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Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh

Evelyn Waugh, as photographed in 1940 by Carl Van Vechten
Born 28 October 1903 (1903-10-28)
London, UK
Died 10 April 1966 (1966-04-11) (aged 62)
Combe Florey, Somerset, UK
Occupation Writer
Genres Novel, biography, short story, travel writing, autobiography, satire, humour

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (pronounced /ˈiːvlɨn ˈwɔː/[1]) (28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966) was an English writer, best known for such darkly humorous and satirical novels as Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, Scoop, A Handful of Dust, and The Loved One, as well as for serious works, such as Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honour trilogy that clearly manifest his Catholic background. Many of Waugh's novels depict British aristocracy and high society, which he satirises but to which he was also strongly attracted. In addition, he wrote short stories, three biographies, and the first volume of an unfinished autobiography. His travel literature, extensive diaries and correspondence have also been published.

Waugh's works were very successful with the reading public and he was widely admired as a humorist and as a prose stylist, but as his social conservatism and religiosity became more overt, his works grew more controversial with critics. In his notes for an unpublished review of Brideshead Revisited, George Orwell declared that Waugh was "about as good a novelist as one can be while holding untenable opinions."[2] Martin Amis found that the snobbery of Brideshead was "a failure of imagination, an artistic failure."[3] On the other hand, American literary critic Edmund Wilson pronounced Waugh "the only first-rate comic genius that has appeared in English since Bernard Shaw."[4] Time magazine, in a 1966 obituary, summarised his oeuvre by claiming that Waugh had "developed a wickedly hilarious yet fundamentally religious assault on a century that, in his opinion, had ripped up the nourishing taproot of tradition and let wither all the dear things of the world."[5]



Early life

Born in London, Evelyn Waugh was the second son of noted editor and publisher Arthur Waugh. He was brought up in upper middle class circumstances, although his parents' address in Golders Green embarrassed him[6]. He attended Heath Mount School[7]. His only sibling was his older brother Alec, who also became a writer. Both his father and his brother had been educated at Sherborne, an English public school, but Alec had been asked to leave during his final and he had then published a controversial novel, The Loom of Youth, which touched on the matter of homosexual relationships among students and which was otherwise deemed injurious to Sherborne's reputation. The school therefore refused to take Evelyn, and his father sent him to Lancing College, an institution of lesser social prestige with a strong High Church Anglican character. This circumstance would rankle with the status-conscious Evelyn for the rest of his life but may have contributed to his interest in religion, even though at Lancing he lost his childhood faith and became an agnostic.

After Lancing, he attended Hertford College, Oxford as a history scholar. There, Waugh neglected academic work and was known as much for his artwork as for his writing. He also threw himself into a vigorous social scene populated by aesthetes such as Harold Acton, Brian Howard and David Talbot Rice, and members of the British aristocracy and the upper classes. His social life at Oxford would provide the background for some of his most characteristic later writing. Asked if he had competed in any sport for his college, Waugh famously replied "I drank for Hertford."

It has been claimed through diary entries and letters that he had relationships with other men during his college years, but may have ultimately been bisexual. (In his diary Waugh refers in retrospect to "my first homosexual love".)[8] During what has been described as an "acute homosexual phase" between 1921 and 1924, at least three relationships have been suggested, with Richard Pares, Alistair Graham and Hugh Patrick Lygon. These may have helped shape his future works [9].

Evelyn Waugh as a student, from a portrait by the British painter Henry Lamb (1883–1960), a member of Walter Sickert's Camden Town Group, and later the Bloomsbury Group.

Waugh's final exam results qualified him only for a third-class degree. He was prevented from remaining in residence for the extra term that would have been required of him and he left Oxford in 1924 without taking his degree. In 1925 he taught at a private school in Wales. In his autobiography, Waugh claims that he attempted suicide at the time by swimming out to sea, only to turn back after being stung by jellyfish. He was later dismissed from another teaching post for attempting to seduce the matron, telling his father he had been dismissed for "inebriation".

