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Against the ‘decay of literary decency’: Waugh’s ‘call to order in times of hysteria’

Contre le ‘déclin de la bienséance littéraire’: ‘l’appel à l’ordre’ de Waugh en temps de crise.
Julie Labay


Au fil des écrits de non-fiction de Waugh, le lecteur découvre les approches littéraires, artistiques et philosophiques de l’écrivain britannique et de ses contemporains. Cette étude se concentrera sur la dualité des relations entretenues par l’auteur vis-à-vis du monde : Waugh oscille toute sa vie entre un désir de rébellion contre les valeurs établies (en particulier dans les écrits non-fictionnels de jeunesse), et un profond respect pour la tradition, garante des valeurs civilisées, notamment dans les écrits d’après-guerre, tout en se considérant comme ‘créature issue de l’esprit de son temps’ (‘Felix Culpa?’, Commonweal, 16 juillet 1948). Pour Waugh, l’avènement du totalitarisme, un athéisme généralisé, et la dissolution du sacré, apparurent à la suite de la destruction des valeurs fondatrices de la culture britannique et occidentale, entraînant le déclin des valeurs littéraires et esthétiques. Cette étude cherchera à montrer comment les écrits de non-fiction deviennent le biais par lequel Waugh exprime ses doutes et inquiétudes sur le sens de la vie, tout en théorisant les valeurs qu’il juge indispensables à la survie du monde moderne.

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‘The contemporary English literary world may be conveniently divided in two: those who can write but cannot think, those who can think but cannot write, and those who can neither think nor write but employ themselves at international congresses lecturing on the predicament of the writer in modern society.’ (Evelyn Waugh, ‘Without Stopping to Think’, Sunday Telegraph, 21 October 1962, 600)

1Reading Waugh’s non-fictional writings allows one to become acquainted with the literary, artistic and philosophic theories of the British writer and his contemporaries, in either an oblique or direct way. Waugh at first entertained a mercantile relationship with journalism, often mentioning the pecuniary dimension of the articles. But the moment when he started to earn money as a novelist after the publication of Brideshead Revisited (1945), as he accepted writing as the true purpose of his life (‘Now I see [writing] as an end in itself’, Waugh 1946a, 302), was also the time when he wrote the most prolific amount of non-fictional works, which shows how irreplaceable the journalistic medium was in expressing his convictions. The non- fiction informs his work and constitutes an essential corpus to a re-evaluation of the fictional works. It gathers Waugh’s correspondence, diaries, articles, public letters, reviews or essays on topical events of the time. The tone of the articles, essays and reviews, upon which we will concentrate, reflects Waugh’s mercurial and versatile personality. The first articles deal with the society of the ‘Bright Young Things’ (and youth in general), with Waugh as an acknowledged mouthpiece. Later, the essays concentrate on places that were discovered as he travelled (Guyana, Arctic, Hollywood or Venice). They focus on political events (persecution of Mexican Catholics, military raids in WWII, communist hegemony in Eastern countries and Vatican Council), as well as on the great figures that have impressed the British author, either by their heroism or gallantry (Knox or Campion) or their negativity (Tito). Above all, the non-fiction highlights the evolution of the novelist’s thought, from art to religion, and unveils the ideas and credos that served as guidelines throughout Waugh’s life (the Catholic religion, a conservative political ideology, the defence of a class-society, a rigorous approach of structure in literature, and conventional aesthetic convictions). The non-fictional writings reflexively constitute the theoretical foundation of his fiction and become the means through which Waugh’s anxiety and doubts about the meaning of existence are expressed, and where the literary values that he deems indispensable to the survival of the Modern World are theorized. For Waugh, Modernism coincided with the collapse of culture after the devastating war of 1918, while 1945 brought the rise of totalitarianism, the development of atheism and the dissolution of the sacred. These changes were consecutive to the destruction of the founding values of British and Western culture and society, and entailed the decadence of literary standards or aesthetic values. How can one be ‘the creature of the Zeitgeist’ (Waugh 1948b, 360), and concurrently become a resolute opponent of Modernism? How can the contrast between Waugh’s essentially modern form and his main theme (which is basically a conservative attack on Modernism and on the later generation of socialist writers) be explained? This paper will first discuss the role of the novelist as critic and his mission as ‘creative’ writer. It will then reflect on the author’s rebellion against tradition and his admiration/ repulsion for everything modern (science and art, especially Modernist painting, architecture and the cinema) found in the early non-fiction. Thirdly, this study will show how Catholicism participates in Waugh’s elaboration of a new philosophy of writing. The fourth and ultimate part will endeavour to demonstrate that the literary values that he defends can be used as standards against which modern civilization may be measured. (In each part and subpart, we will strive to present the articles and essays chronologically, in order to retrace the evolution of Waugh’s thought. However, for the sake of our demonstration, we may have to discuss some of these non-fictional works thematically in some cases).

