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The flaws behind Waugh's genius.

IF Olympic medals were bestowed for rudeness then Evelyn Waugh would have gone to his grave festooned with them.

Indeed, it's hard to think of anyone, American presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, apart, who could possibly match him for splenetic outbursts.

A new biography of the great novelist, Waugh Revisited, by Philip Eade, makes clear how early this aspect of his character took hold.

His sentimental father Arthur irritated the hell out of him and Evelyn let him know precisely what he thought by helpfully making various satirical entries about him in diaries. He then casually left them lying around at the family home where he was bound to find them.

He was equally unfazed by schoolmasters, Oxford University dons and anyone else who dared cross his combative presence.

But the rudeness and cruelty were essential to driving his talent as a satirical novelist. Without his icy disdain and downright contempt for those who failed to meet his high standards we would not have the memorable characters who populate his novels which we still enjoy to this day.

Not that he had it all his own way. His aristocratic second wife Laura Herbert stood no nonsense from him. Neither did the famous British diplomat Duff Cooper who, like Waugh, was prone to outbursts of uncontrolled rudeness and irascibility.

In a celebrated row at Duff's and his wife Lady Diana Cooper's chateau at Chantilly in April 1953, Eade recalls how Waugh arrived 'plastered' and then, as was his wont, set about baiting a guest before launching an offensive attack on Louis Mountbatten at dinner.

Eade writes that this prompted "an explosion from Duff. 'How dare a common little man like you, who happens to have written one or two moderately amusing novels, criticise that great patriot and gentleman? Leave my house at once!'."

It hadn't been any better for Waugh in the army where his tendency to treat his superiors as chums was not always appreciated and his honesty in speaking his mind led to many disputes which hindered his military career.

A persistent theme too has been that he was unpopular with his colleagues though an interviewer from Punch, who pursued this theme with his batman Ralph Tanner, got short shrift.

Asked if it was true that he was "so unpopular that he had to be protected from other soldiers", Tanner replied: 'Absolute rubbish. He fitted in very well. He was everything you'd expect an officer to be.' And he gave several instances of Waugh's considerateness to him. But it was his rage at the world that fuelled his comic masterpieces. Without that edge he would have had nothing to write about.

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Rudeness and cruelty were essential to driving Evelyn Waugh's talent

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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Oct 1, 2016
Words:453
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