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Brideshead Revisited is a informative and evocative novel written by the English novelist Evelyn Waugh.
The novel follows the fortunes of a middle-class student at Oxford (Charles Ryder), who gets tangled up with an upper-class family, first through his friendship with the son (Sebastian Flyte), then through the intervention of the mother and through a reunion with Sebastian's sister.
Although epic in scope, the novel quickly moves through the decades, showing us the decay and fall of the British aristocracy in the early parts of the 20th century. The novel paints a unique picture of a time which is now long-lost and explores the religious and moral views of its characters, taking us on a fascinating journey.
I originally read this novel after seeing the ITV adaptation when it was released on DVD and was surprised how well the TV version caught the mood and the feeling of the book. I would highly recommend both.
"Brideshead Revisited" is one of Evelyn Waugh's most well known novels and it recently occured to me that I had never read it despite having read some of his other work.
I expected "Brideshead Revisited" to be similar to Waugh's earlier satirical work such as "Decline and Fall" and "A Handful of Dust". Although there is an element of satire, the major theme of Brideshead is Catholicism. "Brideshead Revisited" was published in 1945 and Waugh himself was a Catholic convert. The book follows an aristocratic and Catholic family, the Marchmains, through the eyes of Charles Ryder, an agnostic friend of the family.
The book begins with Ryder returning unexpectedly to Brideshead - the estate of the Marchmains - with the army in WWII. His emotions and memories of the past are stirred up and we follow his narration of how he met the family.
Ryder meets Lord Sebastian Flyte at Oxford when Sebastian leans into his ground floor window to be sick after drinking too much. Sebastian is a very charming young man and soon has Charles following him around in adoration.
Charles is from a home without much love as his father withdrew from him when his mother died. He is never truly engaging as the protagonist and I found that I enjoyed Sebastian a lot more. Charles seems to be continually searching for love and continually disappointed.
Sebastian is quite engaging as a character because he is witty and likeable. He has a strange habit of carrying a teddy bear around with him which he has named Aloysius. Sebastian often speaks to and refers to Aloysius as though he were alive and even buys a brush to spank him with. I must admit I did find the scenes with Aloysius quite funny and was disappointed when he vanished from the book.
I found that some of the funniest scenes of the book are found in the first half of the book - both between Sebastian and numerous people, including Aloysius the bear, and between Charles and his emotionally distant father.
Sebastian takes Charles to see his family's estate, Brideshead, but refuses to let him meet any of the family except his old nanny. Sebastian is shown as a comic character in Oxford but he is rather more strained and tragic when it comes to his family. He doesn't want to lose Charles to his mother's domination and the all encompassing Catholicism of the family.
Sebastian's father converted to Catholicism in order to marry but it was an unhappy marriage and he fled to Italy after WWII and began living with his mistress there. Sebastian is the only one who visits his father. His mother, Lady Marchmain, is very influential and is a very devout Catholic.
Charles' father has some quite comic scenes as he tries to get rid of Charles during his stay at home over the summer. Charles has overspent and has no money to do things and in order to teach him a lesson his father makes life as uncomfortable as he can for him. He invites over the most boring people he can and forces Charles to socialise with them amongst other things.
The book begins to move away from comedy as Charles becomes more involved with Sebastian's family. Sebastian behaves more and more erratically and becomes an alcoholic, believing that his mother has turned Charles against him. The more his family try to restrain him the worse Sebastian gets - he resorts to running away and becomes increasingly dependent on alcohol.
Sebastian's siblings are Bridey, his older brother, who is also very devout and who is presented as socially inept and withdrawn. His younger sister Julia is a debutante who is physically very similar to him but seems to be emotionally distant. His youngest sister is Cordelia, a naughty girl at school but still very religious, who loves Sebastian dearly.
Waugh spends a lot time having Charles ponder about the importance of religion to the family. Sebastian similtaneously loves and hates his faith and tries to escape from it as he escapes from his family. Charles is agnostic and often argues with the family over the finer points of their faith. This can be a bit tedious but it is also interesting at some points.
Charles eventually finds himself dismissed from the family after giving Sebastian money to go out drinking and loses touch with them. After a chance meeting with Julia years later they become lovers and he becomes entangled with the family again.
