The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh Essay - Critical Essays

Evelyn Waugh

The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh

ph_0111201603-Waugh.jpg Evelyn Waugh Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The decade from the mid-1970’s to the mid-1980’s saw a considerable boom in Waugh materials and studies. His diaries were edited in 1976 by Michael Davie and his letters received an excellent edition in 1980 by Mark Amory. Evelyn Waugh: A Reference Guide, by Margaret Morriss and D. J. Dooley, appeared in 1984, as did Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage. Waugh has even been honored by the publication of A Catalog of the Evelyn Waugh Collection at the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas (1981). And in 1977, the editor of the present volume published A Little Order: Evelyn Waugh, a Selection from His Journalism.

That volume was a small one, but the present work is anything but that. It is to be welcomed as supplying further material for the renewed interest in Waugh evident in the above books and in a growing number of critical studies, though it should be made clear at the outset that the pieces here collected will change little the major outlines and directions of Waugh criticism. There are no new directions here, no revelations, no unpublished pieces. What Gallagher has done is to make available a sizable amount of Waugh’s occasional and journalistic writings in one handy, if large, compilation.

The contents of the book are even more heterogeneous than the rather general title would suggest. “Articles” perhaps covers a multitude of pieces that are not clearly either essays or reviews, such as letters to the editors of various journals and minor squibs. The editor has surveyed the entire corpus of Waugh’s occasional writings; he has presented readers with about 240 pieces; the remaining pieces, about 390, are ranged in a useful list in the back of the book. (For those interested in such statistics, it may be noted that of the 390 pieces not printed here, eighty-seven are letters to editors and 117 are book reviews.) The pieces in the book range in length from less than half a page to a dozen pages, though very few are of the latter length, and most of the pieces are two or three pages, limited mainly, no doubt, by the requirements of the journals in which they appeared.

The editor’s criteria for which pieces to include are as agreeably general as the title of his volume:Everything has been included that could reasonably be thought “important”, either on account of its quality or of its theme; so too has every piece known to have been commented on, favourably or unfavourably, by anyone; and everything that seems likely to be of assistance to students of Waugh. In other words I have tried to bring together everything notably funny, elegant, beautiful, profound or self-revealing, and anything that seems to define Waugh’s own aims.

With such standards, one may justly wonder how it was possible to leave anything out. Gallagher has arranged the materials in chronological order with notations of the original piece and date of publication for each piece and only occasional explanatory footnotes. The selections are divided into six parts, corresponding to six successive periods of Waugh’s life, for each of which the editor supplies a separate introduction and attempts to characterize Waugh’s life and writings. Thus: “’bookish teenager’ and raffish student [1917-1928]; ’ultra-modern’ young novelist [1928-1930]; adventurous traveller [1930-1935]; right-wing propagandist [1935-1946]; successful Catholic novelist in retreat from the modern world and the century of the common man [1946-1955]; and self-appointed scourge of the classless society and progressive Catholicism [1955-1966].” The introduction to each section is specific and detailed, setting out clearly the themes of the years covered and pointing out particular pieces as important. If the six introductions, along with the preface, have a single theme, it is that of pointing out repeatedly the consistency of Waugh’s views and opinions, especially on matters political, religious, and social. After even a cursory glance through the collection, the reader is certainly forced to agree. Taken together, the introductions and the preface could well be published separately, as a useful and balanced introductory monograph on Waugh.

Because of the eclectic nature of the compilation, it is difficult to make any generalized comments about the contents as a whole, but there are several characteristics or interests which do begin to impress themselves upon the consciousness of the diligent reader....

(The entire section is 1828 words.)