Evelyn Waugh : a biography

by Selina Hastings

Paper Book, 1994




Boston : Houghton Miflin, c1994.


"One of the foremost writers of our time, Evelyn Waugh was also one of its most extraordinary eccentrics, with a life full of comedy and conflict. Selina Hastings, who was granted unrestricted access to his personal papers by Waugh's family, has uncovered a wealth of new material in her eight years of research for this volume. Letters, diaries, and family photographs shed new light on Waugh's childhood, his affairs at Oxford, his ill-fated first marriage and subsequent romantic adventures, his World War II military service, and his enduring but thorny friendships with such notable figures as Diana Cooper, Ann Fleming, and Nancy Mitford." "Perceptive, fascinating, by turns hilarious and tragic, Hastings' portrait gives us Waugh's glittering social life at Oxford, where he was a friend of Harold Acton, Cyril Connolly, Anthony Powell, and Alastair Graham, the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Waugh then followed a diverse career as schoolmaster, world traveler, war correspondent, and, as a novelist, one of the brightest lights of Britain's fashionable society. Here in intimate detail are the collapse of Waugh's first marriage and his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, his second marriage and ambivalence about family life, and the social milieu satirized in such classics as Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, and A Handful of Dust. Here is Evelyn Waugh in all his extremes, brought brilliantly to life in a thoroughly entertaining biography."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

Media reviews

That beautiful clear prose, and all those tantrums. One cannot venture to explain them; but they go very far back. Born in 1903 to a father who didn't care for him, Waugh was shipped off to school in the English way, only to find school disrupted by World War I. And the postwar Oxford his "Brideshead Revisited" celebrates seems to have been largely a pederastic sink. Ms. Hastings has many lurid pages. "With every major writer there is room for at least three biographies: the memoir written by a personal friend; the academic biography; and thirdly a more general account," she writes. Acknowledging that previous biographies of Waugh written by Christopher Skyes and Martin Stannard fill the first two categories, respectively, Ms. Hastings, who also has written a biography of Nancy Mitford, declares that her book intends "to give as close an impression as possible of what it was like to know Evelyn Waugh." Sunken low, Waugh seems to have willed himself to die after Mass on Easter Sunday, 1966. The Second Vatican Council's messing-up of the liturgy was a factor in his despair. And so he died, behind a locked door in the downstairs lavatory, where his obese body was found on the floor. Not a pretty death, but the kind of death Waugh had imagined in novels, and had recounted as precisely as Selina Hastings has recounted his.


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