Evelyn Waugh’s literary contribution to modern culture is immense – memorable novels, insightful travel writing, perceptive journalism – but his greatest legacy is that he wrote stylish prose. He put down biting satire in Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust, wrote elegantly about World War II in his Sword of Honour trilogy of novels and managed to single-handedly create nostalgia for the fading British nobility in Brideshead Revisited.
Like so many other authors who wrote on either side of World War II, Waugh (1903-1966) led a fascinating life. He started out as a school teacher but was bored and quickly turned to writing. His first wife was also called Evelyn. He converted to Catholicism in 1930. He travelled the globe extensively as a nomadic journalist during the 1930s. Waugh (full name Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh) fought, rather unsuccessfully, in World War II. Brideshead Revisited, written while recovering from a broken leg suffered in a parachute training accident, brought him fame and fortune. He had a mental breakdown in 1953 but his experiences still inspired a novel - The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Towards the end of his life, he suffered from ill health and a lack of funds.
His strong opinions ranged from the merits of Catholicism to the merits of the British class system. He wrote a fine book about wine – Wine in Peace and War – that is now highly collectible along with first editions, complete with dust jackets, of his novels.
A large number of books have been written about Waugh who continues to provoke discussion more than 40 years after his death. At War with Waugh by William Deedes, Evelyn Waugh A Biography by Selina Hastings and Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead are all worth a look. There are many varying opinions about Waugh himself, who seemed to polarize people, but the biographers all agree about the high quality of his writing.