Everyone knows how funny Evelyn Waugh is. One of his finest comic creations was his own increasingly rebarbative public persona – a self-confessed ‘front of pomposity mitigated by indiscretion, that was as hard, bright and antiquated as a cuirass’. No wonder new biographies of Waugh are popular. The life and work cannot be separated. Gathered productively at the writer’s desk are the chaotic and often bizarre details of Waugh’s own life, what he called the ‘adroit jigsaw’ of his unobtrusively elegant aesthetic structures, and his moral coherence. This study shows how Waugh transformed his own experiences into painfully comic, brilliantly constructed novels. They are works, in his own words, of ‘elegance and variety of contrivance’. Ann Pasternak Slater has written an ingenious and engaging study of the relationship between Waugh’s life and work, between his sharp moral vision and Dionysiac comic genius. She focuses on Waugh’s entire fictional oeuvre in a book notable for its intelligent sympathy.
'Ann Pasternak Slater usefully reverses the main tendency in decades of critical reaction to Evelyn Waugh. Most studies focus on his early works; Pasternak Slater devotes more space to his later novels and demonstrates their increasing complexity in relation to Waugh’s life, historical events, and
aesthetic considerations. Comprehensive and well written, this volume is a very welcome addition to the handful of good books about Waugh.
John Howard Wilson, editor of Evelyn Waugh Studies
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