The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

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9780316926607: The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh's short fiction reveals in miniaturized perfection the elements that made him the greatest satirist of the twentieth century. The stories collected here range from delightfully barbed portraits of the British upper classes to an alternative ending to Waugh's novel A Handful of Dust; from a "missing chapter" in the life of Charles Ryder, the nostalgic hero of Brideshead Revisited, to a plot-packed morality tale that Waugh composed at a very tender age; from an epistolary lark in the voice of "a young lady of leisure" to a darkly comic tale of scandal in a remote (and imaginary) African outpost.The Complete Stories is a dazzling distillation of Waugh's genius-abundant evidence that one of the twentieth century's most admired and enjoyed English novelists was also a master of the short form.

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Review:

Mordant, mirthful, and unrelenting in their lampoon of aristocratic mischief, Evelyn Waugh's novels have earned him a permanent place in the literary pantheon. But this cantankerous master--the scion, by the way, of a decidedly middle-class family of publishers and writers--was no less adept when it came to the short form. Indeed, Waugh first broke into print in 1926 with "The Balance: A Yarn of the Good Old Days of Broad Trousers and High Necked Jumpers," an early story that suggests a modernized and misanthropic P.G. Wodehouse. And he continued to write short fiction throughout the rest of his career, all of which has now been collected in the delectable Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh.

The first few entries in the collection capture a kinder, gentler author, not yet red at the verbal tooth and claw. But by 1932, when he wrote "Love in the Slump," Waugh's eye for the black-comic detail was firmly in place:

It rained heavily on the day of the wedding, and only the last-ditchers among the St. Margaret's crowd turned out to watch the melancholy succession of guests popping out of their dripping cars and plunging up the covered way into the church.... A doctor was summoned to attend the bridegroom's small nephew, who, after attracting considerable attention as a page at the ceremony by his outspoken comments, developed a high temperature and numerous disquieting symptoms of food poisoning.
Waugh's wit only sharpened throughout the succeeding decades, and the very texture of his prose thickened (although it never took on much in the way of modernist adipose tissue). In "Compassion," a 1949 tale that belies the author's vaunted anti-Semitism, a mere glimpse of some Yugoslavian partisans leads to this superabundant sentence: "He passed ragged, swaggering partisans, all young, some scarcely more than children; girls in battle dress, bandaged, bemedalled, girdled with grenades, squat, chaste, cheerful, sexless, barely human, who had grown up in mountain bivouacs, singing patriotic songs, arm-in-arm along the pavements where a few years earlier rheumatics had crept with parasols and light, romantic novels." Nobody can accuse Waugh of squishy sentimentality--remember, romantic prose is strictly for convalescents. Still, The Complete Stories offers an accurate and stupendously entertaining vision of human folly, no less effective for being administered in smaller doses.

About the Author:

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), whom Time called "one of the century's great masters of English prose," wrote several widely acclaimed novels as well as volumes of biography, memoir, travel writing, and journalism. Three of his novels, A Handful of Dust, Scoop, and Brideshead Revisited, were selected by the Modern Library as among the 100 best novels of the twentieth century.

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