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Evelyn Waugh (1903 - 1966)

Within a couple of decades after the Second World War ended, there was hardly any celebration of novelists of the inter-war period. As mentioned before, there was a sense that D H Lawrence and James Joyce had made seminal contributions, but otherwise those who had been widely read at the time were treated largely as period pieces.

I should note that this applies only to British fiction, because it was certainly felt that on the continent several writers had transformed fiction during those two decades. This applied most obviously to Kafka, but also to less obviously revolutionary figures such as Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust. Unfortunately I cannot hope to do justice to them in what must be a limited series focusing on English Literature.

I will therefore, at the risk of seeming parochial, devote a couple of columns to English writers of that period. At the same time, though the novelists I will talk about are not in the league of the great Europeans I have mentioned, I feel that they are at least as interesting as Lawrence and Joyce, perhaps even more so.

My own favourite amongst them is Evelyn Waugh, who was incidentally brought vividly to life in the collection of Graham Greene’s letters which sparked off this series of columns. Waugh was also a Catholic convert, and aggressively traditional about it, unlike his more revolutionary friend. But he was also extremely funny, and well aware of his own foibles. In a sense then he seems never to have moved too far, despite appearances to the contrary, from the Oxford undergraduate who is perhaps the most evocative celebrant of that city of aquatint, as he described Oxford as once having been.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2010
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