|Portrait by Henry Lamb.|
Eade recounts Waugh’s life in an admirably economic, straightforward manner, with a nice sense of measure and in a prose style free of jargon and cliché. He neither Freudianizes Waugh nor condemns his lapses into social savagery. Without a trace of tendentiousness, free of all doctrine, the biographer seeks to understand the strange behavior of his subject through telling the story of his life without commenting censoriously on it.Joseph Epstein's review notes not only Waugh's brutal sense of humor, but also its apparent roots in his horror of boredom. He engaged in what Epstein describes as "free-floating malice" which found its targets even in those few people Waugh liked. He despised his father for his sentimentality and was jealous of his older brother's success. Evelyn hated even his own name for its sexual ambiguity, a complaint he drove home when he briefly married a woman with the same name.
Waugh is one of those twentieth-century Catholic novelists everyone finds amusing, but few wish to imitate. If the price of producing such biting satire is personal misery, who would wish to follow such a path? Still, Waugh gave a voice to the hatred of modernity and the love of tradition that fuels so many of us, even today. He did so in a way that educated and entertained, right before it insulted.
Would Waugh have indeed given in to the temptation of apostasy, as he worried he might, if he had lived long enough to see the Vatican Council come to completion and endure the brutalism of the Pauline Novelty Mass? Pius XII's Holy Week creations were terrible enough for the man, and one thinks it was a blessing that he was taken from this life so suddenly on that Easter morning in 1966.
Waugh notes that he had much earlier attempted suicide by drowning, and was only stopped from completing the job by the incessant biting of jellyfish. In Vile Bodies, a novel he felt he had botched, Waugh more than suggests the emptiness of life among the higher bohemia of Bright Young Things. Modernity itself became an affront to him and Catholicism was the spar he chose to grasp against its choppy seas.Catholicism hardly seems like a sturdy stay against the choppy seas of modernity anymore. Perhaps another Evelyn Waugh is impossible in the 21st century because there is no longer a safe refuge from the ennui of the world. There is no height on which to climb, from which one can denounce the evils of the world. The Church cares so little about its own history and tradition that it's no wonder it holds no attraction to those tired of modernity's pomps.
Happy Ascension Sunday to all our readers!