Oxford University Press is commencing issue of a 42-volume Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. (My god, that many!) In connection with that event, Matthew Walther serves up a portrait of members of the contemporary cult of Waugh.
When [Evelyn] Waugh died on Easter Sunday in 1966, he was praised by contemporaries such as Graham Greene, who called him “the greatest author of my generation.” In death he has been rewarded with one of the most devoted, if not among the most sizable, followings in modern literature. Not one of his novels has ever gone out of print, and even his biographies and travel writings continue to sell tolerably well. Some readers find that Waugh’s novels speak to them in an intensely personal manner that is rare among authors working outside of science fiction or fantasy. Decline and Fall, Kingsley Amis said in a retrospective essay, was the “first novel written for me.”
I for one can attest to this feeling. Today it is widespread among young men of a certain type, especially in the United States. If you have ever moved in conservative intellectual circles or attended a liberal arts college with a “Great Books” program or gone to the coffee hour at a traditional Latin Mass, you will have seen him (it is almost never a her). The Waughian wears tweed jackets, often if not always ill fitting. He smokes a pipe or one of the expensive additive-free brands of cigarette. He drinks gin and, partly out of spite for craft-beer nerds, Miller Lite. He is a Catholic but has vaguely romantic feelings about English church architecture and says “Holy Ghost” instead of “Holy Spirit.” He insists that the Church has been in a crisis since the Second Vatican Council and the introduction of the new liturgy. He rides a bicycle, or at least owns one, and rails against the iniquities of the automobile. He loathes democracy and longs for the restoration of the Stuarts to the English throne. Insofar as he has any opinions about contemporary American politics he loathes the GOP and has a a tendency to romanticize marginal quixotic figures in the Democratic Party â€” Jimmy Traficant, Bart Stupak, Bernie Sanders. At one time or another he has almost certainly maintained a blog in order to hold forth about most of these things. The Waughian has more than a bit in common with the “young fogey” famously lampooned by Alan Watkins and other English journalists decades ago, except that instead of an Oxford-educated toff he is probably an ordinary middle-class American in his 20s or 30s who discovered most of his causes on the internet.