WHEN blurb writers are caroling the praises of some newly emerged maestro of sophisticated farce, they can seldom resist the temptation of comparing him to "the early Evelyn Waugh." Despite the fact that Brideshead Revisited -- which introduces the "later" or "serious" Evelyn Waugh -- has sold many more copies in the United States than all of Waugh's other books put together, his name, at least among the literary -- is still most apt to evoke a singular brand of comic genius. He is, par excellence, an example of the artist who has created a world peculiarly his own. The adjective "Waughsian" is too much of a tongue twister to have passed into our vocabulary, but a substitute phrase has -- "It's pure Evelyn Waugh."
"Pure Evelyn Waugh." The expression evokes a riotously anarchic cosmos, in which only the outrageous can happen, and -- when it does happen is outrageously diverting; in which people reason and behave with awesome inconsequence and lunatic logic. A primitive ruler, eager to be modern, is induced by a wily contractor to purchase boots for his barefoot army: the savages happily heat up their cookpots and devour the boots. An Oxford porter says to an undergraduate who has just been expelled: "I expect you'll be becoming a school master, sir. That's what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour." On the planet where Waugh's comic novels have their being, Oxford and Mayfair are as barbarous in their way as darkest Azania.
There are few contemporary writers of the first rank whose imagination runs to such appalling and macabre inventions as Waugh's does; and there is none who carries audacity to such lengths in using the atrocious as the material of farce. Consider a few of the episodes from which (taken in their proper context) Waugh has succeeded in distilling the choicest entertainment. Agatha Runcible -- one of the Bright Young People in Vile Bodies -- tipsily joins a motor race, has a crackup, and, after a cocktail party in her sick room, dies. The hero of Black Mischief, after feasting with savages on a delicious pot-au-feu, learns that he has just eaten his recent mistress, Prudence, daughter of the British Minister. The Loved One focuses with a bland and relentless fascination on every detail in the preparation of cadavers for burial by a de luxe establishment in Southern California.
Crazy accidents; cannibalism; cadavers. They are merely outr� symbols of the theme, often explicitly stated, which underlies all of Waugh's work -- that our twentieth-century civilization is a decaying corpse. In Waugh's view, the Modern Age has crazily destroyed and cannibalized what he finds supremely valuable -- veneration for tradition and hierarchy; the aristocratic way of life; the onetime supremacy of the Catholic Church throughout Western society. At the conclusion of Scott-King's Modern Europe, the dim schoolmaster -- warned that soon there won't be any place for a teacher of the classics -- refuses to take on a more utilitarian subject: "I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world."
After rereading, as I have just done, the greater part of Waugh's writings, it becomes unmistakably clear that both his comic and his "straight" novels -- however different in manner and in tone -- are expressions of precisely the same viewpoint. That viewpoint dates back to his very first book, written when he was twenty-three: a capable and nostalgic study of those nineteenth-century enemies of technology, the Pre-Raphaelites. And with the passing of the years, Waugh's repudiation of his time has been carried to extreme lengths even in the pattern of his personal life.
Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh was born in a suburb of London in 1903, the son of a busy man-of-letters. Waugh's origins were gentlemanly but in no way aristocratic, a point he seems to have been inordinately touchy about even as a boy. He was sent to Lancing, one of England's less fashionable public schools; and from there he won a scholarship to one of Oxford's decidedly less fashionable colleges. At Oxford, however, his wit, good looks, and resolute preference for the elite carried him into the company to which he aspired. There is a striking portrait of him at this time in Harold Acton's Memoirs of an Aesthete: "I still see him as a prancing faun, thinly disguised by conventional apparel. His wide apart eyes, always ready to be startled under raised eyebrows, the curved sensual lips, the hyacinthine locks of hair, I had seen in marble and bronze at Naples ..." Other Oxford contemporaries have spoken of him in a harsher vein: "A bitter little man" -- "A social climber."
After two years, Waugh voluntarily left Oxford without a degree, and, like Paul Pennyfeather of Decline and Fall, took a job in a school for backward boys. Later, he worked for sixteen days on Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express. His ambition was to be a painter, but a stint at art school left him dissatisfied with his talent. At this time, he has said, he was a pagan and "wanted to be a man of the world" -- a well-rounded English gentleman in the eighteenth-century tradition. He joined in the whirl of Michael Arlen's Mayfair. He "gadded among savages and people of fashion and politicians and crazy generals ... because I enjoyed them." But he was a worldling who could relish all this and still find it wanting. In 1930, after instruction from the celebrated Father D'Arcy, Waugh entered the Catholic Church.
A few months earlier, his marriage to the Honorable Evelyn Gardner had ended in divorce. In 1937, he married again. His second wife was a Catholic: Laura, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel The Honorable Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert, second son of the Earl of Carnarvon.
For nine years, Waugh had traveled often and widely, by preference to wild places. The best parts of the four travel books written during this period were later reprinted in When the Going Was Good, and they are still lively reading. One is periodically reminded, however, that Waugh's touch is surer and more sparkling when he is using these same materials in his comic novels.
At the outbreak of the war, Waugh joined the Royal Marines, and later, as a Commando, took part in a succession of desperate actions in which he became famous for his phenomenal courage. Years earlier, when Waugh had taken up foxhunting, his recklessness had awed even veterans.
Waugh is now settled at Piers Court in a secluded part of Gloucestershire, from which he occasionally makes sorties to his London clubs. "I live in a shabby stone house," he wrote in Life, "in which nothing is under a hundred years old except the plumbing, and that does not work. I collect old books in an inexpensive, desultory way. [His major avocation is the study of theology.] I have a fast emptying cellar of wine and gardens fast reverting to jungle. I have numerous children [three girls and two boys] whom I see once a day for ten, I hope, awe-inspiring minutes."
A few years back Randolph Churchill said of Waugh: "He grows more old-fashioned every day. He seeks to live in an oasis." Waugh himself has affirmed with pride that he is "two hundred years" behind the times, and that there is no political party in existence which he finds sufficiently (in the strictly literal sense of the word) reactionary. He has refused to learn to drive a car. He writes with a pen which has to be continually dipped in the inkwell. And he prefers to communicate even with his neighbors by written message rather than resort to the telephone. A literary friend of Waugh's once delivered a summation which neatly reflects the tenor of the anecdotes about him. As nearly as I recall, it went: " Oh, I adore Evelyn. He's so frightfully witty and so fearfully rude. Terribly conceited, of course -- and, poor sweet, rather ridiculous. But such a good writer!"