I found that I wasn't all that interested in the affair between Julia and Charles as she is never as interesting a character as Sebastian, or even Cordelia, who has some involved conversations with Charles about Sebastian and religion.
Lord Marchmain eventually returns to Brideshead, his wife having died some years before, to die himself. The struggle between Lord Marchmain's wish to remain a lapsed Catholic and his children's wishes for him to die forgiven by the Church soon begins.
Charles fully supports Lord Marchmain's wishes and this drives a wedge between him and Julia. He is appalled by the fact that the family continually bring the priest to a dying man against his wishes. Lord Marchmain eventually succumbs on his deathbed and Julia tells Charles she cannot marry him as it would be a sin against her faith.
The ending to the book is quite bleak although it is about the confirmation and strength of belief. Ryder loses the people he loves, Sebastian and Julia, to their religion and is left bereft.
I found this an interesting read but it could get a bit dull as Waugh tends to harp on about Catholicism. I found that I enjoyed the first half of the book a lot more than the second half as it was funny and engaging, rather than depressing.
I would recommend this book as it is an interesting read and there are some very enjoyable comic scenes early in the book.
This review is also posted on Ciao.co.uk under my username.
Quoniam dicebant: Spiritum immundum habet. The Gospel According to Mark, iii, 30. A little over three decades ago Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) died on the lavatory from the cumulative effects of excessive drinking and drug-taking. If he is at this moment peering exophthalmicly down on the earth from the traditional Roman Catholic heaven he espoused in his lifetime, he would not be pleased by any comparison with the death of a rather more famous American: and yes, such a comparison would be most unjust. Waugh's excesses were in "bromide and chloral and crème de menthe"; he did not eat hamburgers, nor did he wear satin jump-suits, nor was he a cretin who happened to have a pleasant negro-effect singing voice; and his point of departure for the hereafter was a country house in Somerset called Combe Florey. But his death was, like Elvis Presley's, an undignified and more than faintly ludicrous one. And perhaps also a just one. Death in Evelyn Waugh's novels very often takes undignified and ludicrous forms: in Decline and Fall, a prison chaplain is butchered with woodworking tools; in Black Mischief, the daughter of an English diplomat is served up to an ex-lover at a cannibal feast; in A Handful of Dust, an English lord of the manor finds a living death imprisoned by a jungle patriarch with a taste for readings from Dickens; in The Loved One, a semi-literate American mortuary cosmetician commits suicide by injecting herself with poison, and is disposed of in an animal crematorium. Waugh was a cruel man, a bully and a snob, and what happens to his characters very often reflects his character. Just as the works of the Marquis de Sade are partly wish-fulfilment fantasies of gross sexual power, so the works of Evelyn Waugh are partly wish-fulfilment fantasies of gross social power. They are, for example, full of ironies and barbs and sniggers at social upstarts or outsiders. Trimmer, Beaver, and Atwater, the great tr
iumvirate of Waughian Untermenschen, are detestable because they are not gentlemen and do not know how to behave when they try to be. Nor, of course, would the working classes: they however are not detestable, merely ludicrous, because they at least know their place. Given that Waugh was a snob and a bully, that he was also a reactionary Roman Catholic is perhaps not surprising. Given that he was a very intelligent man, with an acute sense of the ridiculous, perhaps this is surprising. Waugh took very little seriously. He disliked and distrusted (temporal) authority and those who exercised it: "[M]any of the motives which make us sacrifice to toil the innocent enjoyment of leisure ... are amongst the most ignoble -- pride, avarice, emulation, vainglory and the appetite for power over others." and satirized it and them (he was certainly a conservative, but more in an aesthetic and economic sense than in a political). He disliked and distrusted modernism and modernists: "His strongest tastes were negative. He disliked plastics, Picasso, sunbathing, and jazz -- everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime." and satirized it and them with gusto. Perhaps he also disliked and distrusted himself, for he took himself as little seriously as he took almost everything else, and satirized himself mercilessly in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. He seemed to take only two things seriously: the English language, and the Roman Catholic Church. I can understand, and am very grateful for, his attitude to the former; his attitude to the latter once puzzled me. The Roman Catholic Church is not now, and never has been, a humane or intellectually respectable institution. I would call it and many of the things it teaches at best grotesque and at worst evil. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example, one of its chief propaganda weapons, was perhaps in herself a worthy, even a saintly person. She b
