Evelyn Waugh Biography

Evelyn Waugh Biography

Evelyn Waugh’s biting attacks on British society and its mores were matched only by his love for them. Therein lies the unique achievement of Waugh’s work, which satirized British aristocratic life with great affection. His seminal novel, Brideshead Revisited, perfectly captures this seeming dichotomy. The expansive novel, regularly ranked among the century’s greatest, is a kind of soap opera writ large, with wry observations about its upper-crust characters. At the same time, it is heralded for perfectly capturing the pre-World War II moment in Britain. Questions of faith, which were so crucial to Waugh’s beliefs, also figure prominently in the epic novel. Ultimately, perhaps it was Waugh’s faith that allowed him to balance his blatant criticisms with knowing warmth.

Facts and Trivia

  • Though his father and older brother were writers and editors, Waugh did not immediately take up the pen. He first tried being an artist.
  • Despite the alleged homosexuality of his youth, Waugh was married twice. His first (and quite short-lived) marriage was to a woman whose name also happened to be Evelyn.
  • Waugh wrote three novels, dubbed the Sword of Honour trilogy, about his experiences during World War II.
  • In his adulthood, Waugh became a devout and conservative Catholic. He was very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the changes instituted by the Church in the 1960s.
  • Waugh put out an extraordinary body of work during his lifetime, but that was only a portion of his writing. Waugh’s diaries and correspondence were released posthumously.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111201603-Waugh.jpg Evelyn Waugh Published by Salem Press, Inc.

From the 1940’s until his death in 1966, Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh (waw) served as bête noire for left-wing critics on both sides of the Atlantic, a role he seemed to enjoy. He was born in London on October 28, 1903, the second son of Arthur Waugh, author and managing director of the publishing firm of Chapman and Hall, and Catherine Charlotte Raban. Evelyn’s father and brother, Alec, had attended Sherborne School, but Alec had been expelled and shortly thereafter published The Loom of Youth (1917), a sensational exposé of public school life. Sherborne was thus out of the question for Evelyn, so he attended Lancing College before going up to Oxford University.

In 1925 Waugh left Hertford College, Oxford, with a modest third-class degree in history. As a young man whose father and elder brother were firmly established as professional writers and editors, he might have been thought a natural candidate for a literary career himself. Instead, he tried several fields first—including art, to which he was strongly attracted—before turning to letters. He served brief tenures as a schoolmaster at two obscure public schools. The experience was a profoundly unhappy one, which led to Waugh’s attempted suicide by drowning, yet it also furnished the material for his first novel. In the autumn of 1927, Waugh met Evelyn Gardner. The two were soon married, and Waugh’s literary career was launched with two books: Rossetti, a commercial failure published in 1928, and Decline and Fall, a critical and commercial success appearing the same year. Decline and Fall is a madcap satire in the style of Voltaire’s Candide (1759), with an ironic depiction of Oxford, spurious and neurotic schoolmasters, and the penal system (which Waugh likens to an English public school).

In 1930 his Vile Bodies satirized the Bright Young People, the English equivalent of flappers in the United States. This novel, like his first, was wildly funny, and he had found his audience. In contrast, his personal life was in ruins—just as he achieved literary success, his wife of fewer than two years deserted him for another man. That he peppered his novels with faithless young wives for the rest of his career testifies to the depth of his bitterness. In 1929 he had begun traveling in the Mediterranean with his wife. After his divorce, he traveled incessantly for three years—in Abyssinia, Africa, and South America. The results of this compulsive peregrination were the travel books Labels, Remote People, and Ninety-two Days as well as considerable raw material for future novels.

Waugh’s third novel, Black Mischief, appeared in 1932. It is certainly a satire of British...

(The entire section is 1129 words.)

Evelyn Waugh Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh was born in Hampstead, a suburb of London, in 1903 to Arthur and Catherine Waugh. He attended Lancing College from 1917 to 1924 and Hertford College, Oxford, from 1921 to 1924, from which he left without taking a degree. Although Waugh turned to writing novels only after aborted careers as a draftsman, a schoolmaster, and a journalist, his family background was literary; his father directed Chapman and Hall publishers until 1929, and his older brother Alec published his first novel, The Loom of Youth, in 1917.