COMPLETE rejection of the modern world is the source from which springs the best and the worst in Evelyn Waugh's writings. The artist who repudiates the realities of his time must of necessity either work in the ironic key, as Waugh did in his earlier novels which transmute repudiation into blandly destructive laughter; or, if dissatisfied with a negative criticism, he must offer alternatives to the status quo which can be taken seriously. But when Waugh abandons the detached stance, when he seriously articulates his opinions and attitudes, the results are often distressing, and sometimes disastrous.
His fierce nostalgia for medievalism represents (as he himself recognizes) a yearning for an irretrievably lost cause; and as social criticism, it is therefore merely frivolous or petulant. Moreover in the Catholic content of his novels to date, there has been little accent on religious experience such and a really shocking absence of that human compassion which is so much a part of the Catholic spirit. (What ounce of compassion Waugh can muster is reserved for the few who meet with his approval.) In fact, the Catholicism of Waugh's fiction -- it is not, of course, his faith which is under discussion, but his expression of it -- is inextricably bound up with worship of the ancient. British nobility, so laden with contempt for "lesser breeds without the law," that the Church is made to appear a particularly exclusive club rather than a broad spiritual force.
At his best -- that is, when he remains detached -- Waugh is the finest comic artist to emerge since the late 1920s. His style is swift, exact, almost unfailingly felicitous. His inventions are entrancing; his timing inspired; his matter-of-fact approach to the incongruous produces a perverse humor that is immensely effective. Even that ancient comic device -- the use of suggestive names -- is boldly put to work by Waugh with the happiest results. Mr. Outrage, the leader of His Majesty's Opposition; Mrs. Melrose Ape, the phony evangelist; Lord Copper, the press tycoon; Lady Circumference, Captain Grimes, Viola Chasm, Ambrose Silk -- their names bespeak their nature.
Behind the extravagant facade of Waugh's burlesques, manners and social types are observed with a dazzling accuracy. The Bright Young People are illuminated with a glow which spotlights the fantastic -- but they are profoundly "dans le vrai." The Ministry of Information passages in Put Out More Flags are, of course, a parody; but I can vouch from firsthand experience that the parody is solidly founded in truth. In countless scenes throughout Waugh's farces, a lapidary phrase or incident brings home with terrible directness the tragic quality in the lives of his frivolous, gaily cockeyed, or unscrupulous characters. Waugh's cosmos is, in the literal sense, funny as hell.
Like Eliot, Waugh looked out on the world around him and saw it as a wasteland. His temperament and special gifts led him to transfigure the wasteland into a circus, within whose tent we are treated to a riotous harlequinade. But every so often the flap of the tent is blown open; a vista of the wilderness intrudes; and the antics of the clowns suddenly appear, as poor Agatha Runcible would say, "too spirit-crushing."
This core of tragic awareness gives to Waugh's comic vision the dimension of serious art. The paradox, in fact, is that when Waugh is being comic, he makes luminous the failures of his age, confronts us vividly with the desolating realities; and when he is being serious, he is liable to become trashy. For without the restraints of the ironic stance, his critical viewpoint reveals itself as bigoted and rancorous; his snobbery emerges as obsessive and disgusting; and his archaism involves him in all kinds of silliness.
WAUGH'S first novel, Decline and Fall (1928), depicts a world in which villainy has the innocence of man's primeval state before The Fall. The story opens on the night of the annual orgy of Oxford's most aristocratic dining club: "A shriller note could now be heard from Sir Alastair's rooms; any who have heard that sound will shrink from the recollection of it; it is the sound of the English country families baying for broken glass."
Paul Pennyfeather, a colorless young man reading for Holy Orders, is debagged by the rowdies and then expelled by the authorities for indecent exposure. Presently he is taken up by an immensely wealth young widow, whose fortune comes from a far-flung chain of bordellos; and when the police get on her track. Paul goes to prison for white slavery, and the lady marries a Cabinet Minister. The fun is incessant and the comic portraiture is pure delight, especially the hugely disreputable schoolmaster, Captain Grimes, and the inventive butler-crook Philbrick -- in his plushier moments Sir Solomon Philbrick, tycoon. Decline and Fall is an unqualified success.
Vile Bodies (1930) is almost as good. The combination of calamitous happenings and gay insouciance is marvelously sustained as the story follows the Bright Young People in their giddy dance through the condemned playground. But the farce, now, has grimmer overtones; and the climax finds Adam on history's greatest battlefield, clutching a bomb for the dissemination of leprosy.
Waugh's next novel had its origin in the "crazy enchantment" of a visit to Addis Ababa for the coronation of Haile Selassie. The Abyssinia of the early thirties -- with its ancient Christianity and its enduring barbarism; its strivings to be modern, frustrated by picturesque ignorance and limitless inefficiency; its motley foreign colony, authentic savages, and wily promoters, big and small -- provided Waugh with materials ideally suited to his talents, and he worked them into what some critics consider the most amusing of his novels, Black Mischief (1932).
A Handful of Dust (1934), the most somber of the comic novels, is memorable for its horrifying ending: the hero finds himself trapped in the recesses of the Amazonian jungle, condemned to spend the rest of his life reading Dickens to a cunning madman. In the next two books, Waugh's violent prejudices show their hand. His biography of the Catholic martyr, Edmund Campion -- in many respects a distinguished performance -- is marred by a partisanship which flagrantly distorts Elizabethan history. Waugh in Abyssinia (1936) -- the product of an assignment as a war correspondent -- is simply a piece of Fascist propaganda. Strangely enough, the Ethiopian setting is again fictionally handled in Scoop (1937) with the same detached zest as in Black Mischief. There is perhaps no more uproarious burlesque of the workings of the press.
Put Out More Flags (1942), a novel about phony war period, reintroduces Waugh's finest pirate-hero, Basil Seal, more ingeniously iniquitous than ever. His use of three loathsome evacuee children as a source of blackmail is just one of several episodes in the book which are Waugh at his best. The story ends with Basil's volunteering for the Commandos -- there was "a new spirit abroad." The war apparently aroused in Waugh high hopes that victory would open the way to return to Britain's former greatness. His deep and bitter disillusionment at its actual outcome probably explains, at least in part, the marked difference in temper between his pre-war and his post-war fiction.