elieved, however, that it is infinitely preferable for human beings to be born and starve to death than for them to be aborted or prevented by contraception. Perhaps this sort of thinking came easily to a mind trained, as young Roman Catholic minds were before the Second Vatican Council, in the doctrine that eternal damnation can be yours for the price of a small mortal sin. The death-camps of the Nazis, overseen by a hierarchy of which a startlingly high proportion were brought up as Roman Catholics, endured some dozen years; Hell, the death-camp of the Roman Catholic God, endures for ever. The Roman Catholic Church still teaches this doctrine of infinite punishment for finite transgression with other uncouth absurdities; many, in some countries most, of its professed adherents no longer apply its teachings in everyday life; in time it will succumb to the decadence that is already rooted in it (and that is now in full, glorious flower in the Church of England). But it was not decadent for most of Waugh's life, and Waugh seemed to accept all of its traditional doctrines fully. He converted in 1930; in 1935, he wrote a biography of the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion in which one learns a great deal about the cruelties practised by the youthful Church of England on those who refused to renounce Roman Catholicism, the age-old faith of these islands. During the period covered by the book, the St. Bartholomew's massacre took place in Paris. This is noted in passing "He [William Cecil, chief adviser to Elizabeth I] had not foreseen the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, 1572, which had broken the supremacy of the Huguenots ..." The supremacy of the Huguenots was "broken" by the murder, with great savagery, of thousands of men, women, and children. On hearing the news, the deeply pious King of Spain, Philip II, was seen to smile for the first time in years, and the Pope, Pius V, ordered a meda
l struck in celebratory commemoration. Waugh mentions none of this, and none of the semi-genocidal activities of the Spanish army in the Netherlands over the period. The concept of double-think is perhaps useful in explaining these omissions. In 1984, Orwell wrote "It [the Newspeak word "blackwhite"] means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white ... This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought ... known in Newspeak as doublethink". A further example of doublethink would perhaps be to believe that the persecution of Roman Catholics by Protestants proves that Protestantism is wrong, while the persecution of Protestants by Roman Catholics proves that Roman Catholicism is right. Orwell, who recognized the Roman Catholic Church for what it was, almost certainly drew on the psychology of the religious as well as the political believer in formulating the concept. It is not, however, the only or even a necessary means of explaining Waugh's apparently irrational religious beliefs. It may not be, as I shall try to demonstrate, the true means. The first step I made towards discovering what possibly were Waugh's true motives for becoming a Roman Catholic was not a literal one. On holiday in the Seychelles one year, I was re-reading his collected journalism and came upon a passage, a notice from the Oxford university paper Isis, that had not caught my attention before: "LOST, LOST, O LOST: Mr Evelyn Waugh regrets to announce he has lost a walking-stick made of oak, preposterously short with a metal band around it. It is a thing of no possible value to anyone but himself; for him it is an incalculable loss. If it should fall into the hands of any kindly or honest man or woman, will he or she bring it to the Isis office, and what so poor man as Mr Waugh is can do, shall not be lacking." For some reason, on this occasion, my attention was caught -- and held. I read the passage through several times, not quite sure why I did so. I was conscious of only one strong impression, which was that in spite of its jocular air the notice seemed to indicate a very strong desire on Waugh's part to be re-united with his stick. The stick is mentioned again in Anthony Powell's Oxford memoirs, The Infants of Spring: "Evelyn Waugh ... was excluded from [the Hypocrites' Club] at this period for having smashed up a good deal of the Club's furniture with the heavy stick he _always carried_" [London, 1976, pg. 154; my emphasis] Why was a stick heavy enough to smash pre-war furniture "always carried" by its owner? Unless he was joking about his own lack of height, why should Waugh describe a stick that was "preposterously short" as a walking-stick? And what was the significance of the metal band? One possible, absurd answer is that the stick was a magic wand or talisman. The term immediately conjures up laughable Tinkerbellesque or Enid-Blytonian associations. If one tries to purge one's mind of these and take the term in an austere, occultic sense, it has to be admitted that the equation "stick=magic wand" answers all the questions raised by the Isis notice and extract from Anthony Powell's autobiography. Nonetheless, it remains absurd. What possible connexion could there have been between Evelyn Waugh and the Black (or even the White) Arts? None, surely? A passage from his part-autobiography, A Little Learning, proves that this is not so. Waugh is describing his life immediately after Oxford: "I also wrote some pages of a novel I had begun ... it was named The Temple At Thatch and concerned an undergraduate who inherited a property of which nothing was left except an eighteenth-century classical folly where he set up house and, I think, practised black magic.
