The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh's satire of certain traits of American culture, is the most continuingly popular of his works; yet it is one of the least admired by critics. Its popularity is easy to explain. It remains topical: the satirized traits - funeral practices, the on-stage phoniness and back-stage venality of Hollywood, the cosmetic homogeneousness of American young women, the cottony tastelessness of assembly-line food, and various others - these are as current and absurd today as when Waugh ridiculed them a generation ago. American readers, far from being offended, are delighted by the ridicule; they have already seen the absurdity of those traits of the mass culture (from which culture they regard themselves as being set apart), so that Waugh is their spokesman, not their attacker (those who respect the traits and might resent the ridicule then to be non-readers). Beyond that, The Loved One is a very funny book, and funny in a current manner, anticipating by nearly two decades the recent vogue for "black" humor - the comic treatment of painful subjects, particularly death.
The critics' lack of enthusiasm is also easy to explain. A rationale for it might go as follows. The Loved One is not especially perceptive or illuminating, since the objects of its satire are so manifestly absurd that they need only be described to satirize themselves. It is not as if Waugh were showing us the absurdity of things we had previously taken seriously. And the satire is superficial, not penetrating below the surface silliness to any basic philosophical absurdity - as Voltaire, for example, exhibited the absurdity of Leibnitz' philosophical optimism in Candide. Consequently Waugh's satire is not unified by a central theme, as Voltaire's is unified by his main philosophical target; Waugh's objects seem to be simply a loose miscellany of ridiculous customs he happened to encounter around Los Angeles.
Further, it might be charged that Waugh's plot is defective. The main character, Dennis Barlow, the expatriate English poet, is used mainly as an observer of things to be satirized; no important meaning evolves from his experiences, including his love affair with Aimée Thanatogenos, the mortuary cosmetician. That affair, not being in itself an object of satire (as Candide's love for Cunégonde is), seems a digression for narrative interest to please the popular taste. Entertaining but superficial satire and a weak structure - these are ample reasons for critical disapproval.
The trouble with the indictment above is that it is largely mistaken. The Loved One is neither superficial nor weak in structure. True, others before Waugh had perceived the ridiculousness of most of what he satirized - though none had ridiculed it so expertly. But Waugh does penetrate to a fundamental philosophical folly, which does constitute a theme by which the satire of the book is unified. And the career of Dennis Barlow, especially with regard to his affair with Aimee, does present a special meaning - perhaps the most important in the book.
The basic unifying theme of The Loved One begins to emerge when one looks beneath the differences between its two main objects of satire - Whispering Glades Cemetery and Megalopolitan Studio - and perceives an important similarity. The function of the cemetery is only ostensibly the simple business of disposing of the dead. Its real function, like that of the studio, is the very elaborate business of presenting a show. All of its grounds, buildings, and ornaments - the replicas of English manor houses, of medieval churches, and of famous statues, the burial areas such as Shadowland, Lovers' Nest, and The Lake Island of Innisfree (complete with Yeats's props: a wattle cottage, nine bean rows, and the simulated hum of bees) - all of these constitute an enormous theatrical set for the funeral productions. The principal actors are the dead - an elderly lady in Primrose Room reclining on a sofa as if to receive company, an infant in Slumber Room smiling (by means of cardboard under its lips) as if in sleep, the English actor Sir Francis Hinsley, disfigured by having hung himself but transformed by cosmetics into the appearance of an aged coquette. The analogy between cemetery and studio, between the role-playing dead and the role-playing living, is epitomized by the actress Juanita del Pablo: her transformation by the studio from a Spanish senorita into an Irish colleen with vermilion hair and gleaming false teeth is a counterpart of the transformations at Whispering Glades. And like the studio, the cemetery plays to the emotions of the living: it soothes the "waiting ones" by distracting them from the unpleasant fact of their "loved ones'" death. Both cemetery and studio are in show business.
This leads to a deeper similarity. Paradoxically, it is suggested when Dennis Barlow reflects on a difference between the two institutions: the plaster façades of the studio sets seem like real buildings, while the real buildings at the cemetery, being imitations of European architecture, seem unreal. But beneath the contrast which Dennis sees, we can observe their common trait - both appear to be something they are not. Both hide their truth behind illusion.
