One of the foremost writers of our time, Evelyn Waugh was also one of its most extraordinary eccentrics, with a life full of comedy and conflict. Selina Hastings, who was granted unrestricted access to his personal papers by Waugh's family, has uncovered a wealth of new material in her eight years of research for this volume. Letters, diaries, and family photographs shed new light on Waugh's childhood, his affairs at Oxford, his ill-fated first marriage and subsequent romantic adventures, his World War II military service, and his enduring but thorny friendships with such notable figures as Diana Cooper, Ann Fleming, and Nancy Mitford. Perceptive, fascinating, by turns hilarious and tragic, Hastings's portrait gives us Waugh's glittering social life at Oxford, where he was a friend of Harold Acton, Cyril Connolly, Anthony Powell, and Alastair Graham, the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Waugh then followed a diverse career as schoolmaster, world traveler, war co
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English biographer Hastings (Nancy Mitford) understands exactly the nature of her task, proclaiming at the start of this massive, elegantly written and exhaustively researched biography that her subject's reputation rests on two premises?"that he was one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century, and that as a man he was a monster." She was given unrestricted access to letters and diaries (many of them unpublished) and has come up with a study that is respectful of Waugh's accomplishments though perhaps excessively forgiving of his preposterous behavior toward friends, family and the world at large. Waugh (1903-1966) was a bullying, choleric man who frequently drank himself into oblivion, but whose wildly satiric humor endeared him to the smart set at Oxford and later in London and became the basis of the series of brilliant novels, written in the '20s and '30s, portraying that world. He was an unapologetic snob who genuinely believed that Britain's landed gentry were a superior race; who despised children (including most of his own), the lower classes, foreigners and modern life in general; and who was a passionate convert to the reactionary extremes of Roman Catholicism. (Nancy Mitford asked him how he reconciled "being so horrible with being a Christian." Waugh replied that he would be "even more horrible" except for his faith?"and anyway would have committed suicide years ago.") He hated Americans, and when Brideshead Revisited, the work for which he is probably best known, was a success in the U.S., he wrote: "I thought it in good taste before but now know it can't be." The entertainment value of Waugh's highly eccentric life, as of much of his work, is high, and Hastings has given the most detailed and graceful account of both yet to appear. Photos.
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Hastings' portrait reveals Waugh as a man with "spirit and eccentric humor" whose "streak of cruelty" was much in evidence throughout his life. His satirical wit, so delicious in Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, and Brideshead Revisited, did not play as well in his personal life and affairs. Fawned over by his mother, ignored by his father, who preferred older brother Alec, Waugh was "a world-weary cynic even as a child." Raised in London, he was a little bully in school, tormenting others, including a delicate Cecil Beaton. Hastings makes much of Waugh's adolescent infatuations and homosexual affairs while in boarding school and later at Oxford and documents his heavy drinking throughout young adulthood. Unhappy as a schoolmaster and having failed at marriage, Waugh spent a decade traveling, including a fascinating period in Yugoslavia with Randolph Churchill at the British Military Mission. His second marriage and subsequent family life may have tempered some of his earlier behavior, but Waugh never lost his overt scorn of others. His relationships were always turbulent: he could be romantic, generous, and compassionate, then suddenly turn nasty and acidic. Hastings draws his character with great depth. In particular, she does a good job of tracing Waugh's religious impulses from very early youth to his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1930. A wonderful book about a good writer who was an awful person. Ron Antonucci
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Book Description VINTAGE (RAND), 1995. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110099436957