Evelyn Waugh

British writer and journalist (1903–1966)

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (28 October 190310 April 1966) was an English writer of novels, biographies, and travel books; he was also a prolific journalist and book reviewer. His most famous works include the early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), the novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), and the Second World War trilogy Sword of Honour (1952–1961). He is recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the English language in the 20th century.

The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.


  • None of the great movements of the nineteenth century is more typical of its age than that for the freeing of the slaves. It depended on all those fallacies that are being abandoned today: the idea of a perfectible evolutionary man, of a responsible democratic voter, of the beneficial effect of mechanization, and, above all, on sentimental belief in the basic sweetness of human nature.
    • 'Was He Right to Free the Slaves?', The Daily Express (15 July 1933), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 135
  • There are always honourable exceptions in any general racial condemnation, and, heaven knows, the white people of the north have not made such a success of their own civilization that they can afford any extravagance of phrase. But it is not too much to say that in general character the descendants of the Negro slaves in the British Empire are a thriftless and dissolute lot. It is an unexpected development from the simple, woolly-headed, golden-hearted Bible-reading old darky that was held up as an example to European subscribers – the good old Uncle Tom who was to grow in the air of freedom into an educated, prudent and pious family man and citizen. The sugar plantations have been ruined or mechanized, and the Negroes, instead of following the example of the indentured coolies and becoming small proprietors, working long hours in the country, drift to the intermittent employment of the towns. They have proved quite unfit for retail trade: they are clumsy mechanics, a superstitious and excitable riff-raff hanging round the rum shops and staring listlessly at the Chinese, Madeiran and East Indian immigrants, who outstrip them in every branch of life. In Liberia, where they have been put in political power, they have erected a rigid racial bar between the immigrant and the aboriginal Negroes, and have introduced a system of forced labour more onerous than the slavery from which they were themselves freed.
    • 'Was He Right to Free the Slaves?', The Daily Express (15 July 1933), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 135
  • It is not the state of slavery so much as the process of enslavement that is intolerable: and it is worth noting that the European slave trade was principally for the transport of people already enslaved. That is to say, the traders purchased captives from the warrior tribes. Undoubtedly the trade stimulated the raiding, but free blacks first captured other free blacks and then sold them to the whites.
    • 'Was He Right to Free the Slaves?', The Daily Express (15 July 1933), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 136
  • William Wilberforce was inflated by the true nineteenth-century arrogance of thinking that a little local uplift could reverse the development of centuries. Slave raiding has from remotest times been the hobby of the warrior tribes of Africa: slave ownership has been one of the postulates of every civilization. British wealth and British sentiment were strong enough to upset a system which, like any other, had abuses but also many redeeming virtues, but British intelligence was not up to anticipating the problem it created.
    • 'Was He Right to Free the Slaves?', The Daily Express (15 July 1933), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 136
  • It is one of the facts of history that it is impossible for two peoples of widely different culture to live peaceably side by side. Sooner or later one must absorb the other. It is not necessarily the highest culture which survives. It is the more virile. Early history is full of records of advanced and fine cultures being absorbed by barbarians. Lately – but only very lately, in the last two centuries – the tale has been reversed and we have seen, one by one, the lower civilizations falling to the higher. We have come to accept this as a universal law, when, in point of fact, it is due to the accident that our own civilization has taken the form, that invention has given new physical strength to counterbalance the loss in virility.
    • 'We Can Applaud Italy', The Evening Standard (13 February 1935), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 163
  • 1910–11 was a time of the wildest uncertainty and political ferment. True, those good old politicians who still figure in the cartoons were already with us, but in what different guise! Our die-hard Mr Winston Churchill was the radical Home Secretary; Mr Ramsay MacDonald was preaching class war with something very near to verbal coherence; Mr Lloyd George, whom frequent photographs have endeared to us as a benevolent landed proprietor, was inveighing against the privileges of the gentry in terms which might have been translated direct from Danton or Robespierre.