  • 1 ‘C’est dans le silence et l’isolement de son bureau que l’écrivain peut concevoir, réaliser et diff (...)
  • 2 Ironically enough, in 1928, Clive Bell (whose Modernist theories were challenged by Waugh, as discu (...)

2Whether writing laudatory reviews or derogatory critical ones, Waugh constantly reflects on the role and limits of the writer as critic, and on the problems of granting criticism too much power. In Waugh’s eyes, the critic’s role is to be the guardian of literary judgement and values, and not ‘to provide the public with what it wants rather than what it needs; [. . .] [i]t should be the proper function of an intelligentsia to correct popular sentiments and give the call to order in times of hysteria’ (Waugh 1937, 200, my emphasis). In 1943, Waugh denounces even more explicitly the ‘present decay of literary decency’ in the century of ‘the Common Man’ (Waugh 1943, 275). The writer’s role is then to take up the challenge, to throw himself in the whirlpool of the modern world, while at the same time partially keeping aloof, so as not to be contaminated by the excesses and the destructive instincts of modern society: ‘the choice lies in the two extremes of anarchic bohemianism and ascetic seclusion.1 [. . .] I believe it will be left to the ascetics to produce the works of art in which, if at all, English culture will survive’ (Waugh 1943, 276). Waugh argues that classes only can guarantee the integrity of the English language and prevent it from being corrupted by the chaos of modern society, where social divisions disappear, and where aristocrats can no longer be the representatives of culture and of a linguistic decorum.2 In ‘What to Do with the Upper Classes: a Modest Proposal’ (Waugh 1946b, 312-316), the novelist draws from the Swiftian model and constitutes an absurd demonstration on how suppressing classes in England would lead to such an anarchical situation.

3If Waugh was called a snob and a reactionary, it was because he ‘reacted’ to the world that surrounded him, and not because he refused to live along with his time. The novelist himself makes this very statement: ‘The artist, however aloof he holds himself, is always and specially the creature of the Zeitgeist; however formally antique his tastes, he is in spite of himself in the advance guard’ (Waugh 1948b, 360). Nonetheless, he was also convinced ‘that opposition to everything destructive of civilized life was a duty. Active ‘intolerance’ became a principle by which he lived: ‘There are still things that are worth fighting against’ [Waugh 1932, 128] was the battle cry of a lifetime’s campaign against declining qualitative standards’ (Waugh 1984, xix). The novelist argued that such unbridled ‘tolerance’ gave way to the Bright Young People’s excesses, the Welfare State, the decline of aristocratic classes, the advance of sciences and modern technologies, and to literary and aesthetic experiments that challenged the foundations of art and the novel.

4Waugh’s ambivalent attitude towards art (a domain he constantly drew from to express literary concerns or theories), epitomizes the ambiguity of his early non-fiction, constantly challenging the notions of modernity and Modernism. Was Waugh, as many critics have argued, ‘impervious to the revolution to which fiction was subjected at his time’? Was he ‘a decrepit Ancient or a genuine Modern’ (Blayac 1992, 72)? Torn between a fascination for innovations (whether scientific, artistic or literary), and, on the other hand, an irrepressible attraction towards tradition, his writings stigmatize his genuine and lasting modernity as he distances himself from moods and modes, while at the same time reflecting upon them in his works. Waugh is a ‘modern’ in the sense that he rejected old literary forms: he underlined the structural role of cinematographic techniques and of recurring images and themes in writing, forcing the reader to play an active role in retracing a network of echoes (whether intertextual or stylistic), thus engulfing his readers in a dialectical relationship with the writer. He strove to elaborate a new style that would reflect contemporary disorder (often contrasting it to a lost order, a duality on which his fiction is often based). However, he dismissed Modernist standards and the exploration of the inner world of the imagination which failed to acknowledge the human mind’s ‘determining character—that of being God’s creature with a defined purpose’ (Waugh 1946a, 302). According to the Modernists, subjective experience was the foundation of religious belief: Woolf argued that ‘the point of interest [lay] [. . .] in the dark places of psychology’ (Woolf 192), what Waugh called ‘ ‘the presumption and exorbitance’ [Waugh 1946a, 302] of examining character only in terms of individual psychology, not in relation to the larger systems that give it meaning’ (Patey 52). In fact, Waugh’s refusal of Modernist excesses could be seen as the very essence of his modernity: ‘It is paradoxically by curbing his own Modernistic tendencies [. . .] that he became an artist of modernity’ (Blayac 1992, 84), not succumbing to the tide of fashion, and still flowingif only antithetically—with the spirit of his age. In Antoine Compagnon’s terms, Waugh is an ‘antimoderne’ who, far from being a lugubrious figure hopelessly defending a dead past, is rebelling against his own world, at the same time judging it all the more accurately. He is ‘the salt of modern time’ (‘le sel du moderne’, ‘son repli indispensable, sa réserve et sa ressource’, [Compagnon 448, 447]). In the art field (as opposed to the scientific one), i.e.: painting, architecture or the cinema, three major domains affected by the changes of the modern world, Waugh’s dual attitude towards the Modernists’ stance and modernity is significantly expressed.