He was briefly apprenticed to a cabinet-maker and afterwards maintained an interest in marquetry, to which his novels have been compared in their intricate inlaid subplots. Waugh also provided the artwork for many of his books having been greatly inspired by a chance meeting with Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí at the Slade School of Fine Art in Bloomsbury. According to Picasso, Waugh attempted to remove Dalí's trademark moustache, suspecting it a surrealist joke. Dalí was furious and never spoke to Waugh again; Waugh took his revenge by caricaturing the artist in a later novel (Brideshead Revisited, where he portrayed him as Catelli, 'a gauche Spanish artisan ... with a less than attractive limp'.)[10]

Waugh also worked as a journalist before he published his first novel in 1928, Decline and Fall. The title is from Gibbon, but whereas the Georgian historian charted the bankruptcy and dissolution of the Roman Empire, Waugh's was a witty account of quite a different sort of dissolution, following the career of the harmless Paul Pennyfeather, a student of divinity, as he is accidentally expelled from Oxford for indecency ("I expect you'll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir," says the College porter to Paul, "That's what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour") and enters into the worlds of schoolmastering, high society, and the white slave trade. Other novels about England's "Bright Young People" followed, and all were well received by both critics and the general public.

Waugh entered into a brief, unhappy marriage in 1928 to the Hon. Evelyn Florence Margaret Winifred Gardner, youngest daughter of Lord Burghclere and Lady Winifred Herbert. Their friends called them "He-Evelyn" and "She-Evelyn." Gardner's infidelity with the writer John Heygate[11] would provide the background for Waugh's novel A Handful of Dust, but her husband had made little effort to make her happy, choosing to spend much time on his own. The marriage ended in divorce in 1930.

Waugh converted to Catholicism and, after his marriage was annulled by the Church, he married Laura Herbert, a Catholic, daughter of Aubrey Herbert, and a cousin of his first wife (they were both granddaughters of Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon). This marriage was successful, lasting the rest of his life, producing seven children, one of whom, Mary, died in infancy. His son Auberon, named after Laura's brother, followed in his footsteps as a writer and journalist.

The 1930s

Waugh's fame continued to grow between the wars, based on his satires of contemporary upper class English society, written in prose that was seductively simple and elegant. His style was often inventive (a chapter, for example, would be written entirely in the form of a dialogue of telephone calls). His conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1930 was a watershed in his life and his writing. It elevated Catholic themes in his work, and aspects of his deep and sincere faith, both implicit and explicit, can be found in all of his later work.

Waugh's conversion to Catholicism was widely discussed in London society and newspapers in September 1930. In response to the gossip, Waugh made his own contribution in article entitled, "Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me." It wasn't about ritual, said Waugh, nor about submission to the views of others. The essential issue, he believed, was making a choice between Christianity or chaos. Waugh saw in Europe's increasing materialism a major decline in what he felt created Western Civilization in the first place. "It is no longer possible ... ," he wrote, "to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it is based." He added that Catholicism was the "most complete and vital form" of Christianity. His faith and his conviction persisted throughout all the chapters of his life.

At the same time (and perhaps because it integrated both his beliefs and his natural "dark humour"), Black Mischief and A Handful of Dust contain episodes of the most savage farce. In some of his fiction Waugh derives comedy from the cruelty of mischance; ingenuous characters are subject to bizarre calamities in a universe that seems to lack a shaping and protecting God, or any other source of order and comfort.[citation needed] The period between the wars also saw extensive travels around the Mediterranean and Red Sea, Spitsbergen, Africa (most famously Ethiopia) and South America. Sections of the numerous travel books which resulted are often cited as among the best writing in this genre. A compendium of Waugh's favourite travel writing has been issued under the title When The Going Was Good.