" This slight doubt about the plot is not found in a letter he wrote in 1925, shortly before beginning the novel: "I am going to write a little novel ... "The Temple At Thatch" ... about madness and magic." Waugh did what he had written he would. He sent the manuscript for comment to Harold Acton (1904-94), a friend whose aesthetic judgment he trusted. Acton was not enthusiastic and Waugh "took the exercise book in which the chapters were written and consigned it to the furnace of the school boiler". The school was in north Wales, at Llanddulas, where Waugh was working as an assistant master and where, from his own words, his first attempt at a novel seems to have been drawing on the experience of his days at Oxford. A great deal has been written, by Waugh himself, by his contemporaries, by his later commentators, about those days, but some important evidence is lacking. Waugh kept a diary for part of his time at Oxford, but it is no longer available to us: "I have been living very intensely the last three weeks. For the past fortnight I have been nearly insane ... My diary for the period is destroyed ... I may perhaps one day ... tell you of some of the things that have happened. It will make strange reading in the biography." Christopher Sykes's biography of Waugh describes his going through an "extreme homosexual phase [at Oxford] ... unrestrained, emotionally and physically". Were entries pertaining to this period what prompted Waugh to destroy the diary? Quite probably yes -- in part. But there may have been something more, something that would later provide material for his first novel: some kind of involvement in the occult. That the extremity of this period may have taken in more than homosexuality is suggested by another letter Waugh wrote at the time to Dudley Carew, an old friend from Lancing, in which he said
"St. John has been eating wild honey in the wilderness. I do not yet know how things are going to end. They are nearing some sort of finality. One day I will tell you things to surprise you and sell an edition of the biography if faithfully recorded." St. John's "eating wild honey" is a playful reference to Waugh's less well-known second Christian name and also, very likely, to homosexual activity. However, the remaining lines are not so easy to interpret as references to this. How can sexual indulgence be regarded as "nearing some kind of finality"? On the assumption that St. John's "wild honey" refers to the pleasures of non-penetrative activities like fellatio and mutual masturbation, these words may refer to an impending decision as to whether or not to indulge in full homosexual intercourse, and yet they seem rather hyperbolic to bear this interpretation -- particularly in the light of what follows. Why should Dudley Carew, a contemporary and great admirer of Waugh at Lancing, be surprised by Waugh's participation in homosexual activity? Because Waugh had not, like so many others, indulged in it at Lancing? If so, why should the circumstances of Waugh's participation at Oxford help to sell the biography Carew had long intended to write? That many young men were homosexually active for a period was taken for granted by those of Waugh's or Carew's public-school background; that those same young men should make public admission of this fact in later life was certainly not. Homosexual practice was illegal at the time, and would remain so for decades; by the vast majority of those forming the market for Waugh's putative biography, it would have been regarded as sordid and shameful, as Waugh himself must surely have recognized. Yet the strains evident in the interpretation of these words as references to homosexuality disappear when one assumes that they refe
r instead to participation in the occult. Among the book-reading public of the day, and of many days to come, the occult was very popular: the novelist Dennis Wheatley enjoyed enormous success with books like The Devil Rides Out (1934), in which a black mass is celebrated near Stonehenge and there is a euphemistic but unambiguous description of black magicians pissing into a chalice containing pieces of holy wafer. Such things were sordid, certainly, but also fascinating, and one could easily imagine a biography containing details of Waugh's undergraduate dabbling in the occult provoking great interest. The dabbling need not be taken seriously, nor would it be an admission of participation in anything illegal: it would seem perversely sophisticated, rather than simply perverse. Given the hedonistic cynicism he was cultivating, if Waugh was aware of and being invited to join in occult practice at Oxford, he might very well have expressed himself in the words given above. The assumption that he did see some participation in the occult bears exegetic fruit not only here then, but also in the plot of The Temple At Thatch, his destruction of his diary, and even his concern at the loss of a heavy stick. It may also be usefully applied to his conversion to Roman Catholicism, which can now be seen as a reaction to, or even a flight from, memories of his involvement, which may have been a far more frightening or intense experience than he had anticipated. That he chose to enter the Roman Catholic church rather than resume the practice of Anglicanism, in which he was born and brought up, adds weight to this reading. A reaction against a mildly affecting involvement in the occult might send one into a mild faith but defecting Satanists, like defecting communists, seem more naturally to become Roman Catholics than to become Anglicans. It must be remembered, of course, particularly in the case of an imaginative and aesthetically sensitive person like Waug