Brideshead Revisited (1945) is a romantic evocation of vanished splendors, which brings into dismal relief the aridity of the present. In the first part, in which the narrator reverts to his youth at Oxford, Waugh's artistic sense seldom falters. Ryder's discovery of a magic world of freedom and intoxicating pleasures through his friendship with Sebastian, the younger son of a noble and wealthy Catholic family, and the accompanying contrast between the dryness of Ryder's home life and the charm of the Marchmains -- these passages are among the most memorable that Waugh has written. But, in the second part -- Ryder's unhappy marriage and love affair with Sebastian's sister; Sebastian's descent into alcoholism; Lord Marchmain's irregular and resplendent life in Venice, and his death in his ancestral home -- those failings of Waugh's which were discussed earlier run riot. And, as they take command, the characterization grows unreal, the atmosphere becomes sententious, the style turns overripe.
Charles Ryder is shaken out of his ill-mannered anti-Catholicism when the dying Lord Marchmain, who has lived outside the Church, makes a sign indicating his consent to receiving the final sacrament. But Ryder has been portrayed as so insensitive to religion and so sensitive to the prestige of great families that one is left, as Edmund Wilson has observed, with an uneasy feeling that it was not "the sign" that made Ryder kneel beside the deathbed, but the vision of this Catholic family's greatness conjured up in Lord Marchmain's earlier monologue: "We were ... barons since Agincourt; the larger honors came with the Georges ..." (and so on).
The Loved One (1948) is one of Waugh's most savagely amusing books. As a lampoon on the mortuary practices of Southern California, it is a coruscating tour de force. When, however, the satire reaches out to other aspects of American folkways, it is sometimes either hackneyed or crudely exaggerated. The trouble is that Waugh can no longer maintain the same innocence of observation as in the pre-war farces. The �clat of his performance in The Loved One is slightly marred by traces of spite, and smudges of acid snob-distaste for all things American. "There is no such thing as an American," he wrote in an explanatory note about the book. "They are all exiles, uprooted, transplanted and doomed to sterility."
Men at Arms (1952), the first volume of an unfinished trilogy about military life during World War II, describes Guy Crouchback's period of training for a commission in the Halberdiers. Crouchback is a lonely, frustrated man, revolted by the modern age, and the regiment -- with its proud traditions, its esprit de corps, its rituals, its severe discipline and taxing duties -- restores to him a vitalizing sense of dignity and purpose. The novel is written throughout in a much lower key than Brideshead Revisited. Its major characterizations are impressive; and though neither dramatic nor particularly moving, it is a very polished and readable work. Its great weakness is that Waugh treats with respectful admiration materials tinged with the ludicrous, which call for the saving grace of irony.
Waugh's latest book, Tactical Exercise (Little, Brown, $3.75), is a collection of short fiction which more or less spans his writing career and is very varied in range. It is probably better entertainment than any of the other books of its kind that have just come off the presses; but there is not much in it that is near to the top of Waugh's form.
One item is unquestionably unique: an edifying melodrama, entitled "The Curse of the Race Horse," which Waugh composed when he was seven; the spelling, which foreshadows Waugh's genius for bold improvision, is utterly delectable. "Excursion Into Reality" gives the movies the treatment Waugh gave the press in Scoop. "'Love Among the Ruins" is Waugh's nightmarish vision of the brave new world; but his total incompetence as a sociologist makes this fantasy a nursery effort compared with those of Huxley and Orwell. The most interesting item in this volume, "Work Suspended," consists of the two chapters of a novel which Waugh abandoned in 1941, and which has certain intriguing affinities with the book that took its place: Brideshead Revisited.
Now fifty-one, Evelyn Waugh has published twenty-two books. Considering the high quality of his artistry, it is a remarkable output. He has himself defined, with a characteristic touch of belligerence, the direction in which he plans to move: "In my future books there will be two things to make them unpopular: a preoccupation with style and the attempt to represent man more fully, which, to me, means only one thing, man in his relation to God." It sounds as though, from, now on, the "serious" side of Waugh will fully take command.
However laudable Waugh's objectives, I find it impossible to discount the evidence that he has chosen a course which runs counter to his special gifts as an artist. From the comic standpoint, Waugh's less amiable traits are actually an asset. Arrogance, snobbery, and contentiousness -- when they work hand in hand with irony -- are a corrosive solvent to satire. The religious writer requires at least four qualities of which Waugh has so far displayed only one. Faith he has; but little compassion and no humility -- and in his entire work there is not a single truly convincing trace of love.
Copyright © 1954 by Charles Rolo. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1954; Evelyn Waugh: The Best and The Worst - 10.54; Volume cxciv, No. 4; page 80-84.
Evelyn Waugh, circa 1940
|Born||(1903-10-28)28 October 1903|
West Hampstead, London, England
|Died||10 April 1966(1966-04-10) (aged 62)|
Combe Florey, Somerset, England
|Alma mater||Hertford College, Oxford|
|Genre||Novel, biography, short story, travelogue, autobiography, satire, humour|
(m. 1929; annulled 1936)
|Children||7, including Auberon Waugh|
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (; 28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966) was an English writer of novels, biographies and travel books. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer of books. His most famous works include the early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), the novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) and the Second World War trilogy Sword of Honour (1952–61). Waugh is recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the English language in the 20th century.
The son of a publisher, Waugh was educated at Lancing College and then at Hertford College, Oxford, and briefly worked as a schoolmaster before he became a full-time writer. As a young man, he acquired many fashionable and aristocratic friends, and developed a taste for country house society. In the 1930s, he travelled extensively, often as a special newspaper correspondent in which capacity he reported from Abyssinia at the time of the 1935 Italian invasion. He served in the British armed forces throughout the Second World War (1939–1945), first in the Royal Marines and then in the Royal Horse Guards. He was a perceptive writer who used the experiences and the wide range of people he encountered in his works of fiction, generally to humorous effect. Waugh's detachment was such that he fictionalised his own mental breakdown, which occurred in the early 1950s.
After the failure of his first marriage, Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930. His traditionalist stance led him to strongly oppose all attempts to reform the Church, and the changes by the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) greatly disturbed his sensibilities, especially the introduction of the vernacular Mass. That blow to his religious traditionalism, his dislike for the welfare state culture of the postwar world and the decline of his health, darkened his final years, but he continued to write. To the public, Waugh displayed a mask of indifference, but he was capable of great kindness to those whom he considered to be his friends. After his death in 1966, he acquired a following of new readers through the film and television versions of his works, such as the television serial Brideshead Revisited (1981).
