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Famous Like Me > Writer > W > Evelyn Waugh

Profile of Evelyn Waugh on Famous Like Me

Name: Evelyn Waugh  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 28th October 1903
Place of Birth: London, England, UK
Profession: Writer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Evelyn Waugh, as photographed in 1940 by Carl Van Vechten

Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh (October 28, 1903 – April 10, 1966) was an English satirical novelist, brother of Alec Waugh and father of Auberon Waugh. He is generally regarded as one the the greatest figures in English literature in the 20th century.

Early Life

Born in London, Waugh was the son of a noted editor and publisher, Arthur Waugh, and was brought up in middle class circumstances in London. His only brother was the writer Alec Waugh. He was educated at Lancing College, a minor English public school with a High Church Anglican emphasis and then at Oxford University (Hertford College), which he left in 1924 with a third-class degree. At Oxford, he was known as much for his artwork as his writing, although he also threw himself into a vigorous social scene populated by both aesthetes and nobility, in which one of the vogues was queerness. Waugh had at least two gay affairs during this time, before beginning to date women in the late 1920s. In 1925 he taught at a private school in Wales and claims to have attempted suicide by swimming out to sea (turning back, however, when stung by a jellyfish). He was also dismissed from another teaching post for "drunkenness"

He was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker and worked briefly as a journalist, before he had his first great literary success in 1928 with his first completed novel, Decline and Fall. Other novels about England's "Bright Young Things" followed, and all were well received by both critics and the general public. He entered into a rather brief and unsuccessful marriage in 1929 to the Hon. Evelyn Gardner, who incongruously had the same first name as he. Their marriage was annulled in 1936.

His second marriage, in 1937, to the Roman Catholic Laura Herbert, daughter of Aubrey Herbert, was more successful, lasting for the rest of his life and producing six children.

The Thirties

Particularly in the period between his two marriages, Waugh travelled restlessly and from these experiences came some of the best travel literature in the English language. It is, in its own way, comparable to the best of other travel writing masters such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, D.H. Lawrence and John Steinbeck. A compendium of his best travel writing has been issued under the title, When The Going Was Good. His travels took him around the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and on to Spitsbergen, Africa and South America.

In his pre-World War II novels Waugh satirized contemporary English society, especially the aristocracy and the upper middle classes. In later years, his novels were more overtly serious ("The Loved One" notwithstanding), although still witty and full of comic invention.

In 1930 he converted to Roman Catholicism, and his religious ideas are manifest, either explicitly or implicitly, in all of his later work, especially in Brideshead Revisited which, as he himself stated, is an account of the intervention of God's Grace in a troubled family.

World War II

With the advent of World War II, Waugh used "friends in high places", such as Randolph Churchill - son of Winston - to find him a service commission. Though thirty-six years of age with poor eyesight, he was commissioned in the Royal Marines in 1940. Few can have been less suited to command troops. He lacked a common touch. And though personally brave, he did not suffer fools gladly. There was some concern that the men under his command might shoot him instead of the enemy. Promoted to Captain, Waugh found life in the Marines dull.

Waugh participated in the failed attempt to take Dakar from the Vichy French in late 1940. Following a joint exercise with No.8 Commando (Army), he applied to join them and was accepted. Waugh took part in an ill-fated commando raid on the coast of Libya. He showed conspicuous bravery during the fighting in Crete, supervising the evacuation of troops while under attack by Stuka dive bombers.

Later, Waugh was placed on extended leave for several years and reassigned to the Royal Horse Guards. During this period he wrote Brideshead Revisited. He was recalled for a military/diplomatic mission to Yugoslavia in 1944 at the request of his old friend Randolph Churchill. He and Churchill narrowly escaped capture/death when the Germans undertook Operation Rösselsprung, and had paratroops and glider borne storm troops attack the Partisan headquarters where they were staying. An outcome was a formidable report detailing Tito's persecution of the clergy. It was "buried" by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (who also attempted to discredit Waugh) to save diplomatic embarrassment as Tito was then seen as a required ally of Britain and an official "friend".

Much of Waugh's war experience is reflected in his Sword of Honour Trilogy. This work is one of his finest achievements, showing the author at his best. Some of his portraits are unforgettable, and a few show striking resemblances to noted real life personalities. Many feel that the fire eating officer, Brig. Ben Ritchie-Hook, was based on Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Carton De Wiart, V.C., a friend of the author's father-in-law. Waugh knew Carton De Wiart somewhat from his club. The commando leader, Tommy Blackhouse, was based on Major-General Sir Robert Laycock, the famous commando leader and a friend of Waugh's.

Later Years

The period after the war saw Waugh living with his family in the West Country at his country homes, Piers Court, and from 1956 onwards, at Combe Florey in Somerset, where he lived as a country squire. He bequeathed the latter to his son, the writer and journalist Auberon Waugh. He made his living through writing and became a self-parodying reactionary figure. He was bitterly disappointed when the Roman Catholic Church, which he in part loved for what he perceived as its timelessness, began to adopt modern vernacular liturgy and other changes.

His travels to California yielded The Loved One, a satire on the American funeral industry. Trips to Africa and the Middle East provided background for travel literature.

But, most especially, this was the period when the Sword of Honour trilogy was written.

Waugh grew fat, and the sleeping pills he took, combined with a heavy intake of alcohol and not enough exercise, weakened his health. His writing productivity gradually ran down.

Evelyn Waugh died on 10 April 1966, at the age of 62. His estate was probated at 20,068 pounds sterling. This did not include the value of his lucrative copyrights, which Waugh had put in a trust for his children.

List of Works


  • Decline and Fall (1928) Satire of the upper classes and social climbers
  • Vile Bodies (1930) Brilliant satire with Waugh at his best. Adapted to the screen by Stephen Fry as Bright Young Things in 2003
  • Black Mischief (1932) Satire on Emperor Haile Selassie and his attempts to modernize his realm (Waugh was deeply critical of modernity and notions of rational progress).
  • A Handful of Dust (1934) Subtle critique of civilization set in English country house and British Guyana
  • Scoop - the rush of war reporters to a thinly disguised Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) (1938)
  • Put Out More Flags (1942) Satire of the phony war and wartime sillinesses
  • The Loved One (subtitled An Anglo-American Tragedy)- about the excesses of a Californian funeral business
  • Brideshead Revisited (subtitled The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder) - details the spiritual lives behind the facades of an aristocratic family and their friend, the protagonist (1945)
  • Helena (1950) Historial fiction about the Empress Helena and the founding of pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land, also a Catholic apologetic about the True Cross
  • The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957)

Sword of Honour Trilogy

  • Men at Arms (1952)
  • Love Among the Ruins. A Romance of the Near Future (1953)
  • Officers and Gentlemen (1955)
  • Unconditional Surrender (1961)


  • Saint Edmund Campion: Priest and Martyr
  • The Life of the Right Reverend Ronald Knox
  • "Dante Gabriel Rosetti"


  • A little learning (1964)

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Evelyn Waugh