h, that to be affected by an experience is not necessarily to have been a direct participant in it. Evidence for Waugh's involvement in the occult nonetheless remains. More can be added to what has already been presented: the most direct (and least known) available to date is perhaps best approached through a more famous work. In Brideshead Revisited, the flamboyant, stuttering, homosexual aesthete Anthony Blanche is described as having "practised black art in Cefalù". Cefalù, a small town in Sicily, is a shorthand for Aleister Crowley's infamous Abbey of Thelema, which was based nearby. Elsewhere, Waugh referred to Crowley directly. In A Little Learning he speaks of his election as secretary to the Hypocrites' Club and continues: ‘My predecessor in the office, Loveday, had left the university suddenly to study black magic. He died in mysterious circumstances in Alistair [sic] Crowley's community and his widow, naming herself "Tiger Woman", figured for some time in the popular press, where she made "disclosures" of the goings-on at Cefalu [sic].’ Later he speaks of the hostess of many of the parties he attended in London after leaving Oxford: "There was Mary Butts, a genial, voluptuous lady of the avant-garde who wrote short stories and at the time consorted with a man who had been in Alistair Crowley's black-magical circle at Cefalu." It is possible that his acquaintance with Crowley was not entirely third-hand, as we can see from examination of a short story called "A Step Off The Map" that he wrote in 1933. Waugh's short stories are not particularly good, for the most part, and "Out of Depth", as "A Step Off..." was later renamed, does not stand out even amongst them for its literary merit. It is however of extraordinary interest from the point of view of this article, for it describes a dinner pa
rty encounter had by a lapsed American Catholic with a man called Jagger (later renamed Kakophilos) who is unmistakably based on Crowley: "an elderly, large man, quite bald, with a vast white face that spread down and out far beyond the normal limits ... a little crimson smirking mouth". The American, Rip, is introduced to the bald man ‘"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," said Dr Kakophilos, in a thin Cockney voice. "Eh?" "There is no need to reply. If you wish to, it is correct to say, Love is the Law, Love under will.'" "I see."’ Rip does not take Kakophilos seriously, but finds himself unable to resist the force of his personality and becomes involved in an occult experiment that projects him five hundred years into the future, to a London in which "[g]reat flats of mud, submerged at high water, stretched to his feet over the Strand". Europe has reverted to barbarism; Rip is treated almost as a pet by the savages inhabiting the ruins of London, and is eventually presented to a party of black African anthropologists for study at a coastal military base. He finds only one sane and familiar thing in this new world: a Roman Catholic mass conducted in Latin by a black priest at the base. Somehow he returns to the Twentieth Century. The story ends with him speaking with another Roman Catholic priest in most curious fashion, considering that his involvement in the time-hop had been quite involuntary: ‘"Father," said Rip, "I want to make a confession... I have experimented in black art..."’ The story is not well-known. According to Martin Stannard's study of Waugh's life to 1939, it is now out of print. It was substantially revised for inclusion in Waugh's short story collection Mr Loveday's Little Outing and Other Sad Stories (Chapman and Hall, 1936) and "Waugh
did not include it in Penguin Books' Work Suspended and Other Stories (Harmondsworth, 1947)". Did its autobiographical elements become embarrassing to him as time passed? Margot Metroland and Alastair Trumpington, characters from his early romans à clef, appear in the story, and though Rip is named from Rip Van Winkle, is it entirely fanciful to see a resemblance between this harsh and somewhat violent monosyllable and that of Waugh's own surname? Perhaps not. But on more prosaic grounds his neglect of the story is not inexplicable: it is not very good, and seems to have been written partly as emotional catharsis following the break-up of his first marriage -- "a period of considerable anxiety". However, this latter fact may point again towards autobiography. Perhaps Waugh found this period of anxiety bringing to mind a similar