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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 n 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's 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 co


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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 n 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's 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 co

30 review for Evelyn Waugh: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    D

    Very interesting exhaustive (700 pages) biography of Evelyn Waugh. The best English writer in the 1950's-1960's according to some. It is difficult to like him as a person, though. For example, while being a guest of Mrs Graham, he tears a map of his next travel destination out of her Times atlas. I sympathize with Mrs Graham for whom this meant the end of her friendship ( p. 232). This is only one of many incidents that show him to be a nasty piece of work, with a sadistic streak. And an extreme Very interesting exhaustive (700 pages) biography of Evelyn Waugh. The best English writer in the 1950's-1960's according to some. It is difficult to like him as a person, though. For example, while being a guest of Mrs Graham, he tears a map of his next travel destination out of her Times atlas. I sympathize with Mrs Graham for whom this meant the end of her friendship ( p. 232). This is only one of many incidents that show him to be a nasty piece of work, with a sadistic streak. And an extreme reactionary, even for his time. He had a ridiculous admiration for the aristocracy and constantly tried to be accepted in their circles, with mixed results. It is well known that he converted to Roman Catholicism and became a strong promoter of this faith. Nevertheless, his style was perfect and when in the correct mood, his work was full of sharp merciless humor to make fun of certain persons, of which there are many, whom he disliked. The book points out a lot of cases of such attacks in his work, his old tutor at Oxford being a favorite target, for example.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I have enjoyed Evelyn’s Waugh’s books for many years and, when I finally deciding to read a biography about his life, there seemed to be only one choice of author. Selina Hastings has written intelligent and in depth biographies of W. Somerset Maugham and Nancy Mitford, among others and her knowledge of that period of literature, and the people associated with it, are second to none. I must admit that I was somewhat worried at reading about the personal life of Evelyn Waugh. Having read books by I have enjoyed Evelyn’s Waugh’s books for many years and, when I finally deciding to read a biography about his life, there seemed to be only one choice of author. Selina Hastings has written intelligent and in depth biographies of W. Somerset Maugham and Nancy Mitford, among others and her knowledge of that period of literature, and the people associated with it, are second to none. I must admit that I was somewhat worried at reading about the personal life of Evelyn Waugh. Having read books by his brother, Alec Waugh, I was aware that he became more difficult with age and I was concerned that he would simply come across as utterly unlikeable . Selina Hastings certainly does not make her subject nicer than he was, but she does give a sympathetic portrait of him as a man and as a writer. The book takes us from his childhood and the difficult relationship with his father Arthur, who saw his elder son, Alec, as “the son of his soul” and who found Evelyn a difficult and emotional child. Evelyn resented his father, was a bully at school and a priggish, religious child. At Oxford he was, of course, among the Bright Young Things and saw University as the chance for three years of idleness. His failure to achieve a good degree saw him having to take a job at prep schools; one of the most depressing times of his life. We move through his first, disastrous, marriage to Evelyn Gardner (He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn), the shock and humiliation when he discovered she had been unfaithful and the beginning of his success as an author. Hastings follows his career as a novelist, travel writer and his attempts to annul his marriage and his second marriage to Laura Herbert. His fresh start was marred by the declaration of the second world war and she follows his war years, his disastrous attempts to be wooed by Hollywood (“Californian Savages”) and his lessening reputation in the 1950’s. She also covers, in depth, his conversion to Catholicism and his lifelong interest in religion. What so fascinates you as you read this biography though; looking past the hostility, bad temper and general grumpiness, is how everything he experienced was used in his work, as well as how long his truly close friendships lasted. His work as a prep school teacher in “Decline and Fall”, his first marriage in the biting “A Handful of Dust”, his university years in “Brideshead Revisited”, his war years in the Sword of Honour trilogy and more. He not only lived his life, but he observed and saved every experience and created novels which may have fell out of favour, but are now regarded as the classics they undoubtedly are. I would recommend this book to anybody who wishes to know more about Waugh, his life and his books.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Czarny Pies

