A softer, kinder, gentler Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966).
Since there are already numerous biographies of Waugh, is there need for another? Englishman Eade (Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters, 2014, etc.) thinks so. For one thing, it’s the 50th anniversary of Waugh’s death; for another, Eade accessed some previously unavailable key primary resources. One is an unpublished memoir by Eade’s first wife, Evelyn (friends called her “Shevelyn”). After knowing her for a few months, Waugh proposed with the line: “Let’s get married and see how it goes.” The other was a large cache of letters from a young woman, Teresa, with whom Waugh had an affair in the 1930s. Waugh was a prolific writer of stories, novels, and travel books. Though he is better known in England than in the United States, two of his novels—Brideshead Revisited, which he called his “magnum opus,” and The Loved One, which he described as a “study of the Anglo-American cultural impasse with the mortuary as a jolly setting”—have earned him a readership in America. Early on, writes Eade, Waugh developed a “cruel streak.” His father was bad-tempered, and Waugh hated his older brother—though he said his early years were “happy enough.” When his novel Vile Bodies (1930) established him “as one of the country’s most celebrated young novelists,” his father complained about his son’s “vulgar self-publicising”—even though he ran the press that published it. Eade eschews discussing Waugh’s writings in any depth, preferring to focus on how they relate to the people in his life. The book is brimming with society-page stuff: tales of dalliances and social dinners; quotes commenting on who’s smitten with whom; who is/isn’t a homosexual; etc.—all of which grows tedious eventually. The author admits Waugh was probably something of a snob, but charges of his being a bully may be a stretch.
Eade offers up a softer portrait of Waugh that might help bring him some new readers, which he deserves.