling that the real subject of Father Phillips' study is the moral-theological one mentioned earlier, and that the title and subtitle of his book reflect a less persuasive theme.
In his concluding chapter, Gene R. Phillips argues that he has demonstrated that, "First, the novelist transmutes the experience and observations of his personal life into his work; and, second, he incorporates into his fiction his personal outlook on life as it develops out of reflection on his experience." I think there are few writers or critics who would be inclined to dispute these truisms. In a particular passage demonstrative of his thesis, Father Phillips draws our attention to parallel passages in Waugh in Abyssinia and Scoop. In the first book, Father Phillips tells us, Waugh describes the "facts" of the system by which telegrams were delivered by illiterate messengers, "to the first white man they saw. The latter would read all the telegrams that looked promising and finally hand back to the messengers the ones that were not for him." He then quotes the pertinent passage from Scoop:
Telegrams in Jacksonburg were delivered irregularly and rather capriciously, for none of the messengers could read. The usual method was to wait until half a dozen had accumulated and then send a messenger to hawk them about the more probable places until they were claimed.
Finally, Father Phillips concludes that "Without Waugh's description of the same procedure in Waugh in Abyssinia, the reader of Scoop might well assume that this absurd method of mail delivery in Jacksonburg was too farfetched to be anything but the product of Waugh's satirical imagination. Fact, it seems, can be just as comical as fiction." It seems to me that an entirely different set of conclusions could be arrived at on the basis of the two passages. 1) Waugh actually has understated in Scoop the absurdity described in Waugh in Abyssinia. Hawking about has replaced most of the details Father Phillips cites from the latter. 2) Waugh in Abyssinia is no less fictive than Scoop. It is those facts Evelyn Waugh noticed and recorded; it is, in short, an imaginative recreation. 3) One does not, in fact, need Waugh in Abyssinia to accept the passage in Scoop, for there it is entirely appropriate to its satiric context and understandable in terms of the imaginative vision on which the novel rests.
Furthermore, I think one needs to ask how much it really helps just to be told that Waugh's own divorce had an impact on A Handful of Dust, that the indestructible Grimes was based on a homosexual schoolmaster named Young, Ambrose Silk on the notorious Brian Howard, Sebastian Marchmain on Oxonians Hugh Lygon and Keith Douglas, Major Hound on an actual World War II officer, etc., etc., and that these are "facts" behind Waugh's fiction, and - extraordinarily - "not merely the creation of a novelist's imagination." That "merely" really bothers me. Surely it is upon the transmutive process and the imagination itself that the emphasis should fall. As Yeats superbly put it, "A poet writes always about his personal life, in his finest work out of its tragedy, whatever it be, remorse, lost love, or mere loneliness; he never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table, there is always a phantasmagoria." It is for the phantasmagoria of a Yeats or a Waugh - no mere things - that we esteem them. According to Father Phillips, Decline and Fall was "based" on Waugh's "experience as a school master." Why then all that satire in it on modern architecture, the white-slave trade or Paul's beloved, prison conditions, and penal reformers? To my knowledge one could not assert that Paul's experience in prison was based on Waugh's, or that Waugh's visits to brothels much resembled what happens to Paul. There is, for the artist, imaginative experience.
Christopher Sykes has recently warned future biographers not to be taken in by Waugh's diaries and by the way he depicts himself there. Surely this is a consideration we must take into account in examining the diaries and how they may be related to the novels. Their real significance is that they show Waugh's psyche as it responds immediately to the "facts" - whatever they may have been - and imaginatively transforms them. In one of the passages in his book in which he does examine in length an episode recorded in the diary, Father Phillips asserts that Major Hound of Officers and Gentlemen "was suggested by a fellow officer of Waugh's." Unquestionably he was. But what really signifies is how Waugh saw him. When we find Waugh describing the officer "hunched up under a table 'like a disconsolate ape,'" we discern in that deadly simile not necessarily the man who suggested Hound but what Evelyn Waugh discerned of that man; and we are in on the beginning of the imaginative process that led to the brilliant burlesque of dogginess by means of which Waugh expressed his disgust with what he regarded as England's sub-human failure on Crete.
If one is to explore the facts from which a fiction emerges, it seems to me one has to ask some tough questions about the artistic process of transmutation, questions I do not find in Evelyn Waugh's Officers, Gentlemen, and Rogues. Why, for instance, did Waugh transmute the homosexual schoolmaster Young into that comic apotheosis of the Life Force, Grimes? And why did he transmute his own abortive suicide attempt into the disappearance of Grimes? Why is Sebastian Marchmain based not only on Hugh Lygon and Keith Douglas but also upon the far more outrageous Brian Howard - elsewhere rendered as the more ridiculous Ambrose Silk - and also, for that matter, on Rimbaud? In effect, it seems to me that if one is to be concerned with "how Waugh's personal life and viewpoint become part of his fiction," as Father Phillips declares he is, then one must explore Waugh's psyche far more deeply than he has done - and I am not arguing for the application of crude Freudian formulas.