    I enjoyed reading this biography of Evelyn Waugh almost as much as I enjoyed reading his books. Selina Hastings takes the time to carefully analyze each of Waugh's novels and to explain which characters in his books could be identified with real people that he knew. Given that most if not all of Waugh's works were romans a cle, this was certainly helpful. Selina Hastings pictures Waugh as a vain and somewhat nasty person, who often behaved badly in public; none of which is terribly surprising. Sh I enjoyed reading this biography of Evelyn Waugh almost as much as I enjoyed reading his books. Selina Hastings takes the time to carefully analyze each of Waugh's novels and to explain which characters in his books could be identified with real people that he knew. Given that most if not all of Waugh's works were romans a cle, this was certainly helpful. Selina Hastings pictures Waugh as a vain and somewhat nasty person, who often behaved badly in public; none of which is terribly surprising. She also considers him to be a minor rather than a major writer. Apparently she does not think her readers will resent being called fools for having bought her rather expensive book and having spent the enormous required to read a work on an important reader. Hastings feels that Waugh's books are clever and witty rather than profound. She identifies no stylistic innovations on Waugh's part. Ultimately she leaves the impression that she regards her book on Waugh's life to be more interesting than Waugh's opus. Ultimately, she may be right as her descriptions of Waugh's life and his relations with his friends are highly entertaining. The virtue of this biography as in the case of any good biography of a writer, is that it allows the writer's admirers to get closer to the person behind the name. Any fan of Waugh should love this book. Selina Hasting's chilliness to her subject is easily forgiven as Waugh himself was often quite snarky about his friends that he transformed into characters in his novels.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    Whew, that took a while, 626 pages, and a biography about a man who is not very likable or sympathetic, written by a distant, almost dis-interested biographer. On the plus side, there is wonderful exposition about the British education and class system, though through the lens of an upper class wannabe. The strict hierarchy and pecking order in the public schools, the cruel humiliations, crusty old headmasters, secret love affairs, drunken nights (and days!) out, tedious curricula, visits to sch Whew, that took a while, 626 pages, and a biography about a man who is not very likable or sympathetic, written by a distant, almost dis-interested biographer. On the plus side, there is wonderful exposition about the British education and class system, though through the lens of an upper class wannabe. The strict hierarchy and pecking order in the public schools, the cruel humiliations, crusty old headmasters, secret love affairs, drunken nights (and days!) out, tedious curricula, visits to school chums' parents' country estates, the envied (and frequently "recusant," a term i came to understand better from this book, referring to those landed gentry in England who did not renounce their Roman Catholic faith in the 16th century when it was obligatory to do so, but more on that later) storied families, green, grey England. On the minus, the subject of the biography, Evelyn Waugh is a caustic person throughout his life, with few redeeming qualities, other than his apparent ability to write marvelous prose. The book is at its best when quoting the deadly bon mot in a letter (and letters figured prominently in Waugh's life, and interesting to come across this in our time, when letter writing is a lost art, having been replaced by emails, so degraded in so many ways), e.g. the jestful term Waugh and a pen pal used to refer to Graham Greene: Gris Jambon Vert, which had me "laughing out loud." I would also have liked more of the literary context, in particular more on the relationship/animosity between Waugh and some of his ex-pat colleagues in America: Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender, Aldous Huxley. And one of the cores of the book, and part of my interest in Waugh, was the odd mixture of an accomplished English writer being Roman Catholic. Much is written about this in the book, but there seemed to be something missing, perhaps owing to a combination of the presumed anti-Catholic bias of the author and her related inability to really understand the basis of Waugh's conversion and adherence to the dread papist camp. The final chapter in the book, for example, would have benefited from more understanding and context about the Second Vatican Council, which, if one is to believe the author, had such a grievous impact on Waugh. It's almost laughable when you think about it now, that a serious, well-regarded British author would not only care about this particular religious occurrence, but that it would be so heavy on his mind that it would seem to have contributed to his demise! But interesting too, one of the signal events of the sixties, and perhaps one that is not credited enough with fomenting, in part, some of the subsequent, epochal sixties' revolutions, caused severe depression in one of the most highly regarded writers in the (very Protestant) realm. And perhaps this was more what I wanted to see in this book: the nature of being a "marginalized" Catholic in Anglican England. Not the more standard anti-Irish Catholic sentiment that is better understood and documented. But the closer to (their) home world of "thinking/intellectual" converts (and there seemed to be many of them, even up to Tony Blair in our time) combined with the recusants (the hoary families that never bothered with the vulgar machinations of Henry VIII's marital woes that prompted a religious revolution, and which included, I learned, the Howard family, of Castle Howard fame, one of Vanbrugh's masterpieces, and of course featured in film as the homestead of the Marchmain clan, not a stretch...) who together would seem to present a formidable thorn in the side of proper society. But his is exactly what I didn't find in this book, the frisson between the two cultures, which I believe would have been fertile ground for analysis and understanding, both of Waugh and his work. But in the end, an absorbing read, I felt at times like I was part of the family at Piers Court, the Waugh "estate" outside London, participating in the conspiracies to hide illicit behavior from the aloof but too critical patriarch, listening to the vulgar journalists being turned away at the door for having the temerity to visit the house, unannounced! etc. And was interesting too to travel through the main years of the twentieth century on Waugh's back, including the Bright Young Things (subsequently parodied by Waugh in his book, "Vile Bodies") of upper class English partiers in the roaring twenties, some uncomfortable stories about Waugh's time in the military during World War II, and the visceral details of war-torn, impoverished Britain during and immediately after the war. But again, I feel like there was an essential part of Waugh that I wanted to know about, but which was never really explored in the (monumental!) book. I see there are other biographies (though I think I've spent enough time on this era/culture/topic for the time being) though i am interested to read Vile Bodies now!

