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Waugh, Evelyn

Entry updated 21 August 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1903-1966) UK author, known mostly for a series of black inter-War Satires, such as Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), and for Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (1945). The Near Future Vile Bodies (1930) ends in an apocalyptic Europe torn by a final War – but this is no more than a sardonic flourish for a brief closing chapter titled "Happy Ending". Some other early novels utilize imaginary African countries for satirical purposes; Basil Seal, the protagonist of Black Mischief (1932), parodically replicates Marlow's trip upriver in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899; 1902), arriving at the faux-Utopian Azanian Empire at the heart of a great Island very similar to Madagascar; in Scoop (1938), the inland dominion of Ishmaelia, in part as remote as any Lost World, is subject to constant interference from abroad (see Imperialism). It is Waugh's conceit that in both these countries anthropophagy is rife.

Only a few examples of Waugh's fiction make genuine use of sf displacements. The American protagonist (named Rip Van Winkle) of "Out of Depth: An Experiment begun in Shaftesbury Avenue and Ended in Time" (December 1933 Harper's Bazaar) undergoes Time Travel via a combination of magical wish-granting and a car crash to ruined London five centuries hence, inhabited by white "savages" – an "unlettered race" depending on oral tradition – with civilization represented by Black African colonists including, characteristically, a Catholic mission. Scott-King's Modern Europe (abridged Summer 1947 Cornhill; vt "A Sojourn in Neutralia", November 1947 Hearst's International/Cosmopolitan; 1947 chap) satirizes post-World War Two totalitarianism through the imaginary state of Neutralia. Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future (1953 chap) – also included in Tactical Exercise (coll 1954) – combines the chemical coercion of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) with the drabness and scarcity of the needs of life of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) in a brief but savage attack on the imagined joylessness of a Welfare State UK a few decades hence. Miles Plastic, his free will bureaucratically threatened, his lover co-opted by the Dystopia socialism had made inevitable, takes refuge in "gemlike, hymeneal, auspicious" acts of arson. It is a book, like most of Waugh's work, in which humour only brings out more clearly his radical disaffection and despair. [JC/DRL]

Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh

born London: 28 October 1903

died Combe Florey, Somerset: 10 April 1966


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