5Waugh’s hatred of progress, science and technology is comically rendered through an impromptu interview in ‘Happiland’ (Waugh’s nickname for the Scandinavian countries). As he defends himself against the shrewd attacks of a ruthless female interviewer who accuses him of ‘suffer[ing] the cosmic despair because of the atom bomb’ (Waugh 1948a, 359), one realizes that the form and contents of such a speech depict exactly what Waugh is (an antagonist of destructive sciences), but most of all, what he is not (a partisan of the disappearance of Latin and Greek, and a leader of the ‘proletarian’ new generation of writers such as the Auden-Isherwood set). As he applied to be a Rector at the University of Edinburgh, he warned the voters as follows: ‘It seems to me essential to your repute among the great universities of Christendom that you should choose a man connected with the arts. [. . .] But do not, I beg, choose anyone connected with commerce or with the fabrication of noisy, dangerous or quite ephemeral machinery’ (Waugh 1951b, 406). In Waugh’s mind, art and religion clearly were the only means to oppose scientific excesses and to restore the lost completeness of the human psyche.

6Waugh himself thought of becoming a painter, when he was a student at Hertford College in Oxford. In those years, he was fascinated by new-fangled art forms. ‘I see before Cubism a glorious future’ (Waugh 1917, 7) announced a fourteen-year old Waugh, defending new trends in painting that only a few years later he would condemn as ‘tumultuous aesthetic heresies’ (Hawtree 276). Waugh’s essay on Cubism contains many of Clive Bell’s ideas as stated in his Modernist manifesto Art (1914), i.e. the disparagement of Victorian painting (later to be Waugh’s favourite style), or the belief that the ‘resemblance to life is not related with the merits of the picture’ (Waugh 1917, 7). Waugh was fascinated by the theoretical impulse of Fry and Bell’s theories of ‘aesthetic emotion’ and ‘significant form’, which is shown by the recurrent allusions to them in Rossetti: His Life and Works (1928) and in later novels: in Brideshead Revisited, Bell’s manifesto is quoted and rejected. Indeed, Waugh soon started to argue that a new Ruskin was needed ‘to assert ‘some principles of artistic economy’ ‘ (Waugh 1956, 507). But in the end, neither art nor the novel constituted an ultimate good: ‘Perhaps in the Providence of God the unqualified hideosity of Modern Art has been sent us to scourge us for just this aberration of confusing art with religion’ (Letter to Lord David Cecil, 7 August 1949, Waugh 1982, 305). The dangers posed by modernity to art and an endangered tradition have occupied Waugh throughout his career. Questioning what art is, and what it is for, makes him all the more modern and topical, for this issue is one of the central and divisive ones of our century.