  5. 5 out of 5

    JOSEPH OLIVER

    I knew very little about Waugh before I bought this book. I only got it because of the author - Selina Hastings. I had read her biography of Anthony Blunt which I found very well researched. This one is just as good. Her research is second to none, and uses not only papers and diaries from Waugh himself but from those with whom he worked, lived and had contact so you do get quite a rounded picture of the man. He unfortunately lived up to his reputation as being quite unpleasant and irascible mos I knew very little about Waugh before I bought this book. I only got it because of the author - Selina Hastings. I had read her biography of Anthony Blunt which I found very well researched. This one is just as good. Her research is second to none, and uses not only papers and diaries from Waugh himself but from those with whom he worked, lived and had contact so you do get quite a rounded picture of the man. He unfortunately lived up to his reputation as being quite unpleasant and irascible most of the time but when circumstances pleased him he would flower into a completely different person whose stories and mimicry could hold the crowd mesmerised. That wasn't very often though. He was a notorious drunk and that surfaces with regularity too. And he was a snob - proud of it too. Loved his high quality food and deemed it a necessary not a luxury. I like the story where he met the Queen Mother for lunch at her home. She had two glasses of champagne ready. 'Isn't this a treat' she said. 'Champagne at lunchtime!' 'Is it?' he replied. He took it for granted and the Queen Mother was partial to a drop too but no where near what Waugh indulged in. For a man who took his religion to the extreme right he lacked a lot of the finer graces of belief and was a most uncharitable man - to those he barely tolerated (most people) and his own children. Charity didn't start at home and went no further either. On the positive side he took his writing seriously when it suited him and Hastings gives us the good, bad and indifferent reviews of this writings at the time. He wasn't held in high esteem by everyone or every publisher. I felt I had met the man on completing the book or rather I knew a man I probably wouldn't like to meet would be more accurate. In saying that I still think Brideshead is a fantastic piece of writing and well worth a re read every other year. I felt the ending came about rather abruptly and was dismissed in two pages. There was nothing about the fallout after his death either. Maybe it wasn't necessary. As it was written with the consent of the family maybe they didn't want themselves included too much and she respected their privacy. Even if you don't read Waugh's books you can get a lot from Ms Hastings' book on the man and his life.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Conmey