World War II

With the advent of the World War II, Waugh used his relationships with powerful people, such as Randolph Churchill (son of Winston) to achieve a service commission. Though 36 years old with poor eyesight, he was commissioned in the Royal Marines in 1940. Though personally brave, he did not always work well with his subordinates,[citation needed] raising some concern that the men under his command might shoot him instead of the enemy.[citation needed] Promoted to captain, Waugh found life in the Marines dull.[citation needed]

Waugh participated in the failed attempt to take Dakar from the Vichy French in late 1940. Following a joint exercise with No. 3 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 and later reassigned to the Royal Horse Guards. In the preface to the revised edition of Brideshead Revisited he writes, "In December 1943 I had the good fortune when parachuting to incur a minor injury which afforded me a rest from military service. This was extended by a sympathetic commanding officer, who let me remain unemployed until June 1944 when the book was finished."

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 or death when the Germans undertook Operation Rösselsprung, and paratroops and glider-borne storm troops attacked the partisans' headquarters where they were staying. During his time in Yugoslavia Waugh produced a formidable report detailing Tito's persecution of Catholics and the clergy. It was "buried" by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden as being largely irrelevant.

Some of Waugh's best-loved and best-known novels come from this period. Brideshead Revisited (1945) is an evocation of a vanished pre-war England. It's an extraordinary work which in many ways has come to define Waugh and his view of his world. It not only painted a rich picture of life in England and at Oxford University at a time (before World War II) which Waugh himself loved and embellished in the novel, but it allowed him to share his feelings about his Catholic faith, principally through the actions of his characters. The book was applauded by his friends, not just for an evocation of a time now — and then — long gone, but also for its examination of the manifold pressures within a traditional Catholic family. It was a huge success in Britain and in the United States. Decades later a television adaptation (1981) achieved popularity and acclaim in both countries, and around the world; a film adaptation was released in 2008. Waugh revised the novel in the late 1950s, saying that he wrote the novel during the grey privations of the latter war years and later found parts of it "distasteful on a full stomach".

Much of Waugh's wartime experience is reflected in the Sword of Honour trilogy. It consists of three novels, Men at Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955) and Unconditional Surrender (1961), which loosely parallel his wartime experiences. Critics felt that these were some of the best books written about the war. Many of his portraits are unforgettable, and often show striking resemblances to noted real personalities. Waugh biographer Christopher Sykes, for instance, felt that the officer in the Sword of Honour trilogy, Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook, "bears a very strong resemblance to" Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart VC, a friend of the author's father-in-law. Waugh was familiar with Carton de Wiart through the club to which he belonged. The fictional commando leader, Tommy Blackhouse, is based on Major-General Sir Robert Laycock, a real-life commando leader and friend of Waugh's.

Later years

The period after the war saw Waugh living with his family in the West Country, first at Piers Court, and from 1956 onwards, at Combe Florey, Somerset, where he enjoyed the life of a country gentleman and continued to write. (Combe Florey was bought from his widow by their son Auberon.[12]) Waugh was highly critical of Vatican II's 1960s changes to his beloved Tridentine liturgy, which he in part loved for what he saw as its timelessness. (Cf. Bitter Trial by Waugh and ed. by S. Reid)

For a base in London, he was a member of White's and the St James's Club in Piccadilly.[13]

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) is a thinly-veiled fictionalisation of Waugh's own real-life experience of hallucinations while on a cruise ship. This short but disturbing malady was caused by the interaction between alcohol and chloral sleeping medication. Unlike delirium tremens, the condition induces auditory hallucinations rather than visual ones, which in turn led Waugh to acute paranoia. The illness was remedied once medication had been changed. During this period he wrote Helena (1953), a fictional account of the Empress Helena and the finding of the True Cross, which he regarded as his best work.[14]

Waugh's health declined in later life. He put on weight, and the sleeping draughts he continued to take, combined with alcohol, cigars and little exercise, weakened his health. His productivity also declined, and his output was uneven. His last published work, Basil Seal Rides Again, revisiting the characters of his earliest satirical works, did not meet critical or popular approval, but is still read today. At the same time, he continued as a journalist and was well received.

