Magazine April 22, 2013, Issue

Evelyn Waugh, Catholic Optimist

Evelyn Waugh: Fictions, Faith and Family, by Michael G. Brennan (Bloomsbury, 192 pp., $34.95)

Evelyn Waugh defies easy categorization. He was simultaneously a defender of social hierarchy and an anarchist (“He liked life,” his longtime friend Christopher Hollis once remarked, “to be full of disturbance”); a Catholic convert who had a gift for being a misanthropic ass; and a father whose defining paternal characteristic was, as his son Auberon wryly (and perhaps unfairly) put it, “his lack of interest in his children.” He was also a political conservative and an unapologetic aesthete.

His first two novels — Decline and Fall (1928) and Vile Bodies (1930) — show how a barbaric “modernism” displaced traditional English values,

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