Sunday, May 28, 2017

One Who Has No Interest in Pleasing

Portrait by Henry Lamb.
The Claremont Review of Books has a welcome review of Philip Eade's new biography of Evelyn Waugh, subtitled A Life Revisited. This new volume apparently is more an examination of Waugh himself than of his novels. I think it must be admitted that the writer was often more entertaining than his own writings.
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!


  1. Dominica infra Octavam Ascensionem…

    I agree with you though, both on the counterfactual narrative presuming that Waugh lived to see the new Mass & whether another like Waugh is possible.

  2. Those of us who appreciate this author are also, in a certain sense, dead and so it came as welcome news to ABS that The FSSP had produced a CD of Gregorian Chant, Requiem, that fits his current state of life and the purchase of it helps the FSSP financially.

    ABS used to regularly assist at the Real Mass at Christ the King Chapel in Sarasota, Florida and he desires to have a real Catholic funeral there once he cashes them in.

    They have a fantastic schola there - small in size but beautifully directed -and it'd be my perfect revenge against my family (they love the Lil' Licit Liturgy) to have my crappy old body in a crummy box on a catafalque as the Real Priest incenses it while the schola chants Domine, Jesu Christie.

    1. Would ABS please elaborate on the name "Lil' Licit Liturgy." You have dropped that term on this blog for several years, to my great amusement, but I have not yet fully understood the joke.

    2. Cardinal Heenan was prescient when he observed that The Normative Rite would appeal mainly to women and children and because there is a tradition of using Lil' in children's books and animation etc it seemed apt (and alliterative) to use it to begin the description of the childish nature of the new liturgy with its use of a meal prayer lifted from the Messias-Deniers, play acting, silly songs etc etc after the revolutionaries destroyed the Real Mass during a modernist tantrum.

      So, Lil Licit Liturgy is a summary of the disgust that ABS has for it and he has never - not for one nanosecond- accepted that the Pauline Rite is either similar to the Real Mass or a legitimate development of it; it is clearly a mephitic rupture with the past, and the good, the true, and the beautiful.

      O, and the Licit is also an intended slight directed at the execrable Paul who destroyed incomparable truth and beauty and then had the audacity to legislate that ABS could only worship as he saw fit - as he and his perverted and pathetic progressives preferred.

      He hated what ABS and all his progenitors loved and so ABS, speaking for all of his progenitors, hated his crummy liturgy right back.

      Had you not asked him, ABS would not have realised all that went in to arriving at the alliterative slight for it was arrived at internally and spontaneously without any formal thought.

      ABS hopes this is not too churlish.

      P.S. ABS and The Bride were in London several years ago and they went to the Brompton Oratory where, it is claimed, the best actualising of the Lil' Licit Liturgy can be experienced.

      Other than the excellent singing by the Oratorians, the Lil Licit Liturgy was still a major failure in comparison to the Real Mass or the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

  3. I see what you did there at the end.


  4. I've never read anything by this gentleman but I've heard so much about him over the last few years it's piqued my interest. Brideshead is only 2.99 on Kindle so I might just drop the chump change and see what the fuss is all about.

    On another note, Christ the King is a great little chapel, although I've only been there once. When I had transportation I used to go to the church in Ocala where the CTK priests would drive to every Sunday to minister to us on the far flung hinterlands of north central Florida. They were always gentleman, and great priests. At the time it was still Father Fryar and Father Remski, but it's been so long I can't say who is there these days.

    I saw Father Fryar bless a friend of mine once after Mass and she literally vomited out something in the parking lot,and after that all her decades of nightmares stopped. It gave me a great respect for the power of the traditional priesthood, and forever put to rest the evil notion of some sedevacantists that even FSSP priests have invalid orders.

  5. Fr. Fryar is aces. ABS has a ton of respect for him owing to his leadership in building a real parish community at Christ the King.

    Sadly, he has left and, for various reasons, ABS rarely gets back there