7Architectural experiments equally embody Waugh’s distrust of Bloomsbury’s theorizing stance. Otto Silenus, the architectural theorist of Waugh’s first novel Decline and Fall, evicts emotion from creation, and builds square concrete buildings, Bauhaus-styled, or Le Corbusier-like. At the other end of the spectrum, Waugh’s aesthetic longings consistently lean towards ‘worm-eaten wood’ and ‘mellowed brick and stone’ (Waugh 1929b, 65) rather than towards iron furniture or concrete and glass buildings. Le Corbusier’s urban architecture was later qualified as ‘the post-war Corbusier plague that has passed over us, leaving the face of England scarred and pitted, but still recognizable’ (Waugh 1938a, 216). The medical metaphor diagnoses the Modernist illness, and England is allegorized as a sickly woman who is the victim of the ‘plague’ spread out by Modernist architects. The novelist praises old churches, Venice’s palaces, or authentic country-houses, postulating against the tide of fashion and Modernism. Paradoxically, then, Victorian décor, which used to be the norm but was then obsolete, became Waugh’s way to a ffirm his individual taste, privacy, and freedom, and Piers Court, his Somerset home, turned out to be ‘the concrete embodiment of the same aesthetic and political ideals that its owner celebrated in his writing’ (Patey 156). Brideshead’s baroque vitality in Brideshead Revisited epitomizes Waugh’s interest for architecture and his recurrent use of architectural terms to describe literary constructions: ‘I believe that what makes a writer, as distinct from a clever and cultured man who can write, is an added energy and breadth of vision which enables him to conceive and complete a structure’ (Waugh 1938b, 238). The writer-architect is responsible for voicing out ‘A Call to the Orders’ (Waugh 1938a, 215-218), the title of a pivotal article in Waugh’s non-fictional productions, and an obsessively recurrent phrase in his articles. Calling someone to order implies that there is a pre-established order, or norm, to follow. The title may sound religiously connoted at first, but it is in fact a distressed message arguing in favour of a return to old architectural orders, and metonymically, a return to a lost order of the world, based on ‘measurement’ and ‘proportion’, i.e.: harmony and poise. In this sense, Waugh becomes the keeper of past values, ‘perhaps ridiculed as ‘ultra-conservative’, in his own day, but which would, with the inevitable revolution of fashion, once again be honoured’ (Waugh 1984, xxi). The novelist chooses to stand up for these values against the decline of the modern world, relying on the unshakable standards of an era that he considers as superior. In Waugh’s eyes, the architectural nobility of the Victorian time was debased by modern society, all attempts at ‘style’ were abandoned, ‘and our eyes are everywhere sickened with boredom at the blank, unlovely, unlovable façades which have arisen from Constantinople to Los Angeles’ (Waugh 1955a, 478).

  • 3 He had also tried to work with Sir Alexander Korda on a ‘vulgar film about cabaret girls’ (20 Novem (...)

8Just as architecture embodies Waugh’s credos and is recurrently used as a metaphor for the art of writing, his fascination for the cinema often made him use filmic parallelisms and comparisons to theorize about writing techniques. In a letter to Dudley Carew, he enthusiastically praised the virtues of the cinema: ‘Fit [your characters] into a design. [. . .] MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. [. . .] GO TO THE CINEMA and risk the headache’ (Letter to Dudley Carew, January 1921, Waugh 1982, 2). Filmic devices seemed to present a narrative whose form faithfully imitated the disjointedness of modern life, with a series of montages, cross-cuttings, and close-ups on significant details that Waugh combined with an impersonal narrative stance imitating the camera eye in several novels: in the modern world, ‘the writer has become the director and the producer’ (Waugh 1948b, 362). Nonetheless, Waugh’s fascination was soon to be tempered after the war, and his approach of the cinema world (at the level of form as well as of contents) was much more critical when Brideshead Revisited was finally not adapted on screen.3 During his stay in Hollywood, the novelist had the opportunity to observe closely the film community which he compared to ‘monks in a desert oasis, their lives revolving about a few shrineshalf a dozen immense studios, two hotels, one restaurant’ (Waugh 1947, 325). After the 30s, the artificiality of the movie industry struck Waugh as the epitome of the spiritual void he had been trying to concretely point out all his life: ‘the film industry has accepted the great fallacy of the Century of the Common Man [. . .] [while] the artist vanishes’ (Waugh 1947, 329).

9In the end, Waugh’s flirtation with Modernism was only short-timed. He relentlessly rejected the ultra-sophisticated narrative games in which the intellectual circles were entangled. His ultra-modern irreverence was soon followed by ‘the renewed conviction that complete liberty leads to disaster’, and that ‘the vitality, coherence, organization, and discipline of the Church’ are essential to the survival of civilization: ‘No theory could have been less [M]odernist than this plea for obedience and subordination to authority [. . .][,] a new modernity diametrically opposed to the Bright Young Things’ agnostic Modernism’ (Blayac 1992, 79).