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born on 28 October 1903 to Arthur Waugh (1866–1943) and Catherine Charlotte Raban (1870–1954), into a family with English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Huguenot origins. Distinguished forebears include Lord Cockburn (1779–1854), a leading Scottish advocate and judge, William Morgan (1750–1833), a pioneer of actuarial science who served the Equitable Life Assurance Society for 56 years, and Philip Henry Gosse (1810–1888), a natural scientist who became notorious through his depiction as a religious fanatic in his son Edmund's memoir Father and Son. Among ancestors bearing the Waugh name, the Rev. Alexander Waugh (1754–1827) was a minister in the Secession Church of Scotland who helped found the London Missionary Society and was one of the leading Nonconformist preachers of his day. His grandson Alexander Waugh (1840–1906) was a country medical practitioner, who bullied his wife and children and became known in the Waugh family as "the Brute". The elder of his two sons, born in 1866, was Arthur Waugh.
After attending Sherborne School and New College, Oxford, Arthur Waugh began a career in publishing and as a literary critic. In 1902 he became managing director of Chapman and Hall, publishers of the works of Charles Dickens. He had married Catherine Raban (1870–1954) in 1893; their first son Alexander Raban Waugh (always known as Alec) was born on 8 July 1898. Alec Waugh later became a novelist of note. At the time of his birth the family were living in North London, at Hillfield Road, West Hampstead where, on 28 October 1903, the couple's second son was born, "in great haste before Dr Andrews could arrive", Catherine recorded. On 7 January 1904 the boy was christened Arthur Evelyn St John Waugh but was known in the family and in the wider world as Evelyn.[n 1]
Golders Green and Heath Mount
In 1907, the Waugh family left Hillfield Road for Underhill, a house which Arthur had built in North End Road, Hampstead, close to Golders Green, then a semi-rural area of dairy farms, market gardens and bluebell woods. Evelyn received his first school lessons at home, from his mother, with whom he formed a particularly close relationship; his father, Arthur Waugh, was a more distant figure, whose close bond with his elder son, Alec, was such that Evelyn often felt excluded. In September 1910, Evelyn began as a day pupil at Heath Mount preparatory school. By then, he was a lively boy of many interests, who already had written and completed "The Curse of the Horse Race", his first story. Waugh spent six relatively contented years at Heath Mount; on his own assertion he was "quite a clever little boy", who was seldom distressed or overawed by his lessons. Physically pugnacious, Evelyn was inclined to bully weaker boys; among his victims was the future society photographer Cecil Beaton, who never forgot the experience.
Outside school, he and other neighbourhood children performed plays, usually written by Waugh. On the basis of the xenophobia fostered by the genre books of Invasion literature, that the Germans were about to invade Britain, Waugh organised his friends into the "Pistol Troop", who built a fort, went on manœuvres and paraded in makeshift uniforms. In 1914, after the First World War began, Waugh and other boys from the Boy Scout Troop of Heath Mount School were sometimes employed as messengers at the War Office; Evelyn loitered about the War Office in hope of glimpsing Lord Kitchener, but never did.
Family holidays usually were spent with the Waugh aunts, at Midsomer Norton, in a house lit with oil lamps, a time that Waugh recalled with delight, many years later. At Midsomer Norton, Evelyn became deeply interested in high Anglican church rituals, the initial stirrings of the spiritual dimension that later dominated his perspective of life, and he served as an altar boy at the local Anglican church. During his last year at Heath Mount, Waugh established and edited The Cynic school magazine.[n 2]
Like his father before him, Alec Waugh went to school at Sherborne, and, it was presumed by the family that Evelyn would follow, but in 1915, the school asked Alec to leave, after a homosexual relationship came to light. Alec departed Sherborne for military training as an officer, and, while awaiting confirmation of his commission, wrote The Loom of Youth (1917), a novel of school life, which alluded to homosexual friendships at a school that was recognisably Sherborne. The public sensation caused by Alec's novel so offended the school that it became impossible for Evelyn to go there. In May 1917, much to his annoyance, he was sent to Lancing College, in his opinion, a decidedly inferior school.
Waugh soon overcame his initial aversion to Lancing, settled in and established his reputation as an aesthete. In November 1917 his essay "In Defence of Cubism" (1917) was accepted by and published in the arts magazine Drawing and Design; it was his first published article. Within the school, he became mildly subversive, mocking the school's cadet corps and founding the Corpse Club "for those who were weary of life". The end of the war saw the return to the school of younger masters such as J. F. Roxburgh, who encouraged Waugh to write and predicted a great future for him.[n 3] Another mentor, Francis Crease, taught Waugh the arts of calligraphy and decorative design; some of the boy's work was good enough to be used by Chapman and Hall on book jackets.
In his later years at Lancing, Waugh achieved success as a house captain, editor of the school magazine and president of the debating society, and won numerous art and literature prizes. He also shed most of his religious beliefs. He started a novel of school life, untitled, but abandoned the effort after writing around 5,000 words. He ended his schooldays by winning a scholarship to read Modern History at Hertford College, Oxford, and left Lancing in December 1921.
Waugh arrived in Oxford in January 1922. He was soon writing to old friends at Lancing about the pleasures of his new life; he informed Tom Driberg: "I do no work here and never go to Chapel". During his first two terms, he generally followed convention; he smoked a pipe, bought a bicycle, and gave his maiden speech at the Oxford Union, opposing the motion that "This House would welcome Prohibition". Waugh wrote reports on Union debates for both Oxford magazines, Cherwell and Isis, and he acted as a film critic for Isis. He also became secretary of the Hertford College debating society, "an onerous but not honorific post", he told Driberg. Although Waugh tended to regard his scholarship as a reward for past efforts rather than a stepping-stone to future academic success, he did sufficient work in his first two terms to pass his "History Previous", an essential preliminary examination.
