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The Letters of Evelyn Waugh

by Evelyn Waugh

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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267None74,946 (3.84)51
A selection of correspondence and letters from Evelyn Waugh to some of the foremost artists and politicians of his day, as well as more intimate missives to friends and family.
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These letters, running from Waugh's 11th year to the year he died, at 63, bring him entirely alive, even more than the admirable ''Diaries.'' There are some interesting differences between the account of an event in the ''Letters'' and the account in the ''Diaries,'' and the reason is perhaps not far to seek. Collecting the letters for this edition, Mr. Amory was told that Waugh wrote his letters in the morning, ''when he was sober. He wrote his diary at night when he was drunk.'' ...

Reviewing this book in England, Reyner Heppenstall has concluded that ''Waugh clearly never had anything to teach us, except that a man may act like a fool and yet remain a master of English prose narrative, perhaps the finest in this century.'' But Waugh actually has a lot to teach us, especially if we aspire to write. In these letters one serious recurring theme is the writer's obligation to write well by revising. ''Revision,'' he tells Nancy Mitford in 1951, ''is just as important as any other part of writing and must be done con amore.'' In addition to reminding writers of the hell that awaits them if they send out sloppy work, Waugh teaches another valuable lesson, and one we greatly need: namely, the usefulness of the comic vision in transforming anger and violence into verbal art and verbal play.
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew York Times, Paul Fussell (Nov 2, 1980)
 
A writer’s letters stand midway between literature and biography. Since Waugh’s biographer Christopher Sykes has already used much of this material, it is not likely to tell us much about Waugh we did not know already, but they remind us what a self-contradictory man he was... ‘Beware of writing to me,’ his last letter begins. ‘I always answer.’ Even so, the collection hardly sustains its editor’s claim that Waugh was the last of the great letter-writers. The world his gossip evokes has none of the appeal of Horace Walpole’s, for instance; it is curt, cheap, brutal. Its humour lacks the rich lunacy of the novels; its observations, despite their impeccable language, have no charity.
added by SnootyBaronet | editGuardian, Philip Larkin
 
Unless the telephone is uninvented, this will probably be the last collection of letters by a great writer to be also a great collection of letters. It could be argued that the book should have been either much shorter, so as to be easily assimilable, or else much larger, so as to take in all of the vast number of letters Waugh wrote, but even at this awkward length it is a wonderfully entertaining volume - even more so, in fact, than the Diaries. Here is yet one more reason to thank Evelyn Waugh for his hatred of the modern world. If he had not loathed the telephone, he might have talked all this away...

Asking whether Evelyn Waugh was a snob is like asking whether Genghis Khan was an authoritarian... In a 1952 letter to Nancy Mitford, Waugh is to be heard complaining about the unsmart company he had been forced to keep at dinner the previous evening. The guests had included Sir Laurence Olivier (as he then was) and Sir Frederick Ashton (as he later became). Apparently Waugh had complained to his hostess that 'the upper classes had all left London'. Ashton was referred to as 'a most unarmigerous dancer called Ashton'. Waugh had started off being pretty unarmigerous himself, but by dint of genealogical research had managed to come up with a few quarterings - a feat which he was untypically bashful enough to dismiss as having been performed 'for the children',
added by SnootyBaronet | editNew York Review of Books, Clive James
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Waugh, Evelynprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Amory, MarkEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Preface

The art of writing letters has been pronounced dead as often as the novel and with more reason.
Introduction

Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh was born on 28 October 1903.
To Alec Waugh1 Underhill,

[May 1914] North End Road,Hampstead, N.W.

Dear Alec

I am so glad to hear you’ve got your firsts.
Quotations
I have committed an inexcusable solecism in the Spectator ‘Anadyomene’ for ‘Anadyomenos’. What can be more ignominious than to use a rather recondite word and to use it wrong? I am hiding my head in shame - a bourgeois quality, you tell me.
You tend to be diffuse, saying the same thing more than once. I noticed this in 'The Seven Storey Mountain' and the fault persists. It is pattern-bombing instead of precision-bombing. ... It is not art. Your monastery tailor and bootmaker would not waste material. Words are our material.
I know you lead a dull life now. ... But that is no reason to make your letters as dull as your life. I simply am not interested in Bridget's children. Please grasp that.
The crocodile serves man in many ways - his hide for note-cases, bags and dago shoes, his name to enrich our literature with metaphor 'crocodile tears,' 'as warm & friendly as an alligator pool,' etc. Most especially he is a type & sign for us of our own unredeemed nature.
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A selection of correspondence and letters from Evelyn Waugh to some of the foremost artists and politicians of his day, as well as more intimate missives to friends and family.

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