one at Oxford, and perhaps the story drew on relevant memories. The link between Oxford and Crowley has already been presented in the extract from Brideshead Revisited. The exegesis of this extract is, however, incomplete. Anthony Blanche was based, by Waugh's own admission, on Harold Acton, to whom, as has already been described, Waugh sent his first novel for comment. We are now in a position to see rather more in this fact. Was Waugh interested merely in Acton's aesthetic judgment, or also, and perhaps more importantly, in Acton's occult expertise? Was Waugh's introduction to the "black art" made through Acton? Was Acton's unenthusiastic response to The Temple At Thatch based less on the book's artistic demerits than on the fact that it perhaps revealed too much, was too indiscreet? An obvious way of trying to answer such a question would be to consult the letter in which Acton passed judgment on The Temple at Thatch. Part of this read: "Too English for my exotic taste. Too much nid-nodding over port. It should be printed in a
few elegant copies for the friends who love you." Or so Waugh gave the world to believe. The letter itself cannot contradict him, for it seems to be no longer extant. Christopher Sykes, discussing it in his biography of Waugh, suggests that Acton's judgment was "a hard blow and it may be significant that, though Evelyn kept all his letters from Harold Acton, this particular letter is missing from the collection." Significant certainly, but precisely how? Is it likely that Acton had participated with Waugh in occultic practice, and so should be consulted by Waugh on a literary fruit of this? Evidence that strengthens the case for the participation of them both is found in Humphrey Carpenter's The Brideshead Generation, a polybiography that presents a far more detailed picture of the Oxford of Waugh's day than any book devoted specifically to Waugh: "Emlyn Williams [an Oxford contemporary of Waugh's] ... records that lurid gossip was circulating about the Hypocrites, such as 'they're supposed to eat new-born babies cooked in wine.'" Acton was the leading light of the Hypocrites, Waugh a prominent acolyte. Yet there is, I feel, no need to assume that this gossip is literally true, for it is typical of the hyperbole associated with such aspects of the occult as worship of the devil, whether serious or pretended. It is in fact reminiscent of the gossip that circulated two hundred years before about Sir Francis Dashwood's Hell-Fire Club, another group of hedonistic, dissolute, and aristocratic young men. In those days, however, when non-attendance at church, let alone religious heterodoxy, was regarded as shocking and devilish, the gossip was likely to be have been excited by rather less than its equivalent in Waugh's day. The Hypocrites would have had to do rather more to excite the gossip of their day, and so it was likely to contain more truth, without,
of course, necessarily being entirely true. One may dabble in the occult without worshipping the devil, and one may worship the devil without eating new-born babies cooked in wine. But if one is rumoured to have done the last in a period in which the occult was attracting increasing participation, the likelihood of one's having done the first is not nugatory. I believe that I have by now established that the imputation of some involvement in the occult to the reactionary Roman Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh is not so ludicrous as it might at first have appeared. This involvement nonetheless remains speculatory, and that it may have extended to the point of participation in satanic ritual or devil-worship can only be more so. And yet if it is, for the sake of argument, taken as a donnée of Waugh's experience, much light is cast on aspects of his adult character, and certain remarks made both by him and by his acquaintances assume new significance. As his brother-in-law Auberon Herbert recognised and said, Evelyn Waugh could be "an awful shit". Waugh recognised this himself, and would claim, on being taxed with the gulf between his behaviour and the demands of his religion, that if he had not been a Roman Catholic he would have been far worse. The phrase he chose was "scarcely human". Roman Catholicism was for him a defence against the malevolence he knew to be within himself. Cyril Connolly had made a similar observation. In an article he prepared on Waugh but never published, he said that ‘Waugh's Catholicism was a force that saved him from ... this "demon of destructiveness" ... "which might otherwise have destroyed him".’ The metaphor chosen here need not be seen as of particular significance, and yet it occurs elsewhere in reaction to Waugh's behaviour. At one period, Waugh made strenuous efforts to persuade John Betjeman to become a Catholic, warning hi