Waugh’s years at Oxford and his restless search for employment during the 1920’s brought him experiences that were later fictionalized in several of his novels. After leaving Oxford in 1924, he enrolled in the Heatherley School of Fine Art, where he aspired to be a draftsman; later in that year, he was apprenticed to a printer for a brief period. His employment as a schoolmaster in Wales in 1925 and in Buckinghamshire in 1926 formed the background for his first novel, Decline and Fall. His struggle to establish himself as a writer and his participation in the endless parties of London’s aristocratic youth during the last years of the 1920’s are fictionalized in his second novel, Vile Bodies.

In 1927, Waugh was engaged to Evelyn Gardner and, despite the objections of her family, married her in 1928 when his financial prospects seemed more secure after the publication of his life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his first novel. In 1929, while Waugh was working in seclusion on Vile Bodies, his wife announced that she was having an affair; the couple, temperamentally unsuited to each other, were divorced that year.

The next seven years of...

(The entire section is 714 words.)

Evelyn Waugh Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh (waw) was born in London, England, on October 28, 1903, the second son of Arthur Waugh, author and managing director of the publishing firm of Chapman and Hall, and Catherine Charlotte Raban. Evelyn Waugh was five years younger than his brother, Alec Raban Waugh, who would also become a professional writer. The boys grew up in the London suburb of Hampstead, with Evelyn feeling very much overshadowed by his gregarious, good-natured, athletic brother. Evelyn’s writings, his correspondence, and anecdotal evidence clearly document a sibling rivalry that existed, on his part, for the rest of his life, while the elder brother appears to have harbored no such feelings whatsoever. After having been acknowledged for many years as a more eminent writer than his brother, Evelyn still bristled when an article suggested that Alec had sold more books than he.

Evelyn’s father and brother had attended Sherborne School, but Alec had been dismissed following a sexual misadventure. He then made matters worse, from the Sherborne point of view, by publishing The Loom of Youth (1917), a sensational exposé of public school life. Interestingly, Alec Waugh would go on to write more than forty books but would not duplicate the success of this first novel until the publication of Island in the Sun(1956). At any rate, his explosion onto the literary scene made it impossible for his younger brother to attend Sherborne. Evelyn Waugh attended Lancing College, one of the less fashionable public schools, before going up to the University of Oxford, where he had gained a scholarship to Hertford College.

At Oxford, Waugh became a member of a set of intellectual and aesthetic dandies, several of whom would also have noteworthy literary careers. He dined and drank and enjoyed Oxford society enormously, while reading history in a desultory fashion. As a result, he left the university in 1924 with a modest third-class degree. Waugh tried several vocations before finally turning to the profession of his father and brother. He studied art, to which he was strongly attracted, and cabinetmaking—he would later say that he considered himself a craftsman who made books as another person might make furniture. He taught briefly at two obscure public schools and was profoundly unhappy as a schoolmaster—so unhappy, in fact, that he attempted to drown himself in the ocean. His suicide attempt, however, ended as ludicrously as a scene from one of his novels when he was stung by a jellyfish and forced to return, smarting, to the shore. His ineffective schoolteaching, though, did give him material for his first novel.

In the autumn of 1927, Waugh met and began to court Evelyn Gardner. The two were soon married on the strength of Waugh’s literary prospects. His first two books appeared in 1928. The first, Rossetti: His Life and Works, a study of the...

(The entire section is 1189 words.)

Evelyn Waugh Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Evelyn Waugh’s earliest novels were received, and praised, as farces and amusing romps. His essential seriousness of purpose was ignored or misunderstood. He was long viewed as a talented entertainer whose language and syntax were flawless and whose plots were delightfully inventive. As the body of his work grew and as he reiterated his theme of the spiritual emptiness of modern life, however, critics were forced to take note. Eventually, to those who shared his view of humanity’s fallen nature, who shared his passions and his fears, he became much more than an entertainer. He became a kind of witty Jeremiah, prophesying the end of grace, both divine and earthly, from behind a mask of scornful laughter.

(The entire section is 119 words.)

Evelyn Waugh Biography

(Novels for Students)

Evelyn Waugh was born on October 28, 1903, in Hampstead, London, England, the son of Arthur (an editor and publisher) and Catherine Charlotte...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Evelyn Waugh Biography

(Novels for Students)

The religious issues appearing in Brideshead Revisited concerned Evelyn Waugh from a relatively young age. Born Evelyn Arthur St. John...

(The entire section is 671 words.)