10The forebodings of the early non-fiction appear all the more modern as they materialize in the outbreak of the war, while the later non-fiction reflects on the past, draws lessons and announces the future decline of the world, a torn civilization, international conflicts, an apocalyptic spiritual void, and the decadence of writing standards or aesthetic values. Waugh’s acute sense of instability, his anxiety about the meaning of existence, and the fact that ‘life [. . .] was unintelligible and unendurable without God’ (Waugh 1949a, 367), are central themes of the non-fiction.

11As stated in ‘Fan-Fare’, the world is too far gone into barbarism and anarchy for satire to reform it: ‘Satire is a matter of period. It flourishes in a stable society and presupposes homogeneous moral standards’ (Waugh 1946a, 304). The satirist’s positive values (generally conventional, even dull one could say) are usually only implied, by negation of their contraries. Satire implies a background of what is moral and proper, and codes of behaviour to be followed. Unfortunately, the modern world has lost any secure centres of value. More than a vision of the world, this stance became Waugh’s writing philosophy, striving to describe a declining civilization (according to his own standards). From the early satiric novels surges an outspoken Catholic conservatism which epitomizes Waugh’s perception of the world order, as well as the essence of his writing (what makes him write as well as what he writes for): ‘Where love is thwarted, cruelty emerges; where men deny the faith without which civilization lacks ‘the power of survival’, chaos ensues’ (Patey 60, quoting from Waugh 1930, 104). ‘The Church and the world need monks and nuns more than they need writers. These merely decorate’ (Waugh 1949b, 387). In ‘St Helena Empress’, Waugh argues that ‘[God] wants a different thing from each of us, laborious or easy, conspicuous or quite private, but something which only we can do and for which we were each created’ (Waugh 1952, 410). In ‘Sloth’, the British novelist condemns the spiritual laziness that is concomitant with a blatant slackness in writing techniques, i.e.: no tight structure and a lack of unity, symptomatic of ‘the whole disease’ of the modern world (Waugh 1962, 576). Waugh’s own mission was to write, in order to denounce the declining standards of the literary world in a spiritually dead universe that had shunned divine love, thus leaving behind food for thought for future readers, contradicting other literary theories and currents, enriching and widening the literary debate.

12In the 30s, Waugh’s ultra-modernism was essentially ‘the mood of his period: it reflected a common disenchantment with the past and rejection of the old, a common cynicism touched by despair, and a common commitment to search out and destroy the conventional response, the false emotion, and the bogus idea’ (Farr 509). In the 50s, Waugh was relatively submerged by tradition, after the excesses of the Modernist stream-conscious era. Waugh’s avant-gardism can be felt in his development of a narcissistic and meta-literary discourse which reflects on writing techniques, sews the stitches of his literary world, and becomes the metaphor of a world reflecting upon itself. By the 50s, the British novel was increasingly reflecting two things, as Malcolm Bradbury points out:

One was a desire to reconstruct the novel as a form of humane liberalism, which meant recapturing some elements from the past of the British tradition, often bypassing the Modern movement in the process. The other was a need to face the spectacle of the age, the era of anxiety, modern barbarism and evil, which transformed that tradition, and meant acknowledging many of the most powerful and troubling aspect of the Modern movement.. (Bradbury 282)