m again and again of the literal damnation that awaited him if he remained extra ecclesiam. Betjeman's wife Penelope told Waugh that his propagandizing had affected her husband badly: "[he] thinks you are the devil and wakes up in the middle of the night and raves". Again a jocular comment, but again it uses a diabolic metaphor. Such metaphors are not exhausted. There is a curious passage in Christopher Sykes' biography describing how "Evelyn had long been an admirer of Hilaire Belloc [and] asked Duff [Cooper, husband of Diana] if he would introduce him to the great man ... When the appointed day came around, Evelyn arrived neatly dressed, in a state of perfect sobriety, and on his best behaviour ... [After the lunch was over and Waugh had left for an urgent appointment,] Duff asked Belloc what he thought of his brilliant young friend. 'He is possessed,' replied Belloc. How, Duff often asked, how, except by supernatural means, did Belloc know?" On its own, any of these references might be unimportant: together I believe they offer good support for the claims of this article, not least for what some will call the most extravagant of these. Involvement in certain forms of the occult is known to be dangerous, and whether one accepts a literal or a psychological interpretation of them, the realities of demonic possession cannot be dismissed. Evelyn Waugh may have participated in satanic ritual at Oxford and been possessed by a "demon" in one or another sense for the rest of his life. The supernaturalism he espoused as a Roman Catholic may have pre-dated his conversion and been based on terrifyingly personal experience. He described possession once in his novels, in Helena (1950), a literary treatment of the story of St Helena, the discoverer of the true cross. The novel is set between the third and fourth centuries A.D. and makes use of "certain wilful, obvious anachronisms
which are introduced as a literary device". They do not, it has to be said, meet this end very successfully, either in such passages as ‘"What a spread!" said Princess Helena, when she had guzzled. "What a blow-out!"’ or in an extremely interesting scene in which Waugh describes the Emperor Constantine and his wife Fausta witnessing a prophecy made by a young African witch who has been possessed by a devil: ‘Music, unheard to the watchers, was sounding in the girl's heart, drumming from beyond the pyramids, wailing in the bistro where the jazz disc spun. She had stepped off the causeway of time and place into trackless swamp. [She begins to speak:] "Zivio! Viva! Arriba! Heil!" ...’ Writing in 1950 of a ceremony taking place in the Fourth Century AD, Waugh draws on imagery from the 1920s and '30s. He re-uses themes -- blacks, travel in time, swamp -- that, as we have seen, he had first used in 1933 in "Out of Depth". Is the link between such incongruencies, the ultra-modern and the ultra-primitive, to be found in the occult, encountered by Waugh both in England and in Africa during his extensive travels there in the early 1930s? Anyone answering this question in the negative must still, surely, see the need for an explanation of the way such things occurred not once in Waugh's work but twice, separated by more than a decade and a World War, and of the way they find echoes not only in the remainder of his fiction but also in his correspondence, his life, and the reaction of his friends and acquaintances to his personality. Waugh has long been recognised as a complex and tormented man whose work is full of darkness and the macabre. I would suggest that the true extent of his complexity and torment and the true roots of his obsessions have never been recognised. Does Waugh deserve a place among the greatest writers in English in t
his or any other century? Undeniably. What were the obsessions and influences that prompted him to that place? This is a question that I have tried to answer fully for the first time here. Time may never tell, but I believe that at the very least I have shown that the full truth about Waugh's life and religious beliefs may still wait to be confirmed. Waugh as occult practitioner. Waugh as worshipper of the devil. Waugh possessed. Implausible things? Impossible things? Or, as Waugh himself may have predicted, no more than "things to surprise"? NOTES 1. Evelyn Waugh, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, ch. 2 2. In Men at Arms, A Handful of Dust, and Work Suspended respectively. If Hooper and Mulcaster from Brideshead Revisited and Corker from Scoop are added to the list, the ergative suffix "-er" can be seen to be of great importance in Waugh's nomenclature of contempt. The first person narrator of Brideshead, Charles Ryder, is perhaps shielded by his patrician "y", perhaps reflects Waugh's anxieties about his own social status: he was once described to his face by Duff Cooper, the husband of Waugh's longest-lasting and most aristocratic correspondent Diana Cooper, as a "common little man ... who happens to have written one or two moderately amusing novels" (Philip Zeigler, Diana Cooper, Hamish Hamilton, 1980, pg. 266). 3. Evelyn Waugh, "Sloth" in The Seven Deadly Sins, ed. Raymond Mortimer, London, 1962. Reprinted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher, London, 1983 (pg. 572). 4. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, ch. 1., "A Portrait of the Artist in Middle Age" 5. Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler (who based the organization of the S.S. on that of the Jesuits), Heydrich and Eichmann, inter alios. This over-representation of Catholics was found also among the smaller cogs of the Nazi machine. It is true that