He appeared in two television interviews with the BBC in the early 1960s, the only time his appearance was recorded publicly, during which the interviewers sought to corner him as an anachronistic figure. He overcame them, particularly in the second interview with novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard on the Monitor programme in 1964.[15] (The other interview was on John Freeman's Face to Face series broadcast on 18 June 1960.) An earlier radio interview on the BBC Home Service in 1953 was somewhat less convivial.[16]

Waugh's diaries, published in the 1970s, were widely acclaimed. His correspondence with lifelong friends, such as Nancy Mitford, is still published today. He is a fruitful source for biographers; three major works have been produced since Christopher Sykes's friendly and familiar account of Waugh's life was published in the 1970s.

Evelyn Waugh died, aged 62, on 10 April 1966, after attending a Latin Mass on Easter Sunday. He suffered a heart attack at his home, Combe Florey. His estate at probate was valued at £20,068. This did not include the value of his lucrative copyrights, which Waugh put in a trust (humorously named the 'Save the Children Fund') for his children. He is buried at Combe Florey, Somerset.[citation needed]

Critical reception

The American conservative commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. found in Waugh "the greatest English novelist of the century"[17], while Buckley's liberal counterpart Gore Vidal called him "our time's first satirist."[18] Even the "overt racism" of his African writings has been forgiven by Ethiopian luminaries because his humour, satire, cruelty and wit were spread even-handedly, attacking the foibles of his own country at least as vigorously as those of foreigners.[19] In Cultural Amnesia, the critic Clive James called him "the supreme writer of English prose in the twentieth century, even though so many of the wrong people said so."

List of works


Short Story Collections

  • Mr Loveday's Little Outing: And Other Sad Stories (1936)
  • Work Suspended: And Other Stories (1943)
  • Selected Works (1977)
  • Charles Ryder's Schooldays: And Other Stories (1982)
  • The Complete Short Stories (1997)
  • The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh (1998)

Travel writing

  • Labels (1930): An account of Waugh's cruise around the Mediterranean.
  • Remote People (1931): Waugh's journey to Addis Ababa at the time of the coronation of Haile Selassie.
  • Ninety-Two Days (1934): Waugh's journey through British Guiana.
  • Waugh In Abyssinia (1936): Waugh's second travel book in Africa.
  • Robbery Under Law (1939): Waugh's travels around Mexico in 1938.
  • When The Going Was Good (1946): A selection of Waugh's earlier travel works.
  • A Tourist In Africa (1960).


Autobiography and memoirs

  • A Little Learning (1964)
  • The diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976) – edited by Michael Davie.
  • The Letters of Evelyn Waugh by Evelyn Waugh and Mark Amory (Editor), London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st edition (4 Sep 1980), ISBN 0297776576
  • The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford" by Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and Charlotte Moseley (Editor)

Biographies of Waugh

  • Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of a Country Neighbour by Frances Donaldson, 1967.
  • Evelyn Waugh by Christopher Sykes, 1975.
  • Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903 – 1939 by Martin Stannard, 1987.
  • Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939 – 1966 by Martin Stannard, 1994.
  • Evelyn Waugh: a Biography by Selina Hastings, 1994.
  • The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography by Douglas Lane Patey, 1998.
  • Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family by Alexander Waugh, 2007.
  • The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh by David Lebedoff, 2008.
  • Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne, 2009

Popular Culture

Evelyn Waugh's The Death of Painting was in the August 1956 issue of Playboy.