The illusion projected by the studio is not really a deception. Nobody is expected to believe that its façades are real buildings or that its actors' performances are real life. And if the public does believe that an American actress is really a senorita or colleen, no real harm is done. But the illusion of Whispering Glades does profess to be truth, and it is more subtle and pernicious. For it goes beyond the physical deception of architectural imitations into the pretense that the dead are not really dead - that they are only ladies taking their ease, gentlemen relaxing with a book, or people who, having been "laid to rest" wearing smiles, are only happily sleeping. Somehow they have been made immortal, not just in a spiritual sense but in a physical sense that makes them able to enjoy lying in a "prestige" area such as Innisfree with its slow-dropping peace, or of appreciating a stained glass window in their crypt. The message implied by Whispering Glades is that no one need mourn the death of others or confront the fact of his own death. In a much different sense than John Donne intended, Death is indeed dead.
An attractive illusion masquerading as truth - that is the theme of not only the cemetery and the studio but of all the other important satire in The Loved One. Obviously it pertains also to The Happier Hunting Ground, that parody of Whispering Glades where parrots are laid to rest with their heads on pillows and dogs are prayed over and sent to wag their tails in heaven. The pet cemetery, though no more absurd than Whispering Glades, is more blatantly so. Thus it satirizes those who, like Aimée Thanatogenos, can see the absurdity of the former but are reverently blind to the absurdity of the latter. She cannot recognize, as Dennis Barlow does, that both a human cadaver and an animal cadaver are simply conglomerations of decaying molecules requiring expeditious disposal. And she resents The Happier Hunting Ground as a ridiculous mockery of Whispering Glades - which it is - without being able to see that the mockery is possible only because Whispering Glades is ridiculous too.
Waugh's satire of another main target, the Hollywood British colony, exhibits their exaggeration of truth into a phony appearance acceptable to the movie studios. It is not enough that they be British - they must ostentatiously look and act British, of the upper class, reinforced often by titles, a few of which are even genuine, as Waugh acidly remarks. However impoverished, they must never appear poor, nor ever blemish the colony's British-gentleman image by taking an undignified job - as Dennis Barlow disgracefully does at the pet cemetery. Defectors like Dennis who reject appearance in favor of being themselves must be sent home like colonial civil servants gone native. The group's leading representative, Sir Ambrose Abercrombie, exaggerates his own appearance, in deerstalker cap and Inverness cape, into a ludicrous travesty of his English countrymen. And he asserts his preference for appearance over truth when he insists that at the funeral of Sir Francis Hinsley (which neatly combines the phoniness of the British set, of the studio representatives, and of Whispering Glades) some of the dead man's writing must be read - even if Barlow can find none and must write it himself. As for Barlow, his cynical recognition of the phoniness is pointed to when he considers contributing to it by palming off as his own elegy for Sir Francis a parody of Tennyson's "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington":
Bury the great knight,
With a studio's lamentation
Illusions, deceptions, and false appearances permeate The Loved One. There is food - succulent appearing peaches that have no stones and taste like cotton. There are the attractive stewardesses, receptionists, and secretaries, all indistinguishable from thousands of their kind because they have hidden the traits that made them individuals beneath an appearance adopted from movies and fashion magazines. There is even Dennis Barlow, pretending to be the author of poems he culls from anthologies to please Aimée. Finally there is Waugh himself, beginning the story by describing a section of Los Angeles as if it were a primitive outpost of the empire, in a parody of the manner of Conrad or Maugham. This suggests a British attitude about the place, while introducing, even if only tongue-in-cheek, the central theme of illusion substituted for truth.