Catholics tended not to vote for the Nazis in elections but then communists tended not to vote for the Nazis either: I don't think anyone could regard this latter fact as rehabilitating Stalinism. 6. Edmund Campion: Scholar, Priest, Hero, and Martyr, re-published by Oxford University Press, 1980. 7. Campion was born in 1540 and executed in 1581: the massacre took place on the 24th of August, 1572. 8. op. cit., pg. 96 9. Pius V was canonized in 1712. Waugh's biographer Christopher Sykes, himself a Catholic, commented of one passage in Waugh's treatment of Pius: "This is to evade by rhetoric the fact that Pius V was a persecutor who went to extremes considered shocking even by the standards of his time, and that he never seems to have scrupled to support his principles by the use of atrocity." (Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, Penguin, London, 1977, pg. 208.) 10. Taken from the appendix to 1984. In formulating the concept of doublethink, Orwell was perhaps thinking of precept 13 in Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises (1548): "That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black." Loyola founded the Jesuits, the "intellectual shock-troops" of the Roman Catholic church. 11. The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, pg. 18 12. The Hypocrites' Club was "notorious not only for drunkenness but for flamboyance of dress and manner which was in some cases patently homosexual". Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning, W.J. Mackay & Co., Chatham, Kent, 1964, pg. 179. 13. ibid., pg. 223. Waugh's eldest son Auberon Augustus would later write in his memoirs (Will This Do?, Century, London, 1991) of a schoolfellow called "Brenninkmeyer who shopped me for trying to hold a B
lack Mass in the chemistry laboratory" (ch. 4, pg. 69). 14. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, pg. 87 15. A Little Learning, pg. 228 16. The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980, pg. 12 17. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, pg. 78 18. Brideshead Revisited, ch. 2, pg. 47 of the 1984 Penguin paperback. The extract is taken from a description of Anthony Blanche's travels and experiences that falls in a section called ET IN ARCADIA EGO. The occult associations of this Latin tag are well-documented: see, for example, Baignet, Leigh and Lincoln, The Holy Blood & The Holy Grail, Jonathon Cape, 1982. 19. pg. 180; pg. 211 20. Greek for "lover of evil". 21. The extracts are taken from the revised version of the story, which was re-printed in The Fifth Mayflower Book of Black Magic Stories, ed. Michael Parry, Mayflower, 1976. 22. Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years, 1903-1939, JM Dent & Sons, London, 1986. 23. Both references to pg. 345 of The Early Years. 24. "There is an aesthetic bugger [= homosexual] who sometimes turns up in my novels under various names... 2/3 Brian [Howard] 1/3 Harold Acton", Waugh wrote in a letter of 14 March, 1958 to the Earl Baldwin (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, pg. 506). In his discussion of Anthony Blanche in Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, Christopher Sykes argues convincingly that the proportions are reversed in this particular character. Brian Howard (1905-58) was a flamboyantly homosexual Old Etonian poet whom Waugh had first known at Oxford. 25. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, pg. 99 26. The Brideshead Generation, pg. 79 27. ibid., pg. 377 28. idid., pg. 395 29. op. cit., pg. 181 30. Introduction, pg. x 31. op. cit., ch. 1, pg. 18 32. ch. viii, pg. 187
The story unfolds as Charles Ryder finds himself stationed, with his army unit, in the grounds of stately home - then he realises that he has been there before... Casting his mind back to his days at Oxford, Charles recalls his relationship with Sebastian Flyte, his teddy bear and Sebastian's struggle with life, love and alcohol. And then there is Sebastian's strange and sometimes troubled family: their self-torturing beliefs, and their enveloping attractiveness, which Charles soon finds himself unable to resist. If you have seen the television adaptation of this classic English novel and then decide to read the book you will not be disappointed. The velvety richness of Waugh's language evokes a very special atmosphere throughout the novel as a whole. I know I find it hard to imagine the characters as anyone other than Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons. If you are not familiar with the TV series: choose a sunny day, drive to the countryside just outside Oxford, spread a blanket out on a grassy knoll, pour yourself a large glass of wine and set yourself up for a few hours of reading that you will always remember.