  1. ^ forvo.com: Evelyn Waugh/
  2. ^ Quoted in Christopher Hitchens, "The Permanent Adolescent," The Atlantic Monthly, May 2003
  3. ^ Quoted in Jim Holt, "On Writers and Writing; Decline and Fall and Rise Again," New York Times, 31 Aug. 2003,
  4. ^ " 'Never Apologize, Never Explain', The Art of Evelyn Waugh," The New Yorker, 4 March 1944, reprinted in Classics and Commercials, A Literary Chronicle of the Forties, by Edmund Wilson, page 140, Vintage Books, New York, 1962
  5. ^ Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966): The Beauty of his Malice, obituary in Time, 22 Apr. 1966
  6. ^ What would Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell think?, Christine Odone, The Times, 5 August 2008 (accessed 15 May 2009)
  7. ^ Heath Mount School website
  8. ^ The Waughs: Fathers and Sons in BBC Four Documentaries online (accessed 22 March 2008)
  9. ^ Paula Byrne, 'Mad World: Evelyn Waugh And The Secrets of Brideshead', 2009
  10. ^ Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Sykes
  11. ^ What to read when you're... tempted by infidelity, Justine Picardie, The Daily Telegraph 3 Oct 2008
  12. ^ Auberon Waugh, Will this do?, p206 Century/random house, London 1991
  13. ^ WAUGH, Evelyn Arthur St John in Who Was Who 1897–2006 online (accessed 10 January 2008)
  14. ^ "It's the best written; the most interesting theme." Evelyn Waugh, appearing on the BBC television "Face to Face" interview with John Freeman, 18 June 1960.
  15. ^ "Evelyn Waugh in his own Words – Waugh’s interview with Elizabeth Jane Howard", Partial transcript of the Monitor programme 1964.
  16. ^ Mark Brown "Waugh at the BBC: 'the most ill-natured interview ever' on CD after 55 years", The Guardian, 15 April 2008. Retrieved on 15 April 2008.
  17. ^ "Evelyn Waugh, R.I.P.", National Review, 3 May 1966 [1]
  18. ^ "Evelyn Waugh," New York Times Book Review, 7 January 1962, reprinted in Rocking the Boat, by Gore Vidal, pages 235–243, Little Brown, Boston, 1962
  19. ^ [2] BBC World Service "Anniversary Waugh of words" 23 April 2003

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.

Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh (28 October 190310 April 1966) was an English satirical novelist.



  • No.3 Commando was very anxious to be chums with Lord Glasgow, so they offered to blow up an old tree stump for him and he was very grateful and said don't spoil the plantation of young trees near it because that is the apple of my eye and they said no of course not we can blow a tree down so it falls on a sixpence and Lord Glasgow said goodness you are clever and he asked them all to luncheon for the great explosion.
    So Col. Durnford-Slater DSO said to his subaltern, have you put enough explosive in the tree?. Yes, sir, 75lbs. Is that enough? Yes sir I worked it out by mathematics it is exactly right. Well better put a bit more. Very good sir.
    And when Col. D Slater DSO had had his port he sent for the subaltern and said subaltern better put a bit more explosive in that tree. I don't want to disappoint Lord Glasgow. Very good sir.
    Then they all went out to see the explosion and Col. DS DSO said you will see that tree fall flat at just the angle where it will hurt no young trees and Lord Glasgow said goodness you are clever.
    So soon they lit the fuse and waited for the explosion and presently the tree, instead of falling quietly sideways, rose 50 feet into the air taking with it ½ acre of soil and the whole young plantation.
    And the subaltern said Sir, I made a mistake, it should have been 7½ not 75. Lord Glasgow was so upset he walked in dead silence back to his castle and when they came to the turn of the drive in sight of his castle what should they find but that every pane of glass in the building was broken.
    So Lord Glasgow gave a little cry and ran to hide his emotions in the lavatory and there when he pulled the plug the entire ceiling, loosened by the explosion, fell on his head.
    This is quite true.
    • Letter to his wife (31 May 1942)
  • His courtesy was somewhat extravagant. He would write and thank people who wrote to thank him for wedding presents and when he encountered anyone as punctilious as himself the correspondence ended only with death.
    • As quoted in LIFE magazine (8 April 1946)
  • Don't give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can't express them. Don't analyze yourself. Give the relevant facts and let your readers make their own judgments. Stick to your story. It is not the most important subject in history but it is one about which you are uniquely qualified to speak.
    • Reviewing World within World, the autobiography of Stephen Spender, in The Tablet (5 May 1951)
  • Don't hold your parents up to contempt. After all, you are their son, and it is just possible that you may take after them.
    • The Tablet (9 May 1951)
  • Of children as of procreation— the pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable.
    • Letter to Nancy Mitford, May 5, 1954, cited from Mark Amory (ed.) The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982) p. 423
    • "The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable" is sometimes attributed to Lord Chesterfield (British statesman, diplomat and wit, 1694-1773), but has not been found in his works.
  • A typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it."
    Diary entry (March 1964), after hearing that doctors had removed a benign tumor from Randolph Churchill.
  • I put the words down and push them a bit.
    • As quoted in his obituary in The New York Times (11 April 1966)
  • Aesthetic value is often the by-product of the artist striving to do something else.
    • Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)
  • Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.
    • Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)