Father Phillips believes that from "the values incorporated into his fiction the reader can build a picture of the author's persona - the totality of attitudes and opinions which the author implies to be his own." I find it more useful myself to distinguish between the artist's personae, or masks, and the themes, or total patterns of meaning, inherent in his works, of which these are only a part. Certainly Waugh projected personae in these works: Paul Pennyfeather, Adam Symes, Tony Last, Charles Ryder, and Guy Crouchback, no less than Gilbert Pinfold and the narrators of the travel books. He projected a persona in his own life as well, a persona which found its completion in the check-suited, ear-trumpet bearing, rotund curmudgeon of the last years. No more than any of the characters was this persona the whole man but just as surely as they, the persona was an imaginative creation. Certainly one can move from the details, plots, symbols, characters, tones, and patterns of Waugh' s novels to a comprehension of their governing themes, even to a view of Waugh's world-view. But to know the artist himself has always seemed to me the most difficult and hazardous task the critic can set himself. One must master not only manuscripts, editions, diaries, letters, all the personal associations, the gossip, the reliable testimony, the social history of the writer's time, but also the psyche itself, that complex and elusive thing, in all of its dimensions, from the sexual to the metaphysical. One must ask, too, the difficult questions about the nature of fact and the fictive process; one must focus upon the moment of transmutation, "At midnight on the Emperor's pavement " It is not enough to note that there are dolphins, flames, spirits, and smithies there. In Evelyn Waugh's study at Piers Court or Combe Florey where an extraordinary writer pushed around a few words each day, as in Byzantium, and as in the workshop of Daedalus, complex, diverse, even terrifying forces were released; upon these the artist seized; he hammered them into complex but single forms, bearing thenceforth no simple relation to his own being or the "facts" of his time.
I noticed a curious thing about the [Sykes biography] the other day. The index of both editions, English and American, on p. 462 under "Waugh, Margaret (Mrs. Fitzherbert)", has an entry which says "memoir of her father, 451-55." This is actually the case in the original British edition of the book, published by Collins. But in the American edition published by Little, Brown, although the same entry on the "memoir" appears in the index, the "memoir" itself does not appear on pp. 451-55; the index itself starts on p. 451!
I happen to have the "memoir" from another source; it was reprinted on p. 19 of the (London) Observer Review for September 28, 1975, the day before the book appeared in England.
Can you (or any of your readership) fathom why this piece by Margaret Waugh Fitzherbert, which was thought so choice as to appear in full in the Sunday Observer has disappeared from the American edition of Sykes's biography?
Rev. Gene D. Phillips, S.J.
Loyola University of Chicago
Ed's Note: Correspondence with Little, Brown failed to answer this interesting question. We ask help.
We were unaware of Laura Waugh's death until we saw this sad event mentioned, without data, in the Sykes biography. We, therefore, asked Auberon Waugh to give us some basic information to share with the EWN. He kindly furnished us with the following facts.
Laura Waugh died on June 17, 1973 of pneumonia after a short illness. No obituaries were published because Mrs. Waugh was "an intensely private person who neither sought nor welcomed attention." A brief announcement appeared only in The Times.
A Requiem Mass was said by the Rev. Philip Caraman, S.J, at Taunton, and she was buried at Combe Florey on June 20, 1973, which would have been her fifty-eighth birthday. "She was born the youngest daughter of Lt. Col. the Hon. Aubrey Herbert, M.P., and spent her childhood in Somerset, close to where she later came to live at Combe Florey."
Mrs. Waugh was especially generous and understanding in correspondence with me in the late 1960's, and I take this occasion to give sincere and prayerful respect to her memory. (PAD)
The Evelyn Waugh Newsletter, designed to stimulate research and continue interest in the life and writings of Evelyn Waugh, is published three times a year in April, September, and December (Spring, Autumn, and Winter numbers). Subscription rate for libraries and interested individuals: $2.50 a year (£1.10p in England). Single copy 80 cents. Check or money orders should be made payable to the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter. Notes, brief essays, and news items about Waugh and his work may be submitted, but manuscripts cannot be returned unless accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Address all correspondence to Dr. P.A. Doyle, c/o English Department, Nassau Community College, State University of New York, Garden City, New York 11530. Copyright P.A. Doyle.
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|Associate Editors:||Alfred W. Borrello (Kingsborough Community College)|
|James F. Carens (Bucknell University)|
|Robert M. Davis (University of Oklahoma)|
|Heinz Kosok (University of Wuppertal)|
|Charles E. Linck, Jr. (East Texas State University)|