The arrival in Oxford in October 1922 of the sophisticated EtoniansHarold Acton and Brian Howard changed Waugh's Oxford life. Acton and Howard rapidly became the centre of an avant-garde circle known as the Hypocrites' Club (Waugh was the secretary of the club), whose artistic, social and homosexual values Waugh adopted enthusiastically; he later wrote: "It was the stamping ground of half my Oxford life". He began drinking heavily, and embarked on the first of several homosexual relationships, the most lasting of which were with Richard Pares and Alastair Graham. He continued to write reviews and short stories for the university journals, and developed a reputation as a talented graphic artist, but formal study largely ceased. This neglect led to a bitter feud between Waugh and his history tutor, C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, dean (and later principal) of Hertford College. When Cruttwell advised him to mend his ways, Waugh responded in a manner which, he admitted later, was "fatuously haughty", from then on, relations between the two descended into mutual hatred. Waugh continued the feud long after his Oxford days by using Cruttwell's name in his early novels for a succession of ludicrous, ignominious or odious minor characters.[n 4]
Waugh's dissipated lifestyle continued into his final Oxford year, 1924. A letter written that year to a Lancing friend, Dudley Carew, hints at severe emotional pressures: "I have been living very intensely these last three weeks. For the last fortnight I have been nearly insane.... I may perhaps one day in a later time tell you some of the things that have happened". He did just enough work to pass his final examinations in the summer of 1924 with a third-class. However, as he had begun at Hertford in the second term of the 1921–22 academic year, Waugh had completed only eight terms' residence when he sat his finals, rather than the nine required under the university's statutes. His poor results led to the loss of his scholarship, which made it impossible for him to return to Oxford for that final term, so he left without his degree.
Back at home, Waugh began a novel, The Temple at Thatch, and worked with some of his fellow Hypocrites on a film, The Scarlet Woman, which was shot partly in the gardens at Underhill. He spent much of the rest of the summer in the company of Alastair Graham; after Graham departed for Kenya, Waugh enrolled for the autumn at a London art school, Heatherley's.
Schoolmaster and incipient writer
Waugh began at Heatherley's in late September 1924, but became bored with the routine and quickly abandoned his course. He spent weeks partying in London and Oxford before the overriding need for money led him to apply through an agency for a teaching job. Almost at once, he secured a post at Arnold House, a boys' preparatory school in North Wales, beginning in January 1925. He took with him the notes for his novel, The Temple at Thatch, intending to work on it in his spare time. Despite the gloomy ambience of the school, Waugh did his best to fulfil the requirements of his position, but a brief return to London and Oxford during the Easter holiday only exacerbated his sense of isolation.
In the summer of 1925, Waugh's outlook briefly improved, with the prospect of a job in Pisa, Italy, as secretary to the Scottish writer Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff, who was engaged on the English translations of Marcel Proust's works. Believing that the job was his, Waugh resigned his position at Arnold House. He had meantime sent the early chapters of his novel to Acton for assessment and criticism. Acton's reply was so coolly dismissive that Waugh immediately burnt his manuscript; shortly afterwards, before he left North Wales, he learned that the Moncrieff job had fallen through. The twin blows were sufficient for him to consider suicide. He records that he went down to a nearby beach and, leaving a note with his clothes, walked out to sea. An attack by jellyfish changed his mind, and he returned quickly to the shore.
During the following two years Waugh taught at schools in Aston Clinton (from which he was dismissed for the attempted drunken seduction of a school matron) and Notting Hill in London. He considered alternative careers in printing or cabinet-making, and attended evening classes in carpentry at Holborn Polytechnic while continuing to write. A short story, "The Balance", written in an experimental modernist style, became his first commercially published fiction, when it was included by Chapman and Hall in a 1926 anthology, Georgian Stories. An extended essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was printed privately by Alastair Graham, using by agreement the press of the Shakespeare Head Press in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was undergoing training as a printer. This led to a contract from the publishers Duckworths for a full-length biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which Waugh wrote during 1927. He also began working on a comic novel; after several temporary working titles this became Decline and Fall. Having given up teaching, he had no regular employment except for a short, unsuccessful stint as a reporter on the Daily Express in April–May 1927. That year he met (possibly through his brother Alec) and fell in love with Evelyn Gardner, the daughter of Lord and Lady Burghclere.
"He-Evelyn" and "She-Evelyn"
In December 1927, Waugh and Evelyn Gardner became engaged, despite the opposition of Lady Burghclere, who felt that Waugh lacked moral fibre and kept unsuitable company. Among their friends, they quickly became known as "He-Evelyn" and "She-Evelyn". Waugh was at this time dependent on a £4-a-week allowance from his father and the small sums he could earn from book reviewing and journalism. The Rossetti biography was published to a generally favourable reception in April 1928: J. C. Squire in The Observer praised the book's elegance and wit; Acton gave cautious approval; and the novelist Rebecca West wrote to express how much she had enjoyed the book. Less pleasing to Waugh was the Times Literary Supplement's references to him as "Miss Waugh".
When Decline and Fall was completed, Duckworths objected to its "obscenity", but Chapman and Hall agreed to publish it. This was sufficient for Waugh and Gardner to bring forward their wedding plans. They were married in St Paul's Church, Portman Square, on 27 June 1928, with only Acton, Alec Waugh and the bride's friend Pansy Pakenham present. The couple made their home in a small flat in Canonbury Square, Islington. The first months of the marriage were overshadowed by a lack of money, and by Gardner's poor health, which persisted into the autumn.
In September 1928, Decline and Fall was published to almost unanimous praise. By December, the book was into its third printing, and the American publishing rights were sold for $500. In the afterglow of his success, Waugh was commissioned to write travel articles in return for a free Mediterranean cruise, which he and Gardner began in February 1929, as an extended, delayed honeymoon. The trip was disrupted when Gardner contracted pneumonia and was carried ashore to the British hospital in Port Said. The couple returned home in June, after her recovery. A month later, without warning, Gardner confessed that their mutual friend, John Heygate, had become her lover. After an attempted reconciliation failed, a shocked and dismayed Waugh filed for divorce on 3 September 1929. The couple apparently met again only once, during the process for the annulment of their marriage a few years later.
Years of celebrity
Waugh's first biographer, Christopher Sykes, records that after the divorce friends "saw, or believed they saw, a new hardness and bitterness" in Waugh's outlook. Nevertheless, despite a letter to Acton in which he wrote that he "did not know it was possible to be so miserable and live", he soon resumed his professional and social life. He finished his second novel, Vile Bodies, and wrote articles including (ironically, he thought) one for the Daily Mail on the meaning of the marriage ceremony. During this period Waugh began the practice of staying at the various houses of his friends; he was to have no settled home for the next eight years.
Vile Bodies, a satire on the Bright Young People of the 1920s, was published on 19 January 1930 and was Waugh's first major commercial success. Despite its quasi-biblical title, the book is dark, bitter, "a manifesto of disillusionment", according to biographer Martin Stannard. As a best-selling author Waugh could now command larger fees for his journalism. Amid regular work for The Graphic, Town and Country and Harper's Bazaar, he quickly wrote Labels, a detached account of his honeymoon cruise with She-Evelyn.