    Daly years too detailed for me and I would have preferred more information on his children and what his wife really thought of him but generally fascinating insight into complex and troubled man

  7. 5 out of 5

    Val

    I love reading Waugh's books, but I was not at all sure I would like Waugh the man. Selina Hastings has made him fascinating, if not always likeable, and there were many times when he was a sympathetic character. The author has used a lot of Waugh's own autobiographical writing and that of other members of the family, plus comments from various other people who knew him. Waugh is generally more critical of himself than others were. Most people who knew him, liked him, although he often made a bad I love reading Waugh's books, but I was not at all sure I would like Waugh the man. Selina Hastings has made him fascinating, if not always likeable, and there were many times when he was a sympathetic character. The author has used a lot of Waugh's own autobiographical writing and that of other members of the family, plus comments from various other people who knew him. Waugh is generally more critical of himself than others were. Most people who knew him, liked him, although he often made a bad first impression as several people who did not know him, disliked him and did not want to spend any time revising their opinion. There are a good range of sources overall, although the author has included her own opinions sometimes. She considers his famous rudeness entirely due to either his insecurity, depression or over-sensitivity and she may well be right. I liked that the personal information was so firmly linked to his writing. There are few irrelevant salacious details, those that are included have a reason for being in the book. It does not as though anything has been left out however, it is more that anything irrelevant has not been dwelt on. This is quite a long book, but all the information is pertinent and gives a rounded picture of Waugh the writer and the man.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Angela Burton

    I love biography, and this was a massive, well-written, and well-researched book. Hastings knows her subject and the time period well. She also wrote a biography of Nancy Mitford, who was a contemporary and great friend of Waugh's. Waugh is a difficult subject because he was so unlikeable, yet the author portrays Waugh in a three-dimensional way. The one complaint was that it was difficult to keep track of the huge numbers of people in his life, and it would have been useful to know what happene I love biography, and this was a massive, well-written, and well-researched book. Hastings knows her subject and the time period well. She also wrote a biography of Nancy Mitford, who was a contemporary and great friend of Waugh's. Waugh is a difficult subject because he was so unlikeable, yet the author portrays Waugh in a three-dimensional way. The one complaint was that it was difficult to keep track of the huge numbers of people in his life, and it would have been useful to know what happened to them. Waugh was very close to the Lygon family, for example, and Mamie Lygon is described as becoming impoverished and mentally ill, but there is no information about how she got there. A superb book. Highly recommened. I will definitely read her other biographies.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John

    Evelyn Waugh is one of my all-time favourite writers and it takes a very great biographer not to disappoint, and goodness Selina Hastings delivers the goods. There was barely a dull line in the book, and the prose sparkles with life. It takes a very good biographer to steer the reader through books he has read and books he has never read, and never once to lose pace or one's interest. I read this book twice in one year, such was the pleasure. Evelyn Waugh is one of my all-time favourite writers and it takes a very great biographer not to disappoint, and goodness Selina Hastings delivers the goods. There was barely a dull line in the book, and the prose sparkles with life. It takes a very good biographer to steer the reader through books he has read and books he has never read, and never once to lose pace or one's interest. I read this book twice in one year, such was the pleasure.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lynn M

  12. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

  13. 5 out of 5

    Deedie Gustavson

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amelia

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brien

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris McCann

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jorge Stelmach

  21. 5 out of 5

    D.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Ridpath

  23. 4 out of 5

    Desmond Burke

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paula

  25. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    A good analytical account of a great writer but an odd man.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rollo Walden

  27. 5 out of 5

    Katharina Koller

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  29. 5 out of 5

    John

  30. 4 out of 5

    Clay Simpson

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