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June 15, 2005


Bleak Mouse

Now, now. This particular East Coast American Conservative doesn't adopt literary mascots for ideological reasons, or even necessarily for depth of extraliterary thought. Indeed, I'm not sure I adopt mascots. But I do not see why I must choose between Waugh and Powell, especially on the irrelevant basis of their relative sympathies towards Americans.

Waugh was not a conservative; he was an arch-reactionary. He was not a profound thinker (though he had his moments); he was a bloody crank. To one who complained of his hypocrisy at being both a Catholic and a horrid person, he is said to have replied, "Think how much worse I'd be if I weren't Catholic." But I'd rather not.

I loved Waugh when I was a young radical. I continued to love his works when I was a silly liberal. I don't admire his works now because I'm conservative, but because they are brilliant and quite funny. (That some of his social satire seems well-suited to conservatism is merely an incidental extra; I always thought Black Mischief hilarious.) One might make the case that, had Waugh been a nicer person, his novels would have been dreadful. I find this marginally plausible, but moot; and in any case I find the notion of Waugh being "nice" somehow distasteful. Wodehouse and Chesterton and Beerbohm can be "nice" in my aesthetic universe, and still be great; Waugh cannot, I suspect.

In short, I want both Waugh AND Powell, and for purely literary reasons. If I started taking into account the political excesses of novelists, as well as their oddball theories of this and that, before giving them my blessing, I would empty my library very quickly -- and probably be left with a dull lot of novels.

Now, if you'd care to take our disagreement to the next level -- choose your weapons, sir.




Interesting. Stephen approaches sincerity on his own blog. What next? Hugs and kisses?

We cultural conservatives (East Coast or not) are not so tiny-minded that we can't recognize a good rip even when it's a Seventh Day Adventist missionary that gets it. I think Waugh is worth reading because he can skewer absurdity with almost no literary overhead. In his best novels no word is wasted and almost nothing that should be parodied isn't. That's why, to me, Brideshead is so different and so relatively unsuccessful. Or, if it's successful (I haven't read it in 20 years, so I won't insist one way or the other), it's successful in a completely different way. In the same vein, I've never read the war trilogy because I suspect I wouldn't much like it.

His anti-Americanism is over the top, like so much else about him, and it might just be that about the "The Loved One" that first made me realize I heart LA.

At any rate, I'd certainly agree that a "nice" Waugh is probably not a very interesting Waugh.


I did enjoy Waugh's war trilogy, and also his novel supposedly based on Bill Deedes (Scoop) who , it happens, was later to become the Dear Bill of Private Eye fame.

His anti-americanism is classic, however, for britons of a certain standing: namely borne of class and loss of empire and a built-in disregard for vulgar colonials. It was this same sensibility that led Philby and his fellows to prefer the evils of Stalin, who arrived at the long end of a history, to those brash americans. It speaks through Graham Greene, too: you Yanks - more contemptible even than the yobs, who at least know their place.

I haven't read Powell yet - started, but not yet finished - so I can't really comment. I do believe that Waugh without spite would be empty, though?

Mrs. Peperium

Because Donald Rumsfeld is Evelyn Waugh's love child.

Bleak Mouse

Stephen, you seem to have raised quite the ugly mob here with your flagrant Waugh-bashing, however far away.

However, it must be noted that you have no less an eminence in your corner than the estimable Mr Edwin Starr, whose hit song argued so persuasively:

"Waugh! (Unh! Grunt!)
What is it good faw?"

Nice way with a rhyme, too.


I actually like Waugh's early novels very much. But not as much as I like "having a go" as the Brits say. Also, I would much rather read Auberon Waugh than read his father. I have actually ripped off one of A's jokes here. Anybody spot it?

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