The Man Behind the Myth: The Biography of Evelyn Waugh


Evelyn Waugh was one of the most celebrated and controversial writers of the 20th century. Often remembered as a satirist who mocked the upper-class society of his time, Waugh’s real life was just as fascinating and contradictory as the characters he created.

Born in London in 1903, Waugh came from a family with aristocratic connections. His father, Arthur Waugh, was a successful literary critic and publisher, while his mother, Catherine Raban, came from a wealthy family of colonial administrators. Growing up in a privileged environment, Waugh attended prestigious schools such as Lancing College and Hertford College, Oxford. It was during his time at Oxford that he discovered his talent for writing, winning several literary prizes and becoming editor of the university magazine, Cherwell.

After graduating, Waugh tried his hand at teaching and pursued a brief career in journalism, working for multiple newspapers such as the Daily Express and The Times. However, it was his first novel, “Decline and Fall,” published in 1928, that brought him literary acclaim and established him as a satirical writer. The novel, a darkly humorous depiction of English society, was inspired by Waugh’s own experiences as a teacher in Wales.

Throughout the 1930s, Waugh continued to release successful novels such as “Vile Bodies” and “A Handful of Dust,” gaining a reputation as a sharp and witty writer. However, his personal life was filled with turmoil. Waugh was known to be a heavy drinker and had a tumultuous marriage with his first wife, Evelyn Gardner. The marriage ended in divorce, and Waugh’s second marriage to Laura Herbert was also marred by infidelity and financial troubles.

During World War II, Waugh served in the military and used his experiences to write “Sword of Honour,” a trilogy of novels that has been considered his best and most personal work. The novels, based on Waugh’s own time in the army, combine elements of humor and tragedy to portray the absurdity and futility of war.

After the war, Waugh’s literary career continued to flourish with books such as “Brideshead Revisited” and “The Loved One.” However, he also faced criticism for his conservative views, particularly his conversion to Catholicism in 1930. Waugh’s faith had a significant influence on his writing, and he often explored themes of sin, redemption, and morality in his works, much to the chagrin of some readers and critics.

As he grew older, Waugh became more reclusive and resistant to change, rejecting the modern world and clinging to traditional values. He continued to write and published his last novel, “Unconditional Surrender,” in 1961. However, his health began to deteriorate, and he passed away in 1966 at the age of 62.

Despite his controversial views, Evelyn Waugh remains an important figure in British literature. His sharp wit and keen observations of society have made him a master of satire, while his exploration of morality and faith adds depth to his works. Waugh’s own life, filled with personal struggles and contradictions, is a testament to the complexity of the human experience and the complexities of this literary giant.

Today, Waugh’s legacy lives on through his numerous works, which continue to be read and studied by readers and scholars alike. From his darkly humorous take on society to his personal struggles and his unique perspective on faith, Evelyn Waugh has left an indelible mark on the world of literature, solidifying his place as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.