    • 'In Quest of the Pre-War Georgian', Harper's Bazaar (May 1935), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 166
  • I know Spain only as a tourist and a reader of the newspapers. I am no more impressed by the "legality" of the Valencia Government than are English Communists by the legality of the Crown, Lords and Commons. I believe it was a bad Government, rapidly deteriorating. If I were a Spaniard I should be fighting for General Franco. As an Englishman I am not in the predicament of choosing between two evils. I am not a Fascist nor shall I become one unless it were the only alternative to Marxism. It is mischievous to suggest that such a choice is imminent.
    • Authors Take Sides on the Spanish Civil War, ed. Louis Aragon (1937)
  • [1935] is a year which must always be a memory of bitter humiliation to Englishmen of every shade of political colour. Never, since the American War of Independence, has our prestige in the world fallen so low. The lessons of that year have been emphasized often enough; that popular sympathies have no place in diplomacy; that a private, ironically called a "free" press, of the kind which flourishes in France, England and the United States...is the worst possible guide to popular sympathies; that law without force is no law at all; that justice capriciously applied is no justice. A detailed examination of the events of that year reveals every weakness in the present political situation. The results of English diplomacy are already apparent. Italy and Germany who in 1934 seemed irreconcilable opponents are now in close and formidable alliance and England is left to seek her friends among nations distracted to the point of impotence by internal dissension... We all see the result and are appalled; few trouble to probe farther and enquire into the false ideas which have exposed us to shame. We prefer to harbour a grievance and vent our rage in moral lessons to our neighbours, eagerly accepting any extravagant report which will confirm our belief that foreigners as usual have behaved like cads.
    • 'Through European Eyes', The London Mercury and Bookman (June 1937), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 192
  • I believe we are in danger of a...stultifying use of the word "Fascist"... When rioters are imprisoned it is described as a "Fascist sentence"; the Means Test is Fascist; colonization is Fascist; military discipline is Fascist; patriotism is Fascist; Catholicism is Fascist; Buchmanism is Fascist; the ancient Japanese cult of their Emperor is Fascist; the Galla tribes' ancient detestation of theirs is Fascist; fox-hunting is Fascist... Is it too late to call for order?
    • Letter to The New Statesman (5 March 1938), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 223
  • I had warned my father that my viva might mean a second. It meant a third, and I was overcome with regret, not, I am ashamed to say, for the giddy nights, but for the sober ones. I had not done much work, but I had done some. Had I known I was only to get a third I would not have wasted my time.
    • "Is Oxford Worth the Money?", Sunday Dispatch, 10 July 1938, page 12. Quoted in "The Sayings of Evelyn Waugh", edited by Donat Gallagher, Duckworth Sayings Series
  • No.3 Commando was very anxious to be chums with Lord Glasgow, so they offered to blow up an old tree stump for him and he was very grateful and said don't spoil the plantation of young trees near it because that is the apple of my eye and they said no of course not we can blow a tree down so it falls on a sixpence and Lord Glasgow said goodness you are clever and he asked them all to luncheon for the great explosion.
    So Col. Durnford-Slater DSO said to his subaltern, have you put enough explosive in the tree?. Yes, sir, 75lbs. Is that enough? Yes sir I worked it out by mathematics it is exactly right. Well better put a bit more. Very good sir.
    And when Col. D Slater DSO had had his port he sent for the subaltern and said subaltern better put a bit more explosive in that tree. I don't want to disappoint Lord Glasgow. Very good sir.
    Then they all went out to see the explosion and Col. DS DSO said you will see that tree fall flat at just the angle where it will hurt no young trees and Lord Glasgow said goodness you are clever.
    So soon they lit the fuse and waited for the explosion and presently the tree, instead of falling quietly sideways, rose 50 feet into the air taking with it ½ acre of soil and the whole young plantation.
    And the subaltern said Sir, I made a mistake, it should have been 7½ not 75. Lord Glasgow was so upset he walked in dead silence back to his castle and when they came to the turn of the drive in sight of his castle what should they find but that every pane of glass in the building was broken.
    So Lord Glasgow gave a little cry and ran to hide his emotions in the lavatory and there when he pulled the plug the entire ceiling, loosened by the explosion, fell on his head.
    This is quite true.
    • Letter to his wife (31 May 1942)
  • His courtesy was somewhat extravagant. He would write and thank people who wrote to thank him for wedding presents and when he encountered anyone as punctilious as himself the correspondence ended only with death.
    • As quoted in LIFE magazine (8 April 1946)
  • Don't give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can't express them. Don't analyze yourself. Give the relevant facts and let your readers make their own judgments. