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literature

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Waugh, Evelyn (1903-1966)  

Evelyn Waugh poses a paradox for gay readers. He moved somewhat freely in homosexual circles while having at least three affairs at Oxford in the early 1920s, then married, fathered six children, and apparently remained heterosexual.

He created in Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte of Brideshead Revisited (1945) a moving tribute to yet subjected other figures in his works to archly contempt.

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His conversion to a deeply felt, ardently held Catholicism and his inability to be other than nostalgic about his youth explain much of this paradox.

Arthur Waugh, his father, was a minor literary figure in London who eventually became managing director of the Chapman & Hall publishing firm. Evelyn spent most of his childhood in Hampstead, progressing through school at Heath Mount, Lancing--a school "designed . . . to inculcate High churchmanship"--and Hertford College, Oxford, where he so neglected academic work that he received only a third-class degree.

In 1928, he married Evelyn Gardiner and after a Mediterranean cruise, settled in London to write. They divorced in 1930, and their marriage was annulled in 1936, the year before he married Laura Herbert and settled first in Gloucestershire, then in Somerset.

Between 1928 and 1942, Waugh established himself as one of the most trenchant and able satirists of the world of the "Bright Young Things," as the British called their "Lost Generation." He savaged this world in Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), A Handful of Dust (1934), Scoop (1938), and Put Out More Flags (1942).

Waugh depicted a wide range of homosexuals, all of them apparently based on men he had known, but his two queens--Ambrose Silk in Put Out More Flags and Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited--are perhaps the most memorable.

An intellectual aesthete, author, and head of the atheism section of the Ministry of Information, Silk has had many affairs and eventually moves from one country to another after fleeing England under accusations that he is a Fascist. It is obvious from The Ivory Tower, Silk's ill-founded periodical, that Waugh is attacking modernist extremes more than human sexuality.

Anthony Blanche, who recites T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" through a megaphone from a Christ Church balcony at Oxford, is even more affected in his stutter, his avant-garde views, his acquaintances with Cocteau, Diaghilev, Firbank, Gide, and Proust. Without question, he is Waugh's most worldly homosexual and also one of the most insightful characters in Brideshead Revisited.

The obviously homoerotic, undoubtedly homosexual, relationship between Sebastian Flyte, second son of the Marquis of Marchmain, and Charles Ryder during the Oxford episodes in Brideshead Revisited is handled frankly and openly, with several of the characters recognizing it as "an English habit" that is a phase of sexual development in the all-male university world.

Sebastian, however, is sent down from university; drifts aimlessly into alcoholism; travels to Morocco; tries to rescue Kurt, his German companion, from Nazi authorities in Greece; and returns to Morocco where he works as a kind of handyman for a monastery.

Charles becomes a successful artist; marries the sister of a classmate; has an affair with Sebastian's sister, at least in part because she so strikingly resembles Sebastian; and converts to Catholicism sometime after the death of the Marquis.

Waugh's later novels honed his satiric wit and trenchant observations. The Loved One (1948), set in Hollywood, mordantly satirizes American burial practices, here particularly pet burials; and Sword of Honour (1952), a trilogy consisting of Men at Arms (1952), Officers and Gentlemen (1955), and Unconditional Surrender (1961), documents masculine army life during World War II.

Waugh's final work, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957), an autobiographical novel, treats an author's crisis and hallucinations brought on during a ship's voyage by drugs and alcohol.

David Leon Higdon

     

 
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Evelyn Waugh in 1940.
  
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social sciences >> Overview:  Anglicanism / Episcopal Church

The Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church in the U. S. A. is a part, has dealt with issues of sexuality in complex ways, not all of them favorable to its glbtq membership.

literature >> Overview:  Bisexual Literature

Although Western culture's reliance upon binary systems of classification and identification has meant the practical erasure of bisexuality, as such, from literary and cultural analysis, bisexual experiences appear in many literary works from ancient times to the present.

literature >> Overview:  English Literature: Twentieth-Century

Homosexuality, both male and female, has a rich, divergent, and increasingly open expression in the literature of the twentieth century.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Gay Male

Since World War II, the gay male novel has progressively flourished in England and especially in America.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

literature >> Cocteau, Jean

An outspoken homosexual, Jean Cocteau was a prolific poet, novelist, critic, essayist, artist, and filmmaker.

literature >> Eliot, T[homas] S[tearns]

Although Eliot tried to suppress the fact, The Waste Land is an elegy for a young Frenchman whom he met and loved in Paris and who died in the Great War in 1915.

literature >> Firbank, Ronald

Ronald Firbank's witty, campy novels mock the dominant homophobic, materialistic culture of early twentieth-century England.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

literature >> St. Sebastian

Although he has had various embodiments throughout history, Sebastian has long been known as the homosexual's saint.


    Bibliography
   

Blayac, Alain. Evelyn Waugh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Carpenter, Humphrey. The Brideshead Generation: Evelyn Waugh and His Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Davis, Robert Murray. Evelyn Waugh and the Forms of His Time. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1989.

Higdon, David Leon. "Gay Sebastian and Cheerful Charles: Homoeroticism in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited." Ariel 25.4 (1994): 77-89.

McDonnell, Jacqueline. Evelyn Waugh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

Patey, Douglas Lane. The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Stannard, Martin. Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903-1939. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.

_____. Evelyn Waugh: The Late Years 1939-1966. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987.

Sykes, Christopher. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography. Boston: Little Brown, 1975.

Wykes, David. Evelyn Waugh: A Literary Life. New York: Macmillan, 1999.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Higdon, David Leon  
    Entry Title: Waugh, Evelyn  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 1, 2004  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/waugh_e.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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