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...
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