Decline and Fall (1928)

  • Please bear in mind throughout that IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY.
    • Author's note.
  • Mr. Sniggs, the Junior Dean, and Mr. Postlethwaite, the Domestic Bursar, sat alone in Mr. Sniggs's room overlooking the garden quad at Scone College.
  • I'm one of the blind alleys off the main road of procreation.
    • Grimes
  • "We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School. Frankly," said Mr Levy, "School is pretty bad..."
  • There will be a prize of half a crown for the longest essay, irrespective of any possible merit.
  • They should have told me that at the end of that gay journey and flower-strewn path were the hideous lights of home and the voices of children.
  • It's the seed of life we cary about with us like our skeletons, each one of us onconsciously pregnant with desirable villa residences. There's no escape. As individuals we simply do not exist. We are just potential home builders, beavers, and ants. How do we come into being? What is birth?
  • What is this impulse of two people to build their beastly home? It's you & me, unborn, asserting our presence. All we are is a manifestation of the impulse of family life, and if by chance we have escaped the itch ourselves, nature forces it upon us another way.
  • I don't believe that people would ever fall in love or want to be married if they hadn't been told about it. It's like abroad: no one would want to go there if they hadn't been told it existed.
  • And the only interest about him arises from the unusual series of events of which his shadow was witness.
  • There is a species of person called a 'Modern Churchman' who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief
  • That's the public-school system all over. They may kick you out, but they never let you down.
  • Instead of this absurd division into sexes they ought to class people as static and dynamic.
  • I came to the conclusion many years ago that almost all crime is due to the repressed desire for aesthetic expression.
  • I expect you'll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That's what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.
  • I haven't been to sleep for over a year. That's why I go to bed early. One needs more rest if one doesn't sleep.
  • Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.

Vile Bodies (1930)

  • Mrs. Ape's famous hymn, There ain't no flies on the Lamb of God.
    • Chapter 1
  • A copy of Dante's Purgatorio excited his especial disgust.

    "French, eh?" he said. "I guessed as much, and pretty dirty too, I shouldn't wonder. Now just you wait while I look up these here books"—how he said it!—"in my list. Particularly against books the Home Secretary is. If we can't stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside."

    • Chapter 2
  • All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I'd sooner go to my dentist any day.

