Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh was born in a suburb of London in 1903, the son of a busy man-of-letters. Waugh's origins were gentlemanly but in no way aristocratic, a point he seems to have been inordinately touchy about even as a boy. He was sent to Lancing, one of England's less fashionable public schools; and from there he won a scholarship to one of Oxford's decidedly less fashionable colleges. At Oxford, however, his wit, good looks, and resolute preference for the elite carried him into the company to which he aspired
After two years, Waugh voluntarily left Oxford without a degree, and, like Paul Pennyfeather of Decline and Fall, took a job in a school for backward boys. Later, he worked for sixteen days on Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express. His ambition was to be a painter, but a stint at art school left him dissatisfied with his talent. At this time, he has said, he was a pagan and "wanted to be a man of the world" -- a well-rounded English gentleman in the eighteenth-century tradition
For nine years, Waugh had traveled often and widely, by preference to wild places. The best parts of the four travel books written during this period were later reprinted in When the Going Was Good, and they are still lively reading
With the advent of World War II, Waugh entreated friends in high places, such as Randolph Churchill - son of Winston, to find him a service commission. Though in his late thirties and of poor eyesight, he was commissioned into the Royal Marines and found more suited for intelligence duties than that of a line officer. He was promoted to Captain but found life in the Marines dull. During this period he wrote Brideshead Revisited. He was recalled for a military/diplomatic mission to Yugoslavia at the request of his old friend Randolph Churchill.
In 1947 Waugh visited Hollywood as a guest of MGM to discuss a possible film version of Brideshead Revisited. Hollywood saw Brideshead purely as a love story. Waugh refused to accept proposed changes and confessed in his diary that he was relieved when the project failed. After the war, Waugh settled for many years at Piers Court in a secluded part of Gloucestershire, from which he occasionally made sorties to his London clubs. Waugh died in 1966.
Brideshead Revisited (1945) is a romantic evocation of vanished splendors, which brings into dismal relief the aridity of the present. In the first part, in which the narrator reverts to his youth at Oxford, Waugh's artistic sense seldom falters. Ryder's discovery of a magic world of freedom and intoxicating pleasures through his friendship with Sebastian, the younger son of a noble and wealthy Catholic family, and the accompanying contrast between the dryness of Ryder's home life and the charm of the Marchmains -- these passages are among the most memorable that Waugh has written. But, in the second part -- Ryder's unhappy marriage and love affair with Sebastian's sister; Sebastian's descent into alcoholism; Lord Marchmain's irregular and resplendent life in Venice, and his death in his ancestral home -- those failings of Waugh's which were discussed earlier run riot. And, as they take command, the characterization grows unreal, the atmosphere becomes sententious, the style turns overripe.
Selected books: DECLINE AND FALL, 1928 VILE BODIES, 1930 LABELS, 1930 REMOTE PEOPLE, 1930 BLACK MISCHIEF, 1932 A HANDFUL OF DUST, 1934 NINETY-TWO DAYS, 1934 EDMUND CAMPION, Hawthornden Prize in 1936 WAUGH IN ABYSSINIA, 1936 MR LOVEDAY'S LITTLE OUTING AND OTHER SAD STORIES, 1936 SCOOP, 1938 ROBBERY UNDER LAW, 1939 PUT OUT MORE FLAGS, 1942 WORK SUSPENDED, 1942 BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, 1945 WHEN THE GOING WAS GOOD, 1946 SCOTT-KING'S MODERN EUROPE, 1947 WINE AND PIECE IN WAR THE LOVED ONE, 1948 HELENA, 1950 MEN AT ARMS, 1952 LOVE AMONG THE RUINS, 1953 OFFICERS AND GENTLEMEN, 1955 (SWORD OF HONOUR -trilogy) THE ORDEAL OF GILBERT PINFOLD, 1957 THE LIFE OF THE RIGHT REVEREND RONALD KNOX, 1959 UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER, 1961 (SWORD OF HONOUR - trilogy) A TOURIST IN AFRICA, 1960 BASIL SEAL RIDES AGAIN, 1963 A LITTLE LEARNING, 1964 THE DIARIES OF EVELYN WAUGH, 1976 A LITTLE ORDER, 1977