13One cannot help but think of the puzzling contradiction that lies at the core of Waugh’s writing: ‘Why [. . .] does a novelist who is fond of using Victoriana to point out the flaws of [M]odernism not follow through by using a less modern, even Victorian form of the novel?’ (Farr 507). In the interwar period, Waugh was in fact mesmerized by Firbank’s freedom of form, and his unfettering of ‘the chain of cause and effect’ (Waugh 1929a, 57), breaking the linear time scheme of more traditional novels. Waugh also emphasized the necessity of using recurrent themes to reinforce the unity of the work of art, as well as the coherence of the world as represented in a tight fictional structure. Later, the novelist progressively evolved from the fragments of a literary theory to a coherent view of artistic creation. ‘Fan-Fare’, is not only an article on style but a text whose style reflects the novelist’s main concerns and credos about the creative process. Owing to the war’s drabness and restrictions, and in reaction to them, Waugh used a ‘gluttonous’ style in some pre-war articles, and especially in Brideshead Revisited later to be reviewed as excessively ornamented by the novelist himself in his 1959 preface. Waugh’s elegant story-telling is in fact an arduous and ‘absorbing task, the attempt to reduce to order the anarchic raw materials of life’ (Waugh 1946a, 303). On the other hand, to see leftist writers (e.g. Stephen Spender), ‘Angry Young Men’ (e.g. John Braine) or writers from the Movement (e.g. John Wain) ‘fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee’ (Waugh 1951a, 395), while Joyce’s Modernistic intellectual stance is the sign of a failing style: ‘it is just in this task of communication that Joyce’s style fails, for the necessary elements of style are lucidity, elegance, individuality; these three qualities combine to form a preservative which ensures the nearest approximation to permanence in the fugitive art of letters’ (Waugh 1955a, 478). Despite the ‘scantiness of sources in the Dark [modern] Ages’ (Waugh 1964, 627), which inveigles some writers into writing about remote times, despite the aridity of a modern world where no source of inspiration can be found, the writer has to preserve the English language, by underlining its extravagance and luxuriantly delicate vocabulary. If the journalistic text, by nature, poses the problem of its ‘literarity’, Waugh argues that any text, whether dealing with a social, political, or literary subject, may be considered as a literary text, on the condition that it rests on a carefully devised structure and style (an obsession with the British writer): ‘Literature is the right use of language irrespective of the subject or reason of the utterance. A political speech may be, and sometimes is, literature; a sonnet to the moon may be, and often is, trash. Style is what distinguishes literature from trash’ (Waugh 1955a, 478). The artist is then driven ‘to complete, elaborate, refine, destroy, renew, his work until he has made something that gratifies his pride and envy and greed. And in doing so he enriches the world more than the generous and good, though he may lose his own soul in the process. That is the paradox of artistic achievement’ (Waugh 1961, 560).

  • 4 In an article commenting upon the controversy raised by Nancy Mitford’s ‘U’ and ‘Non-U’ distinction (...)

14Waugh’s non-fiction thus mirrors the multi-faceted evolution of the British novel in the 20th century through the personal techniques of a complex authorial figure which inscribes itself in the contemporary discourse on art (literature, painting, architecture, the cinema), and allows one to seize the richness of the conflicting literary currents of the period (from the 20s to the 60s), including or rejecting the theories and influences of past authors, and reworking them into a true modern piece of work. Even though it seems impossible (and unnecessary) to reduce Waugh’s journalistic positions to a simple list, ‘a quintessence of Waughism’ (Waugh 1984, xxii), it is crucial to note that the novelist, a pillar in the middle of the tempest of modernity, sought to preserve the essential values of the British national identity. To him, artistic creation ‘[couldn’t] exist apart from participation in an informing and enlivening tradition—national, cultural and finally religious’ (Patey 276). Using fictional and non-fictional writings as a major weapon, distilling his ideas in the contents of the articles, as well as in the rhetorical form and style he used, Waugh rancorously denounced the disappearance of Englishness:4

[England is] fast losing all national character. [. . .] When I was last in the Tate Gallery there was exposed a series of casts from a work by Matisse, showing the disappearance of a human figure. The first showed the clumsy but recognizable back of a woman; the last a mere absurdity; and between them the earnest student could study the stages of dissolution in the master’s mind. Something like this is happening to the English. (Waugh 1959, 539)

15Reading Waugh’s essays, articles and reviews allows one to follow the itinerary which illustrates his religious beliefs, literary techniques, political or social ideology, and ethical and aesthetic values. As a multi-faceted prism or a kaleidoscope, his non-fiction develops a critical continuum which sheds a new light, as well as conflicts with, the contemporary discourse on fiction, and other art forms, and it proposes an innovative angle of approach on his fiction, unifies it, and constitutes the theoretical platform on which his philosophy of writing is based.

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Blayac, Alain, ‘The Modernity of Evelyn Waugh’, Writers of the Old School: British Novelists of the 1930s, ed. R. Colt and Rossen, J., Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992, 72-84.

Blayac, Alain, ‘Evelyn Waugh, homme et penseur du xxe siècle’, Cercles 4 (2002): 223-231,, website accessed in June 2006.

Bradbury, Malcolm, The Modern British Novel, London: Secker and Warburg, 1993.

Compagnon, Antoine, Les Antimodernes : de Joseph de Maistre à Roland Barthes, Paris: Gallimard, 2005.

Farr, Paul, ‘Evelyn Waugh: Tradition and a Modern Talent’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 68.4 (Autumn 1969): 506-519.