Waugh does in places focus satirically on truth also, but only to reveal what lies behind an illusion. Thus behind the glamor and sentimentality of movie productions we are shown the bland cruelty of studio executives firing Sir Francis after twenty years' service, and consequently driving him to suicide. And behind the image of Mr. Joyboy, the virtuoso undertaker of Whispering Glades, vested in dignity and decorated with embalming college degrees, we are shown the nasty truth - a commonplace, self-centered weakling, subservient to but stingy toward his vulgar mother, indifferent to the problems that drive his fiancée, Aimée, to suicide, and finally weeping hysterically, ostensibly because of her death but actually because of fear that the manner of it might endanger his professional reputation.
The Loved One, then, is not a mere melange of American traits that happened to catch Waugh's satirical notice. It is a selection of just such traits as give depth and unity to the book by exhibiting a particular kind of folly - the substitution and uncritical acceptance of an attractive falseness in place of truth.
In The Loved One's world of phoniness, what does Waugh achieve with the character of Dennis Barlow and his courtship of Aimée Thanatogenos? To begin with, what is one to make of that somewhat enigmatic and, for some readers, distasteful young man, who can say after Aimée's suicide, "I loved that girl," but who can then put her body in an animal crematory and calmly read a book while it burns? The answer is that Dennis is an absolute realist amid all the illusion, except perhaps in his fondness for Aimée. Some of the illusion interests him, particularly Whispering Glades, but he is cynically irreverent about that place, about The Happier Hunting Ground, about Joyboy, about Sir Ambrose, and about fetishes of Aimée such as her insistence that they cannot marry until he is able to support her by a dignified job - mainly for the sake of appearance, since she earns enough for them both. To a considerable extent, Dennis is Waugh's satirical observer and spokesman within the book.
Aimée, on the other hand, is an absolute devotee of illusion, with a mad sincerity of belief that seems to be one of her attractions for Dennis. For her, Whispering Glades is holy; she could never have lapsed from the euphemistic "loved-one" jargon of the place, as one of her co-workers did, into the sacrilegious vulgarity of "we fixed that stiff so he looked like his wedding day." She could not, when she wanted to, renounce her promise to marry Dennis, because it had been solemnized by a ridiculous ritual of kissing at a shrine in Whispering Glades. Her faith in the Guru Brahmin's wisdom is so great, even after she knows he is only Mr. Slump, that his exasperated injunction to jump out a window sends her, like a parody of a Greek tragic heroine, to an inner sanctum of Whispering Glades to kill herself.
Since Aimée and Dennis see life in diametrically opposite ways, or rather since he sees life while she sees illusion, each represents one side of the book's theme of illusion versus truth. And their relationship carries an implication about the nature and situation of the artist - namely the danger of his being destroyed through being seduced away from truth into illusion. For besides being a realist, Dennis is a dedicated poet. Earlier, realizing that writing for the studio would ruin him as a poet, he had fled to the job at the pet cemetery, where he had spare time to write. In a sense he was surrendering somewhat to the world of appearances by participating in the funeral rituals; but he did it safely because he did it cynically, and for the sake of expressing his own truth as an artist. Becoming enamoured of Aimée, he concedes still more to appearances by pretending to take seriously some of the funerary and amatory rituals she cherishes, and by pretending that other writers' poems are his own. This time his participation is less safe, for he begins to neglect his own writing. And when he decides to satisfy Aimée's demand for a husband of suitable professional status by becoming a self-ordained minister, without religious belief and in answer only to the call of money, he is surrendering completely to the world of appearances. Had he carried out his intention, not even his cynical awareness of the fraudulence of his role would have shielded him from its distractions and contaminations. Trapped in a world of illusions without even the comfort of believing in them, he would have been dead as a poet.
Thus Aimée's suicide frees Dennis. As he puts it, "I have work to do, and this is not the place to do it. It was only our young friend that kept me here - she and penury." By playing a final trick against the world of appearances - extorting travel money from Joyboy and Sir Ambrose as his price for not spoiling their images - he frees himself completely from that world. Now, as Waugh says, Dennis is singularly privileged because he has lost "something that had long troubled him - his young heart," through which he had nearly been seduced away from his calling, and is now possessed of a newly acquired "lump" of experience - the artist's load.
