Henry Lamb's Oxford-era portrait of Waugh

Henry Lamb's Oxford-era portrait of Waugh

This has been a fun series to write, and I'm sorry it's over. Here's a brief evaluative summary.

Some of Evelyn Waugh's thirty-eight stories are excellent comedy ("Bella Fleace Gave a Party," "Cruise," "An Englishman's Home," Basil Seal Rides Again). Some are memorably grotesque ("The Man Who Liked Dickens," Love Among the Ruins). Most are good rather than great. Some (fourteen) don't quite count at all, since they were published in his youth, or in a student newspaper, or posthumously. Two of the published stories are duds ("Too Much Tolerance" and "Winner Takes All").

Chronologically, Waugh's modes and subjects in the stories are roughly parallel with his modes and subjects in the novels. He begins his career in both genres by satirizing, with varying degrees of affection, the eccentricities, immoralities, and miseries of artists and the upper middle classes (both the fashionable and the fauxhemian) in the Britain of his day. Passages from "The Balance" and "A House of Gentlefolks" are actually reworked into the text of Vile Bodies. "Love in the Slump" examines the same social sphere as A Handful of Dust. "Incident in Azania" literally revisits Black Mischief. Waugh has a soft spot for independent old ladies ("Bella Fleace," "Period Piece," "Winner Takes All," "Mr Loveday's Little Outing"). On occasion, the early stories and novels suddenly turn serious ("Out of Depth," Decline and FallVile Bodies).

In the later stories and novels, the balance shifts. Waugh abandons pure comedy -- which was never devoid of values, but they remained implicit or offstage -- in favor of explicitly moral and Catholic stories -- which however remain chock-full of biting humor: Brideshead and "Charles Ryder's Schooldays," Sword of Honour and "Compassion," Helena and "Scott-King's Modern Europe." There are exceptions: The Loved One and Love Among the Ruins return to anarchy.

I highly recommend the volume of stories to those who enjoy the novels. The digital and print versions are both nice, though the e-book lacks the juvenilia and the "Oxford Stories." The audio version read by Simon Prebble is great, but not quite excellent.

AuthorSeth Holler