In Graham Greene’s retrospective Ways of Escape, he takes the time between stories of smoking opium in Vietnam and visiting brothels on Caribbean islands to talk about his friend Evelyn Waugh. In the wake of Greene’s novel A Burnt Out Case, everyone was worried about Greene’s loss of faith. Waugh wrote his friend a note inquiring what in the world was going on, and as an older man Greene looks back on the correspondence and muses on Waugh as a man and an author.
On Waugh’s inner conflict:
There was always in Evelyn a conflict between the satirist and the romantic. I suppose a satirist is always to some extent a romantic: but he doesn’t usually express his romanticism. Perhaps romanticism was a weak point in Evelyn’s life and work, and in the end it helped to kill him. He had too-great expectations; too-great expectations of his fellow creatures, and too-great expectations even of his Church. I think the old expression “a broken heart” comes near to the truth, when one thinks of his reaction to the changes in the liturgy of the Catholic Church.
On Waugh’s development as a writer:
In his early books he himself was thoroughly enjoying what he satirized. Decline and Fall, Evelyn’s first book, which I admire as much as any—must have read it half a dozen times at least—is, to me, pure fun. So is the less successful Vile Bodies. He made fun out of the “bright young things” of the twenties, but he was one of them himself. Perhaps with Black Mischief…the serious satire begins to be visible below the fun. In A Handful of Dust, his most painful book, there is no fun at all.
On Brideshead Revisited:
When [Evelyn] had written to me that the only excuse for [Brideshead] was Nissen huts and Spam and the blackout I had accepted that criticism—until the other day when I reread all his books, and to my astonishment joined the ranks of those who find Brideshead his best, even though it is his most romantic.
On The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold:
In Pinfold he draws a character study of himself. It reminds one a little of Freud bravely doing his own self-analysis…but in this strange book he has left out all his fine qualities: physical courage, private generosity, loyalty to friends. Pinfold, I think, shows him technically almost at his most perfect.
On Waugh’s legendary rudeness:
I was for many years puzzled by his reputation for rudeness and cruelty—I must have known him well for nearly a dozen years without seeing any example to justify it. I had even stayed with him several times in the country (a feat regarded as extraordinary by some of his friends) and had seen only an excellent and witty host, one who disguised his own inner torment in drollery rather than disturb his guest.
On Waugh’s generosity
Those who have built Evelyn up as a sort of sacred monster have left out the other side; they have ignored the man who gave up from work which was essential to him time to stay with the dying and no longer amusing Ronald Knox in the kind of hotel and the kind of resort he hated, who attended the deathbed of his friend Alfred Duggan and against all obstacles brought him the help he needed. When I come to die, I shall wish he were beside me, for he would give me no easy comfort.