Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
“Thorough” is the first word I would use to describe this biography. Intense, assured, incisive. America had Hemingway and Fitzgerald, while England had Waugh and Wodehouse.
Wodehouse found the whole scene rather silly and made hysterical fun of it. Waugh, on the other hand, had a more complicated view.
The Great War had left aristocratic families in tattered remnants. Elder sons were dead, or maimed. A heavy tax was levied against the very wealthy, forcing many to close up or sell manor homes. A few found themselves forced to take jobs. The younger siblings of these wayward families felt they had their own marks to make and became known as the Bright Young People. Waugh, for his part, was a member of the club, but not to the manor born. His inclusion was based solely on his friendships with various hosts of the ongoing party. He felt distinct self-loathing both for participating in their debauchery, and in desiring to be a part of it.
It seems his cynicism ebbed and flowed, depending on his mood (or more likely, his standing within an important family). But his wit remained intact and was employed in varying thicknesses upon all of his writing.
This biography chooses the writing of Waugh’s most famous work, Brideshead Revisited, as its ultimate target, but as I mentioned before, it is nothing if not thorough. At times, it can see a little too tangental. For instance, the chapter exploring the secret scandal of the Lygon family is a bit to muddled, although it makes for good gossip.
All in all, the author has approached her subject with supreme respect, and bravely included even the unsavory bits for her readers.
Many thanks the folks at Harper Collins for the review copy. The paperback will be available March 8, 2011. Hardcover available now.