The artist, Waugh is saying in The Loved One, finds himself confronted by illusions and appearances accepted by others because they are attractive or comfortable. But he himself must, like Waugh in his own satires, try to penetrate through them to truth rather than let them cloud his vision of truth or soften his will to pursue it. Like Dennis, he must be "a man of sensibility rather than sentiment" - a point emphasized by Dennis's ruthlessly unsentimental disposal of the corpse of the girl he had loved, and by his final merciless jeer, not at Aimée but at the sentimentality of Joyboy, in the message he arranges to have him receive annually: "Your little Aimée is wagging her tail and thinking of you in heaven." In a world of illusion and sentimentality, the genuine artist must be a supreme realist.
In 1960 Evelyn Waugh told John Freeman that of all his books Helena was the best written and had the most interesting theme.(1) While it may not be "an absolute masterpiece," as Waugh is alleged to have said in 1952,(2) Helena was nevertheless Waugh's personal favourite and it preoccupied him for fifteen years. In 1935 Waugh visited Jerusalem for the first time. He was inspired by "the long, intricate, intimate relations between England and the Holy Places" and by "the list of great and strange Britons who from time to time embodied this association. Helena above all first began a ferment in [his] imagination."(3) But the book which he resolved to write did not see print until 1950.
The delay can be traced in part to Waugh's chronic vacillation between what he describes in Rossetti (p. 52) as "the mystical [and] the romantic habit of mind." In Waugh's view the "romantic" is associated with the inauthentic world of surfaces and imitations: it is the realm of the man of action. The "mystical" on the other hand relates to what is theologically. artistically and emotionally sound: this is the domain of the artist. Waugh's World War II experiences resolved the tension. His diary entry for May 7, 1945 reads:
Today in a crabbed and halting way I began my life of Helena. It is pleasant to end the war in plainclothes, writing. I remember at the start of it all writing to Frank Pakenham that its value for us would be to show us finally that we are not men of action. I took longer than him to learn it. I regard the greatest danger I went through that of becoming one of Churchill 's young men and standing for Parliament; if things had gone, as then seemed right, in the first two years, that is what I should be now. I thank God to find myself still a writer and at work on something as uncontemporary as I am.(4)
Waugh had taken so long to begin Helena that he may well have had himself in mind when he described Helena as the patron-saint "of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation."(5) In his diary entry for January 6, 1945, Waugh explicitly connects Helena with the artist: "I had never before realized how specially Epiphany is the feast of artists - twelve days late after St. Joseph and the angels and the shepherds and even the ox and the ass, the exotic caravan arrives. brought there by book learning and speculation."(6)
Deflected like the subtle Magi from his purpose by the delusions of war, Waugh himself arrived late at the truth: "We are not men of action." Helena is the fruit of Waugh's perception, and in the book's reworked conclusion(7) we can see how concerned he is to give effective summation to the central conflict between fact and delusion.
|Manuscript and Proof||Corrected Proof||Final version of Proof and First Edition (p. 265)|
|and found worship among every race. To all mankind, confused with ancestral memories, prone to every aberration of symbol and speculation, it has brought the same blunt statement of fact, in which alone is Hope. The End. Stinchcombe1946, 1949, 1950||and found a joyous welcome among every race.For it states a fact. Far from Eden, lost in desert and jungle, man beguiles himself with symbols and speculation. The voice of Helena rouses him like a hunter's horn. Like a huntsman she throws him back on the scent.||and found a joyous welcome among every race.For it states a fact.Hounds are checked, hunting wild. A horn calls clear through the covert. Helena casts them back on the scent. Above all the babble of her age and ours, she makes one blunt assertion. And there alone is Hope.|
The final version is a little longer but much less explicit than the first two attempts. The delusive "ancestral memories" (1) and "far from Eden, lost in desert and jungle" (2) become, more vaguely, "babble" (3). "Symbols and speculation" appear in (1) and (2) but yield in (3) to the metaphor of the hunt, which recalls Helena's youth and the important horse motif. Like many of Waugh's novels, Helena is a straightforward comparison of the City of God with its "romantic" facsimile, the City of Man - but the altered, more metaphorical conclusion shows Waugh the artist retaining a measure of subtlety about the "blunt" truth he had resolved to express fifteen years earlier.
