Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Waugh’s novel, subtitled “An Anglo-American Tragedy,” may not appear tragic to most readers. Nevertheless, Waugh wrote the book in a despondent rather than humorous frame of mind. For his diary entry of October 28, 1947, he wrote:

My 44th birthday I am a very much older man than this time last year, physically infirm & lethargic. Mentally I have reached a stage of non-attachment which if combined with a high state of prayer—as it is not—would be edifying.... I have vast reasons for gratitude but am seldom conscious of them.

One of the reasons for gratitude, he goes on to note, is that he has written in the past year two good stories, Scott-King’s Modern Europe (1947) and The Loved One, and has “decided to remain in England.”

Most readers, fortunately, will not detect Waugh’s gloomy tone when they read the novel. Instead, The Loved One will strike them as a spirited romp of the macabre, with delicious portraits that remain long in the memory. In spite of these amusing portraits, some critics have judged the book as a whole a work of “black comedy.” The year of its publication places The Loved One very early in the absurdist movement that became popular, especially in the theater, during the 1950’s. Yet Waugh’s novel is not true black comedy, because the writer’s attitude is not absurdist. Waugh does not believe...

(The entire section is 463 words.)