Conversion to Catholicism
On 29 September 1930, Waugh was received into the Catholic Church. This shocked his family and surprised some of his friends, but he had contemplated the step for some time. He had lost his Anglicanism at Lancing and had led an irreligious life at Oxford, but there are references in his diaries from the mid-1920s to religious discussion and regular churchgoing. On 22 December 1925, Waugh wrote: "Claud and I took Audrey to supper and sat up until 7 in the morning arguing about the Roman Church". The entry for 20 February 1927 includes, "I am to visit a Father Underhill about being a parson". Throughout the period, Waugh was influenced by his friend Olivia Plunket-Greene, who had converted in 1925 and of whom Waugh later wrote, "She bullied me into the Church". It was she who led him to Father Martin D'Arcy, a Jesuit, who persuaded Waugh "on firm intellectual convictions but little emotion" that "the Christian revelation was genuine". In 1949, Waugh explained that his conversion followed his realisation that life was "unintelligible and unendurable without God".
Writer and traveller
On 10 October 1930, Waugh, representing several newspapers, departed for Abyssinia to cover the coronation of Haile Selassie. He reported the event as "an elaborate propaganda effort" to convince the world that Abyssinia was a civilised nation that concealed that the emperor had achieved power through barbarous means. A subsequent journey through the British East Africa colonies and the Belgian Congo formed the basis of two books; the travelogue Remote People (1931) and the comic novel Black Mischief (1932). Waugh's next extended trip, in the winter of 1932–1933, was to British Guiana (now Guyana) in South America, possibly taken to distract him from a long and unrequited passion for the socialite Teresa Jungman. On arrival in Georgetown, Waugh arranged a river trip by steam launch into the interior. He travelled on via several staging-posts to Boa Vista in Brazil, and then took a convoluted overland journey back to Georgetown. His various adventures and encounters found their way into two further books: his travel account Ninety-two Days, and the novel A Handful of Dust, both published in 1934.
Back from South America, Waugh faced accusations of obscenity and blasphemy from the Catholic journal The Tablet, which objected to passages in Black Mischief. He defended himself in an open letter to the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Francis Bourne, which remained unpublished until 1980. In the summer of 1934, he went on an expedition to Spitsbergen in the Arctic, an experience he did not enjoy and of which he made minimal literary use. On his return, determined to write a major Catholic biography, he selected the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion as his subject. The book, published in 1935, caused controversy by its forthright pro-Catholic, anti-Protestant stance but brought its writer the Hawthornden Prize. He returned to Abyssinia in August 1935 to report the opening stages of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War for the Daily Mail. Waugh, on the basis of his earlier visit, considered Abyssinia "a savage place which Mussolini was doing well to tame" according to his fellow reporter, William Deedes. Waugh saw little action and was not wholly serious in his role as a war correspondent. Deedes remarks on the older writer's snobbery: "None of us quite measured up to the company he liked to keep back at home". However, in the face of imminent Italian air attacks, Deedes found Waugh's courage "deeply reassuring". Waugh wrote up his Abyssinian experiences in a book, Waugh in Abyssinia (1936), which Rose Macaulay dismissed as a "fascist tract" on account of its pro-Italian tone. A better-known account is his novel Scoop (1938) in which the protagonist, William Boot, is loosely based on Deedes.
Among Waugh's growing circle of friends were Diana Guinness and Bryan Guinness (dedicatees of Vile Bodies), Lady Diana Cooper and her husband Duff Cooper,Nancy Mitford who was originally a friend of Evelyn Gardner's, and the Lygon sisters. Waugh had known Hugh Patrick Lygon at Oxford; now he was introduced to the girls and their country house, Madresfield Court, which became the closest that he had to a home during his years of wandering. In 1933, on a Greek islands cruise, he was introduced by Father D'Arcy to Gabriel Herbert, eldest daughter of the late explorer Aubrey Herbert. When the cruise ended Waugh was invited to stay at the Herbert family's villa in Portofino, where he first met Gabriel's 17-year-old sister, Laura.
On his conversion, Waugh had accepted that he would be unable to remarry while Evelyn Gardner was alive. However, he wanted a wife and children, and in October 1933, he began proceedings for the annulment of the marriage on the grounds of "lack of real consent". The case was heard by an ecclesiastical tribunal in London, but a delay in the submission of the papers to Rome meant that the annulment was not granted until 4 July 1936. In the meantime, following their initial encounter in Portofino, Waugh had fallen in love with Laura Herbert. He proposed marriage, by letter, in spring 1936. There were initial misgivings from the Herberts, an aristocratic Catholic family; as a further complication, Laura Herbert was a cousin of Evelyn Gardner. Despite some family hostility the marriage took place on 17 April 1937 at the Church of the Assumption in Warwick Street, London.
As a wedding present the bride's grandmother bought the couple Piers Court, a country house near Stinchcombe in Gloucestershire. The couple had seven children, one of whom died in infancy. Their first child, a daughter, Maria Teresa, was born on 9 March 1938 and a son, Auberon Alexander, on 17 November 1939. Between these events, Scoop was published in May 1938 to wide critical acclaim. In August 1938 Waugh, with Laura, made a three-month trip to Mexico after which he wrote Robbery Under Law, based on his experiences there. In the book he spelled out clearly his conservative credo; he later described the book as dealing "little with travel and much with political questions".
Second World War
Royal Marine and commando
Waugh left Piers Court on 1 September 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War and moved his young family to Pixton Park in Somerset, the Herbert family's country seat, while he sought military employment. He also began writing a novel in a new style, using first-person narration but abandoned work on it when he was commissioned into the Royal Marines in December and entered training at Chatham naval base. He never completed the novel: fragments were eventually published as Work Suspended and Other Stories (1943).