1. John Freeman. "Face to Face" (London: BBC TV, June 26, 1960).
2. Harvey Breit, "W. Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh," The Writer Observed (London: Alvin Redman, 1957), p. 149.
3. Evelyn Waugh, The Holy Places (London: Queen Anne Press, 1952), pp. 1-2
4. Michael Davie, ed., "The Private Diaries of Evelyn Waugh," Observer (April 29, 1973), pp. 13-14.
5. Evelyn Waugh, Helena (London: Chapman and Hall, 1950), p. 240.
6. My thanks to the Waugh Estate and to the Humanities Research Center Library, Austin, Texas, for permission to quote this unpublished passage.
7. The Helena manuscript is at the Humanities Research Center Library. Quotations by permission and with thanks.
Some time ago I came across the title Basil Seal Rides Again, or The Rake's Regress in our card catalogue, but I could never find the book on the shelf. At each attempt I became increasingly agitated, for this title was unknown to me. Finally, I stormed into the head librarian's office and demanded to know just where that rounder Basil Seal was riding again.
The head librarian took me back to the catalogue, located the card, and, like an indulgent old tutor, pointed out the "J" in the upper left-hand corner. He must have thought me dreadfully obtuse, but he is a gentleman and he said nothing.
I went grumbling off toward the Juvenile section. A rake's regress seemed a singularly unlikely subject for a children's story. Even less likely was a children's story featuring that particular rake, Basil Seal, as protagonist.
I found the book, which had been shelved with the juveniles since 1963. Fortunately, no tyke had yet checked it out. After looking it over for a moment I knew exactly what had happened. The cataloguer had noted its folio size and its slimness (only 49 pages of large, widely spaced print). Also, the cover bears a picture (reproduced from Kathleen Hale's frontispiece) of Basil Seal astride a galloping winged horse. The author's signature on the first page is composed of small, delicate, perfectly formed letters. For these reasons the cataloguer jumped to the conclusion that here was a fantasy for children, written by some lady (yes, friends, such ignorance does persist) named Evelyn Waugh. Apparently unnoticed in the picture was the pipe in Basil's mouth and the bottle cradled in his right arm. The frontispiece clearly shows this bottle to be filled with an amber liquid.
When the author autographed copy number 430 of this limited (1,000) edition, would he have been surprised to learn that it would shortly be tucked away in the Juvenile section of a small library in the wilds of Arkansas? Given his opinion of his American cousins, we must conclude that probably he would not.
EWN has received an undated, laconic postcard, purportedly from Evelyn Waugh, which has come to us by way of Australia. Readers may form their opinions about the route of delivery and the authenticity of this document:
Sykes has written an unreadable book about me!
13 April 1976
Dear Professor Doyle:
Because I thought Margaret Waugh's brief Memoir of her father changed the course and tone of the Sykes biography awkwardly and that the conclusion, especially the conclusion, should be his, I asked Mr. Sykes to delete her text and substitute his own for the American edition.
Larned G. Bradford
Little, Brown and Company
Noting Sykes' admission that he did not use some anecdotes supplied by Robert Speaight, EWN wrote to the latter and now records this addenda: "I did not know Evelyn at all well. We corresponded from time to time, and when I was at work on Belloc I sent him such verses of the master as came my way. Many of these were unprintable. We remained on terms of slightly perilous cordiality, and I suffered on occasions from his gratuitous rudeness. [Speaight can personally confirm Evelyn's kindness to Moray McLaren.] In the last letter I had from Moray, shortly before he died, he spoke of Evelyn's kindness. He, too, was suffering from aggiornamento. one who knew Evelyn well said to me many years ago - 'Evelyn is a snob, but he is not a toady' The picture of Evelyn Waugh that lingers in my mind is of meeting him in Gerrard Street - not exactly his quartier - one day during the war. He was limping from an accident incurred on active service, and looking around him savagely he exclaimed: 'It's all changed I don't want anything changed.'"
