Reading Evelyn Waugh

Decline and FallA couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Little, Brown and Company were reissuing all the works of Evelyn Waugh in hardcover, paperback, and ebook. I’ve always been a fan of the British novel, but, to my shame, I’d never gotten around to reading any of Waugh’s novels.

I have been planning to read Brideshead Revisited for the last two years, but I always come against the insurmountable obstacle of not actually owning the book. Since they’re handy, I’ll pick up some Trollope or Austen instead. The release of these new editions caused me to get serious about reading some Waugh, so I laid aside my beloved Dorothy Sayers for a time.

I considered immediately downloading Brideshead Revisited to my kindle, but then I decided that the notoriously conservative Waugh might not approve. He’d probably prefer I read a printed copy. Far be it from me to dishonor the dead. So I decided to order a hardcover copy, but then I realized that in the time it would take UPS to deliver a copy, I could probably get one off of my mother’s shelf during my Christmas visit.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my mother’s copy of Brideshead Revisited. Her book shelves are in a terrible disarray. (I must admit that my bookshelves are in a terrible disarray as well. You know what they say about the falling apple.) I did, however, find her copy of Waugh’s Decline and Fall. Since Decline and Fall was Waugh’s first published novel, I decided that it would be a decent enough place to start and that I’d get to Brideshead Revisited later.

Since I’m in the midst of Waugh, I was pleased when yesterday I came across an article on his writing and religion by Matthew Walther over at First Things. Waugh converted from an irreligious life to Roman Catholicism a couple of years after the publication of Decline and Fall. Walther defends Waugh’s genius against critics of his Catholicism.

These critics assume a divide between the early Waugh and the later one of “untenable” faith. Yet everything that Orwell et al appreciate in Waugh’s early novels—the sometimes antiseptic moral pyrrhonism, the champagne prose, the game at romps plotting—is just as present in the later fiction, nowhere more so than in the loathed Brideshead.

I’m looking forward to comparing pre- and post-conversion Waugh for myself.

Sometimes the reading life can be a bit lonely, so I’m glad that I came across Walther’s essay. I enjoy discussing with other people the books that I’m reading, while I’m reading them, but often it’s hard to find someone to talk with. Now all the bookworms can come together—It’s just another blessing of the internet. Of couse Waugh would probably be pleased if I mentioned the internet’s curses as well. I could read more of his novels if I wasn’t typing this post.

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