Waugh's daily training routine left him with "so stiff a spine that he found it painful even to pick up a pen". In April 1940, he was temporarily promoted to captain and given command of a company of marines, but he proved an unpopular officer, being haughty and curt with his men. Even after the German invasion of the Low Countries (10 May–22 June 1940), his battalion was not called into action. Waugh's inability to adapt to regimental life meant that he soon lost his command, and he became the battalion's Intelligence Officer. In that role, he finally saw action in Operation Menace as part of the British force sent to the Battle of Dakar in West Africa (23–25 September 1940) in August 1940 to support an attempt by the Free French Forces to overthrow the Vichy French colonial government and install General Charles de Gaulle. Operation Menace failed, hampered by fog and misinformation about the extent of the town's defences, and the British forces withdrew on 26 September. Waugh's comment on the affair was this: ″Bloodshed has been avoided at the cost of honour.″
In November 1940, Waugh was posted to a commando unit, and, after further training, became a member of "Layforce", under Colonel (later Brigadier) Robert Laycock. In February 1941, the unit sailed to the Mediterranean, where it participated in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture Bardia, on the Libyan coast. In May, Layforce was required to assist in the evacuation of Crete: Waugh was shocked by the disorder and its loss of discipline and, as he saw it, the cowardice of the departing troops. In July, during the roundabout journey home by troop ship, he wrote Put Out More Flags (1942), a novel of the war's early months in which he returned to the literary style he had used in the 1930s. Back in Britain, more training and waiting followed until, in May 1942, he was transferred to the Royal Horse Guards, on Laycock's recommendation. On 10 June 1942, Laura gave birth to Margaret, the couple's fourth child.[n 5]
Frustration, Brideshead and Yugoslavia
Waugh's elation at his transfer soon descended into disillusion as he failed to find opportunities for active service. The death of his father, on 26 June 1943, and the need to deal with family affairs prevented him from departing with his brigade for North Africa as part of Operation Husky (9 July–17 August 1943), the Allied invasion of Sicily. Despite his undoubted courage, his unmilitary and insubordinate character were rendering him effectively unemployable as a soldier. After spells of idleness at the regimental depot in Windsor, Waugh began parachute training at Tatton Park, Cheshire, but landed awkwardly during an exercise and fractured a fibula. Recovering at Windsor, he applied for three months' unpaid leave to write the novel that had been forming in his mind. His request was granted and, on 31 January 1944, he departed for Chagford, Devon, where he could work in seclusion. The result was Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (1945), the first of his explicitly Catholic novels of which the biographer Douglas Lane Patey commented that it was "the book that seemed to confirm his new sense of his writerly vocation".
Waugh managed to extend his leave until June 1944. Soon after his return to duty he was recruited by Randolph Churchill to serve in a military mission to Yugoslavia, and, early in July, flew with Churchill from Bari, Italy, to the Croatian island of Vis. There, they met Marshal Tito, the Communist leader of the Partisans, who was leading the guerrilla fight against the occupying Axis forces with Allied support. Waugh and Churchill returned to Bari before flying back to Yugoslavia to begin their mission, but their aeroplane crash-landed, both men were injured, and their mission was delayed for a month.
The mission eventually arrived at Topusko, where it established itself in a deserted farmhouse. The group's liaison duties, between the British Army and the Communist Partisans, were light. Waugh had little sympathy with the Communist-led Partisans and despised Tito. His chief interest became the welfare of the Catholic Church in Croatia, which, he believed, had suffered at the hands of the Serbian Orthodox Church and would fare worse when the Communists took control. He expressed those thoughts in a long report, "Church and State in Liberated Croatia". After spells in Dubrovnik and Rome, Waugh returned to London on 15 March 1945 to present his report, which the Foreign Office suppressed to maintain good relations with Tito, now the leader of communist Yugoslavia.
Fame and fortune
Brideshead Revisited was published in London in May 1945. Waugh had been convinced of the book's qualities, "my first novel rather than my last". It was a tremendous success, bringing its author fame, fortune and literary status. Happy though he was with this outcome, Waugh's principal concern as the war ended was the fate of the large populations of Eastern European Catholics, betrayed (as he saw it) into the hands of Stalin's Soviet Union by the Allies. He now saw little difference in morality between the war's combatants and later described it as "a sweaty tug-of-war between teams of indistinguishable louts". Although he took momentary pleasure from the defeat of Winston Churchill and his Conservatives in the 1945 general election, he saw the accession to power of the Labour Party as a triumph of barbarism and the onset of a new "Dark Age".
In September 1945, after he was released by the army, he returned to Piers Court with his family (another daughter, Harriet, had been born at Pixton in 1944) but spent much of the next seven years either in London, or travelling. In March 1946, he visited the Nuremberg trials, and later that year, he was in Spain for a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the death of Francisco de Vitoria, said to be the founder of international law. Waugh wrote up his experiences of the frustrations of postwar European travel in a novella, Scott-King's Modern Europe. In February 1947, he made the first of several trips to the United States, in the first instance to discuss filming of Brideshead. The project collapsed, but Waugh used his time in Hollywood to visit the Forest Lawn cemetery, which provided the basis for his satire of American perspectives on death, The Loved One. In 1951 he visited the Holy Land with his future biographer, Christopher Sykes, and in 1953, he travelled to Goa to witness the final exhibition before burial of the remains of the 16th century Jesuit missionary-priest Francis Xavier.
In between his journeys, Waugh worked intermittently on Helena, a long-planned novel about the discoverer of the True Cross that was "far the best book I have ever written or ever will write". Its success with the public was limited, but it was, his daughter Harriet later said, "the only one of his books that he ever cared to read aloud".
In 1952 Waugh published Men at Arms, the first of his semi-autobiographical war trilogy in which he depicted many of his personal experiences and encounters from the early stages of the war. Other books published during this period included When The Going Was Good (1946), an anthology of his pre-war travel writing, The Holy Places (published by the Ian Fleming-managed Queen Anne Press, 1952) and Love Among the Ruins (1953), a dystopian tale in which Waugh displays his contempt for the modern world. Nearing 50, Waugh was old for his years, "selectively deaf, rheumatic, irascible" and increasingly dependent on alcohol and on drugs to relieve his insomnia and depression. Two more children, James (born 1946) and Septimus (born 1950), completed his family.
From 1945 onwards, Waugh became an avid collector of objects, particularly Victorian paintings and furniture. He filled Piers Court with his acquisitions, often from London's Portobello Market and from house clearance sales. His diary entry for 30 August 1946 records a visit to Gloucester, where he bought "a lion of wood, finely carved for £25, also a bookcase £35... a charming Chinese painting £10, a Regency easel £7". Some of his buying was shrewd and prescient; he paid £10 for Rossetti's "Spirit of the Rainbow" to begin a collection of Victorian paintings that eventually acquired great value. Waugh also began, from 1949, to write knowledgeable reviews and articles on the subject of painting.[n 6]
By 1953, Waugh's popularity as a writer was declining. He was perceived as out of step with the Zeitgeist, and the large fees he demanded were no longer easily available. His money was running out and progress on the second book of his war trilogy, Officers and Gentlemen, had stalled. Partly because of his dependency on drugs, his health was steadily deteriorating. Shortage of cash led him to agree in November 1953 to be interviewed on BBC radio, where the panel took an aggressive line: "they tried to make a fool of me, and I don't think they entirely succeeded", Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford.Peter Fleming in The Spectator likened the interview to "the goading of a bull by matadors".