Hawtree, Christopher, ed., Night and Day, London: Chatto & Windus, 1985.

Patey, Douglas Lane, The Life of Evelyn Waugh (1998), Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

Waugh, Evelyn, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.

Waugh, Evelyn, The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

Waugh, Evelyn, (The page numbers of Evelyn Waugh’s essays, articles and reviews listed below refer to the collection of non-fictional works compiled by D. Gallagher in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh.)

Waugh, Evelyn, The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed.

Waugh, Evelyn, Donat Gallagher, Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘In Defence of Cubism’, Drawing and Design, November 1917, 6–8. ‘Ronald Firbank’, Life and Letters, March 1929a, 56-58.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Cities of the Future’, Observer, 11 August 1929b, 63–65.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Converted to Rome: Why It Has Happened to Me’, Daily Express, 20 October 1930, 103-105.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Tolerance’, John Bull, 2 April 1932, 128.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘The Soldiers Speak’, Night and Day, 29 July 1937, 199–201.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘A Call to the Orders’, Country Life, 26 February 1938a, 215–218. ‘Present Discontents’, Tablet, 3 December 1938b, 238-241.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘The Writing of English’, Tablet, 3 July 1943, 275–277.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Fan-Fare’, Life, 8 April 1946a, 300-304.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘What to Do with the Upper Classes: a Modest Proposal’, Town and Country, September 1946b, 312-316.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Why Hollywood is a Term of Disparagement’, Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, 30 April 1947 and 1 May 1947, 325–331.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘The Gentle Art of Being Interviewed’, Nash’s, July 1948a, 356–360. Felix Culpa?’, Commonweal, 16 July 1948b, 360-365.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Come Inside’, The Road to Damascus, 1949a, 366–368.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘The American Epoch in the Catholic Church’, Life, 19 September 1949b, 377-388.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Two Unquiet Lives’, Tablet, 5 May 1951a, 394–398.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Edinburgh Rectorial Election: Mr Waugh’s Appeal’, The Times, 8 November 1951b, 406.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘St Helena Empress’, Month, January 1952, 407–410.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Literary Style in England and America’, Books on Trial, October 1955a, 477-481.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘An Open Letter to the Honourable Mrs Peter Rodd (Nancy Mitford) on a Very Serious Subject’, Encounter, December 1955b, 494-502.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘The Death of Painting’, The Saturday Book, 1956, 503–507.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘I See Nothing but Boredom  . . . Everywhere’, Daily Mail, 28 December 1959, 538-540.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Chesterton’, National Review, 22 April 1961, 558–560.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Sloth’, Sunday Times, January 1962, 572-576.

Waugh, Evelyn, ‘Alfred Duggan’, Spectator, 10 July 1964, 625–628.

Woolf, Virginia, ‘Modern Fiction’, The Common Reader (First Series) (1925), London: Hogarth, 1962, 184–195.

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1 ‘C’est dans le silence et l’isolement de son bureau que l’écrivain peut concevoir, réaliser et diffuser son message au monde extérieur. Ainsi s’associent l’idée que Waugh se faisait de son art et de sa mission d’artiste et l’image dominante d’une fiction romanesque engagée qui exige du lecteur un investissement personnel absolu seul susceptible de déboucher sur une interprétation féconde’ (Blayac 2002, 229–30).

2 Ironically enough, in 1928, Clive Bell (whose Modernist theories were challenged by Waugh, as discussed later in this article) issued an essay entitled ‘Civilization’, arguing in favour of a leisured elite for the maintenance of civilization.

3 He had also tried to work with Sir Alexander Korda on a ‘vulgar film about cabaret girls’ (20 November 1936, Waugh 1976, 413), to be called Lovelies from America, but it was never released.

4 In an article commenting upon the controversy raised by Nancy Mitford’s ‘U’ and ‘Non-U’ distinction, Waugh had described what was a symptom of such a disappearance (according to him): ‘I could make your flesh creep by telling you about the new wave of philistinism with which we are threatened by these sour young people who are coming off the assembly lines in their hundreds every year and finding employment as critics, even as poets and novelists. L’École de Butler are the primal men and women of the classless society’ (Waugh 1955b, 495).

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Julie Labay, « Against the ‘decay of literary decency’: Waugh’s ‘call to order in times of hysteria’ »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 33 | 2008, mis en ligne le , consulté le 15 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Julie Labay

Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier 3

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