When Evelyn visited Notre Dame, "he expressed his pleasure at seeing so many policemen about in South Bend; and when asked what he would like for lunch in the cafeteria he replied: 'Half a pint of claret and a bite of cheese.' There are a number of casual references to E.W. in my own Memoirs - The Property Basket (1970)."
Lavernia Scargill comes from Macaulay's "Epitaph on a Jacobite" (1845) and occurs in the following stanza:
For him I languished in a foreign clime,
Grey-haired with sorrow in my manhood's prime,
Heard on Lavernia Scargill's whispering trees,
And pined by Arno for my lovelier Tees.
Why anyone would prefer to be in Scargill than in Lavernia must remain a secret known only to the mind of God.
July 1, 1975
I should like to thank Mr. Jeffrey Heath for his attention to my "Evelyn Waugh-Dudley Carew Correspondence."(1) However I feel I must point out that on some points I have to disagree with his review.
I had primarily intended my study to focus on Waugh's personality as seen through the letters to his friends more than on his relationship to Carew, but, contrary to what Mr. Heath thinks, by saying that the tone of the letters was that of a master towards his disciple, I did not exclude the idea that Waugh "was playing a role tacitly agreed upon by writer and recipient." He obviously was, and this could explain the "fastidiousness and harshness" that I see in the letters and Mr. Heath doesn't.
I also wonder whether Mr. Heath's quote from A Fragment of Friendship is more apposite than those I took from the autobiographies of both friends. These do concur in that Waugh at that time "dominated" Carew whose "fearful delight in Evelyn's iconoclastic attacks was only equalled by his awe." In my eyes the tone of the letters confirms the judgment.
Finally I am a little surprised at Mr. Heath's writing "Mr. Blayac draws a contrast between the confident tone of the letters and the timidity of the diaries. But in view of the fact that no diaries exist for the period which the letters cover (1921-1924) it is hard to see how such a contrast can be legitimate." Warren Roberts and the staff of the HRC at Austin must have been rather surprised at the news. This is an unwonted slip--and an ironical one--for Mr. Heath, who so cleverly reviewed the Observer series for EWN and quoted a long passage from the Ms of A Little Learning in which Waugh admits that the very period spanned by the Correspondence is the only one in which he wrote "a diary with any candour and completeness." The diaries - although incomplete (1921, January 10--December 16 and 1924, June 21-December 21) - do exist and their timidity stands in sharp contrast with the confident tone of the letters.
I hope that the above notes have helped to clarify things for Mr. Heath and anyone else who was uncertain about my interpretation. In spite of these trifles I found Mr. Heath's article(2) most informative and look forward to reading his next "Year's Work in Waugh Studies.'
P.S. Had it been possible to quote directly from the Diaries and the correspondence, I would obviously have made my points more clearly.
1. EWN, Volume 8, Number 2, Autumn 1974, 1-6.
2. Jeffrey M. Heath, "A Note on the Waugh Diaries ," EWN, Volume 7, Number 3, Winter 1973, 7-8.
February 18, 1976
With reference to Mr. Blayac's letter about the Waugh-Carew Correspondence:
Waugh does not "admit that the very period spanned by the Correspondence is the only one in which he wrote 'a diary with any candour and completeness.'" Contrariwise, he says, "Only in adolescence, during my last years at school and again from June 1924 to September 1926 did I write a diary with any candour and completeness. In times of change and high excitement, such as my years at the university I was too active and dissipated to pause and make a note." Yes, there are in fact diary entries for 1921, and, while they might well be described as "timid," those for subsequent years can be so called only in a rather extreme sense of the word: there are none for 1922; there are none for 1923; and there are none for 1924 until a month before the Correspondence with Carew ends. If silence qualifies as timidity, then so be it; if not then my reservations about the legitimacy of any contrast Mr. Blayac draws between the Correspondence and the Diaries may now be clearer. I should add that the Carew quotation is from a personal letter, not from A Fragment of Friendship. But these are indeed trifles and so, enough of criticism.
Jeffrey M. Heath
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.
more printable version of this Newsletter. As it
is in rtf form it can easily be saved and go into any word processor.
The file is 58Kb long.
|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)|