Early in 1954, Waugh's doctors, concerned by his physical deterioration, advised a change of scene. On 29 January, he took a ship bound for Ceylon, hoping that he would be able to finish his novel. Within a few days, he was writing home complaining of "other passengers whispering about me" and of hearing voices, including that of his recent BBC interlocutor, Stephen Black. He left the ship in Egypt and flew on to Colombo, but, he wrote to Laura, the voices followed him. Alarmed, Laura sought help from her friend, Frances Donaldson, whose husband agreed to fly out to Ceylon and bring Waugh home. In fact, Waugh made his own way back, now believing that he was being possessed by devils. A brief medical examination indicated that Waugh was suffering from bromide poisoning from his drugs regimen. When his medication was changed, the voices and the other hallucinations quickly disappeared. Waugh was delighted, informing all of his friends that he had been mad: "Clean off my onion!". The experience was fictionalised a few years later, in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957).
In 1956, Edwin Newman made a short film about Waugh. In the course of doing so, Newman learned that Waugh hated the modern world and wished that he had been born two or three centuries sooner. Waugh disliked modern methods of transportation or communication, refusing to drive or use the telephone, and writing with a quill pen. Waugh also expressed the view that American news reporters could not function without frequent infusions of whisky and that every American had been divorced at least once.
Restored to health, Waugh returned to work and finished Officers and Gentlemen. In June 1955 the Daily Express journalist and reviewer Nancy Spain, accompanied by her friend Lord Noel-Buxton, arrived uninvited at Piers Court and demanded an interview. Waugh saw the pair off and wrote a wry account for The Spectator, but he was troubled by the incident and decided to sell Piers Court: "I felt it was polluted", he told Nancy Mitford. Late in 1956, the family moved to the manor house in the Somerset village of Combe Florey. In January 1957, Waugh avenged the Spain–Noel-Buxton intrusion by winning libel damages from the Express and Spain. The paper had printed an article by Spain that suggested that the sales of Waugh's books were much lower than they were and that his worth, as a journalist, was low.
Gilbert Pinfold was published in the summer of 1957, "my barmy book", Waugh called it. The extent to which the story is self-mockery, rather than true autobiography, became a subject of critical debate. Waugh's next major book was a biography of his longtime friend Ronald Knox, the Catholic writer and theologian who had died in August 1957. Research and writing extended over two years during which Waugh did little other work, delaying the third volume of his war trilogy. In June 1958, his son Auberon was severely wounded in a shooting accident while serving with the army in Cyprus. Waugh remained detached; he neither went to Cyprus nor immediately visited Auberon on the latter's return to Britain. The critic and literary biographer David Wykes called Waugh's sang-froid "astonishing" and the family's apparent acceptance of his behaviour even more so.
Although most of Waugh's books had sold well, and he had been well-rewarded for his journalism, his levels of expenditure meant that money problems and tax bills were a recurrent feature in his life. In 1950, as a means of tax avoidance, he had set up a trust fund for his children (he termed it the "Save the Children Fund", after the well-established charity of that name) into which he placed the initial advance and all future royalties from the Penguin (paperback) editions of his books. He was able to augment his personal finances by charging household items to the trust or selling his own possessions to it. Nonetheless, by 1960, shortage of money led him to agree to an interview on BBC Television, in the Face to Face series conducted by John Freeman. The interview was broadcast on 26 June 1960; according to his biographer Selena Hastings, Waugh restrained his instinctive hostility and coolly answered the questions put to him by Freeman, assuming what she describes as a "pose of world-weary boredom".
In 1960, Waugh was offered the honour of a CBE but declined, believing that he should have been given the superior status of a knighthood. In September, he produced his final travel book, A Tourist in Africa, based on a visit made in January–March 1959. He enjoyed the trip but "despised" the book. The critic Cyril Connolly called it "the thinnest piece of book-making that Mr Waugh has undertaken". The book done, he worked on the last of the war trilogy, which was published in 1961 as Unconditional Surrender.
Decline and death
As he approached his sixties, Waugh was in poor health, prematurely aged, "fat, deaf, short of breath", according to Patey. His biographer Martin Stannard likened his appearance around this time to that of "an exhausted rogue jollied up by drink". In 1962 Waugh began work on his autobiography, and that same year wrote his final fiction, the long short story Basil Seal Rides Again. This revival of the protagonist of Black Mischief and Put Out More Flags was published in 1963; the Times Literary Supplement called it a "nasty little book". When the first volume of autobiography, A Little Learning, was published in 1964, Waugh's often oblique tone and discreet name changes ensured that friends avoided the embarrassments that some had feared.
Waugh had welcomed the accession in 1958 of Pope John XXIII and wrote an appreciative tribute on the pope's death in 1963. However, he became increasingly concerned by the decisions emerging from the Second Vatican Council, which was convened by Pope John in October 1962 and continued under his successor, Paul VI until 1965. Waugh, a staunch opponent of Church reform, was particularly distressed by the replacement of the universal Latin Mass with the vernacular. In a Spectator article of 23 November 1962, he argued the case against change in a manner described by a later commentator as "sharp-edged reasonableness". He wrote to Nancy Mitford that "the buggering up of the Church is a deep sorrow to me.... We write letters to the paper. A fat lot of good that does."
In 1965, a new financial crisis arose from an apparent flaw in the terms of the "Save the Children" trust, and a large sum of back tax was being demanded. Waugh's agent, A.D. Peters, negotiated a settlement with the tax authorities for a manageable amount, but in his concern to generate funds, Waugh signed contracts to write several books, including a history of the papacy, an illustrated book on the Crusades and a second volume of autobiography. Waugh's physical and mental deterioration prevented any work on these projects, and the contracts were cancelled. He described himself as "toothless, deaf, melancholic, shaky on my pins, unable to eat, full of dope, quite idle" and expressed the belief that "all fates were worse than death". His only significant literary activity in 1965 was the editing of the three war novels into a single volume, published as Sword of Honour.
On Easter Day, 10 April 1966, after attending a Latin Mass in a neighbouring village with members of his family, Waugh died of heart failure at his Combe Florey home, at 62. He was buried, by special arrangement, in a consecrated plot outside the Anglican churchyard of the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Combe Florey. A Requiem Mass, in Latin, was celebrated in Westminster Cathedral on 21 April 1966.