Black Mischief (1932)

  • "We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty-fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the throne of our ancestors, do hereby proclaim. . ." Seth paused in his dictation and gazed out across the harbour where in the fresh breeze of early morning the last dhow was setting sail for the open sea. "Rats," he said; "stinking curs. They are all running away."
    • First lines
  • "You see my adjutant made rather a silly mistake. He hadn't had much truck with boots before and the silly fellow thought they were extra rations. My men ate the whole bag of tricks last night."
    • Chapter 5

A Handful of Dust (1934)

  • "Was anyone hurt?"
    "No one I am thankful to say," said Mrs. Beaver, "except two housemaids who lost their heads and jumped through a glass roof into the paved court."
    • First lines

Scoop (1938)

  • While still a young man, John Courteney Boot had, as his publisher proclaimed, "achieved an assured and enviable position in contemporary letters."
  • As there was no form of government common to the peoples thus segregated, nor tie of language, history, habit, or belief, they were called a Republic.
  • Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.
    • An oft-quoted example of William Boot's style. When first mentioned in the novel it is "splashy" and not "plashy", but this is a remembrance of another journalist; when Boot himself quotes it, he has "plashy".
  • "The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere," he said. "Self-sufficiency at home, self-assertion abroad."
    • A quote from Lord Copper.
  • Other nations use 'force'; we Britons alone use 'Might'.
  • News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it. After that it's dead.
  • He was gifted with the sly, sharp instinct for self-preservation that passes for wisdom among the rich.
  • "I will not stand for being called a woman in my own house,"
  • "Up to a point, Lord Copper."
    • Lord Copper, proprietor of the Daily Beast is a man to whom one never says 'No' directly. This is what one says instead.
  • Lord Copper quite often gave banquets; it would be an understatement to say that no one enjoyed them more than the host, for no one else enjoyed them at all, while Lord Copper positively exulted in every minute.

Put Out More Flags (1942)

  • The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.
    • Ch. 1 : Autumn, § 7
  • So the two of them went to London by the early morning train. 'Let's surprise her,' said Nigel, but Cedric telephoned first, wryly remembering the story of the pedantic adulterer - 'My dear, it is I who am surprised; you are astounded.'
    • Ch. 3 : Spring

Brideshead Revisited (1945)

  • When I reached C Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning.
    • First lines of Prologue.
  • "I have been here before," I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest.
    • First lines part 1, chapter 1.
  • But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiousity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchaned garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.
    • Part 1, Chapter 1
  • To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.
    • Part 1, Chapter 1
  • '...Conversation should be like juggling; up go the balls and the plates, up and over, in and out, good solid objects that glitter in the footlights and fall with a bang if you miss them. But when dear Sebastian speaks it is like a little sphere of soapsud drifting off the end of an old clay pipe, anywhere, full of rainbow light for a secnd and then - phut! vanished, with nothing left at all, nothing.'
    • Part 1, Chapter 2
  • How ungenerously in later life we disclaim the virtuous moods of our youth, living in retrospect long, summer days of unreflecting dissipation. There is no candour in a story of early manhood which leaves out of account the home-sickness for nursery morality, the regrets and resolutions of amendment, the black hours which, like zero on the roulette table, turn up with roughly calculable regularity."
  • The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant they are.
    • Part 1, Chapter 3
  • "It is typical of Oxford," I said, "to start the new year in autumn."
    • Part 1, start of chapter 4
  • O God, make me good, but not yet.
    • Part 1, start of chapter 5.
  • '...I wonder if you remember the story mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk - I mean the bad evening. "Father Brown" said something like "I caught him" (the thief) "with an unseen hook and and invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."'
    • Part 2, Chapter
  • It doesn't matter what people call you unless they call you pigeon pie and eat you up.
    • Part 2, Chapter 3
  • My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time.
  • We possess nothing certainly except the past.
    • Part 3, start of chapter 1.
  • 'perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; vagabond-language scrawled on gate-posts and paving-stones along the weary road that others have tramped before us; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow whcih turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.'
  • She seemed to say "Look at me. I have done my share. I am beautiful. It is something quite out of the ordinary, this beauty of mine. I am made for delight. But what do I get out of it? Where is my reward?"

That was the change in her from ten years ago; that, indeed, was her reward, this haunting, this magical sadness which spoke straight to the heart and struck silence; it was the completion of her beauty."

