Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Waugh once explained to Sykes that he had in mind five ideas when writing The Loved One: to render from his memories of Hollywood a scene with “over-excitement”—that is to say, with macabre exaggeration; to prove that English and American personalities are so incompatible that “never the twain shall meet”; to show that Americans are all “exiles uprooted, transplanted and doomed to sterility”; and to warn “European raiders who come for the spoils” of America, among them English writers who venture to make a fortune in Mollywood, that they will be lucky if they reach home with their loot. The final idea—one not so obvious—is mememto mori, remember death (or, “remember that you must die”).

This sober theme may be overlooked by readers who regard The Loved One merely as an antic satire on Southern Californian absurdities, especially those concerning funerary practices at Forest Lawn. Yet Waugh, a convert to Catholicism, is indeed serious in asserting that one purpose of the novel is to thrust before his readers the death’s-head, the grim reminder of their mortality. In his preface, he calls the novel “a nightmare and in parts, perhaps, somewhat gruesome.” He goes on to advise: “The squeamish should return their copies to the library or the bookstore unread.” Contemporary readers are unlikely to be as “squeamish” as those of 1948, because they have since been inured by more graphic examples of the macabre through television and motion pictures. Nevertheless, Waugh’s intention is not simply to titillate his audience with nightmares but also to startle the more complacent of them into thinking about reverence for life.

The two cemeteries treated in The Loved One—Whispering Glades, for humans, and The Happier Hunting Ground, for animals—are,...

(The entire section is 748 words.)