Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why I love Evelyn Waugh

First of all, I love Waugh because, somewhere either in his autobiography (A Little Learning) or in his diaries (The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh), he remarks on how good looking he is.

This audacity is already evident early on, as in passages in his autobiography about his early education (A Little Learning [Little Brown, 1964], p. 86), where he says things such as this:
I was quite a clever little boy.
And again:
I was quite a brave little boy.
I also love Waugh because of the way he can catch you off your guard and leave you stunned speechless with your heart caught in your throat by remarks such as the following, taken from his letter to Ann Fleming of January 3, 1963:
Dear Ann

I am deeply sorry to hear of your sister's distressing death. You must pray for her soul. This is best done by going to a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The most convenient for you is Westminster Cathedral; go up the far left aisle under the screen. Kneel. Dispel from your mind all other considerations. Say, not out loud but in your mind: 'I have no right to ask you anything. Please don't consider my merits or my sister's. You made her and me what we are. But you sent Jesus to die for us. Accept his sacrifice. With luck I have a few years left to me to make amends. She hasn't. So please accept anything good I have ever done as a negligible contribution to the immeasurable sacrifice of the incarnation, and let my sister into heaven.' Easy? Yes, really, particularly for you who have no pride. Try it anyway. (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, edited by Mark Amory [Penguin, 1980], p. 596)
The depth and profundity Waugh's fathom of Catholic truth revealed in such passing remarks as these is truly breath-taking.

On the other hand, I love Waugh because his nearly insane sense of humor never leaves him, as evidenced when writing to Lady Diana Cooper on August 28, 1962, when he addresses her as
Darlng Stitch Pug Baby
Or, when he writes to Margaret FitzHerbert on October 28, 1963, dutifully noting that it is the feastday of "S.S. Simon and Jude" before proceeding to address her as
Darling Pig
Or, yet again, when he pens such remarks as the following, taken from his letter to Lady Acton of June 10, 1963:
Dearest Daphne

... Woodruff has developed a senile infaturation for a very dangerous clergyman called Kung -- not Chinese, central European; a heresiarch who in happier days would be roasted. (The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, edited by Mark Amory [Penguin, 1980], p. 608)
The last remark, I would also note, reveals a remarkable theological sensitivity and prescience, given the fact that even mainstream Catholics were fawning over Hans Kung -- yes, he is referring to Hans Kung -- well into the 1980s before his true colors became apparent to most of them!

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