    • Part 3, Chapter 4
  • I have lived carefully, sheltered myself from the cold winds, eaten moderately of what was in season, drunk fine claret, slept in my own sheets; I shall live long.
    • Part 3, chapter 5, Lord Marchmain's dying soliloquy.
  • O God, if there is a God, forgive him his sins, if there is such a thing as sin.
  • '...But I saw today there was one thing unforgivable - like things in the school-room, so bad they were unpunishable, that only mummy could deal with - the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I'm not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God's.'
    • Part 3, near end of chapter 5
  • Quomondo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
    • Epilogue

The Loved One (1948)

  • All day the head had been barely supportable but at evening a breeze arose in the West, blowing from the heart of the setting sun and from the ocean, which lay unseen, unheard behind the scrubby foothills. It shook the rusty fringes of palm-leaf and swelled the dry sounds of summer, the frog-voices, the grating cicadas, and the ever present pulse of music from the neighbouring native huts.
    • First lines
  • You never find an Englishman among the under-dogs—except in England, of course.
    • Chapter 1
  • In the dying world I come from, quotation is a national vice. No one would think of making an after-dinner speech without the help of poetry. It used to be the classics, now it's lyric verse.
    • Chapter 9
  • Tomorrow and on every anniversary as long as the Happier Hunting Ground existed a postcard would go to Mr. Joyboy: Your little Aimée is wagging her tail in heaven tonight, thinking of you.
    • Chapter 10

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957)

  • It may happen in the next hundred years that the English novelists of the present day will come to be valued as we now value the artists and craftsmen of the late eighteenth century.
    • First lines
  • He had no wish to obliterate anything he had written, but he would dearly have liked to revise it, envying painters, who are allowed to return to the same theme time and time again, clarifying and enriching until they have done all they can with it. A novelist is condemned to provide a succession of novelties, new names for characters, new incidents for his plots, new scenery; but, Mr Pinfold maintained, most men harbour the germs of one or two books only; all else is professional trickery of which the most daemonic of the masters — Dickens and Balzac even — were flagrantly guilty.
  • His strongest tastes were negative. He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing and jazz — everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime.
    • Chapter 1

A Little Learning (1964)

  • Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.
    • First lines


  • Your action, and your action alone, determines your worth.
    • Johann Gottlieb Fichte in The Vocation of Man [Die Bestimmung des Menschen] (1800), p. 94 : "You are here, not for idle contemplation of yourself, not for brooding over devout sensations — no, for action you are here; action, and action alone, determines your worth."
  • Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.
    • Simone Weil, in The Pre-War Notebook (1933-1939), published in First and Last Notebooks (1970) edited by Richard Rees

Quotes about Waugh

  • If Brideshead Revisited is not a great book, it's so like a great book that many of us, at least while reading it, find it hard to tell the difference.
  • The lady said, "It's no good trying to buy a paper here. That Sir William Beveridge is going to abolish want, so all the papers were sold out". Later that day or the next day I asked him to come to lunch. I was meeting with Evelyn Waugh, an old friend and famous writer. They did not get on at all well. Evelyn Waugh said to him at the end, "How do you get your main pleasure in life, Sir William?" He paused and said, "I get mine trying to leave the world a better place than I found it". Evelyn Waugh said, "I get mine spreading alarm and despondency" — this was in the height of the war — "and I get more satisfaction than you do". So he did not meet with universal acclamation, but nearly everyone admired Beveridge at that time. He was a wonderful man.

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Evelyn Waugh (pronounce like the word "war") (28 October 190310 April 1966) was an English writer. He is well known for his satirical novels which include Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, Scoop, A Handful of Dust and The Loved One, and especially for Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honour trilogy. When he was writing these novels he used experiences that he had in his own life. He often describes British aristocracy and high society, making satirical fun of them. However, in his real life he was also attracted to them.

His travel writings and his diaries and letters have also been published.

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