The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

21 Jul 2008

Evelyn Waugh´s Fiction (1)

Evelyn Waugh´s fiction (1)

I have started reading the first units of the 5th course English Literature and I wanted to comment on the features on Evelyn Waugh´s fiction as writing practice for next year.

The unit explores concepts like English identity, decay, nostalgia, religion, country houses as symbols in two of Waugh´s novels, A Handful Of Dust and Brideshead Revisited.

I have not read the novels, just the plots and the few extracts from the unit but I remember watching the film “A Handful Of Dust” a few years ago from one of these DVDs given free with THE DAILY TELEGRAPH. I thought that it was quite an absurd film especially the end with the protagonist being kidnapped by a madman in the jungle and spending the rest of his life reciting Dickens for him.

Now it all makes more sense when I read that it takes its title from Eliot´s “The Waste Land”, and the story can be seen as the decay of a once fertile land (Tony and Brenda´s life), a degraded modern version of the Arthurian story cycle, Tony as King Arthur, Brenda as Guinevere and Brenda´s lover, Mr. Beaver as Lancelot.

Tony, the hero of the novel, representing the myth of the English Christian gentleman who is an inevitable victim of the modern world and who ends like a knight searching for the Holy Grail and finding nothing but a special hell on earth. In the novel, Tony goes off to South America with a man he meets at a club in search of a lost city and ends his life reciting Dickens for a black patriarch, Mr. Todd, living his own hell on earth.

There is also an American version in which Tony comes back to England to his now penitent wife and quietly plots to deceive her as she deceived him apparently because the American Magazine that published the novel in a serial form, found the last chapter too macabre and asked for a less disturbing conclusion.

To be continued with Brideshead Revisited


  1. Como ya comenté en un mensaje durante el curso, el tono de las novelas de Waugh me recuerda mucho a la nostalgia ‘por los tiempos mejores’ que invade la historia de “El señor de los anillos”, de Tolkien. De hecho, creo que ambos escritores fueron contemporáneos y tal vez estaban reflejando la añoranza que invadía a su país en aquellos días, y el recuerdo idealizado de la época en la que Inglaterra era todavía un imperio, El Imperio.
    Recuerdo que me parecieron novelas muy complejas, y me fue difícil hacerme una idea real del contenido de las mismas (sobre todo de Brideshead Revisited) sin haberlas leído. Si tu tampoco piensas hacerlo, vale la pena que acumules toda la información posible sobre ellas, de cara al examen.
    Juan F.

  2. I have not read 'A Handful Of Dust' either and agree with both of you that it is hard to get a clear picture of what happens in it and why. In fact, I found the ending of this novel too farcical to sound verosimile. Anyway the revenge decision of Tony coming back to deceive his wife (for the sake of deceiving her?) does not sound to me more plausible.
    I also think that Tony's belief in the probability of finding a Gothic styled city in Brazil shows either his naiveness or a poor geographical knowledge.

  3. Yes, it looks as if the novel was made up of bits and pieces rather than an initial idea developed. Apparently it was a short story which later became the end of one of the versions of the novel.

    [Waugh wrote of how the novel came to be written: "I had just written a short story about a man trapped in the jungle, ending his days reading Dickens aloud. The idea came quite naturally from the experience of visiting a lonely settler of that kind and reflecting how easily he could hold me prisoner [...] eventually the thing grew into a study of other sorts of savages at home and the civilized man's helpless plight among them." (Gallagher, 303). The short story referred to is "The Man Who Liked Dickens."]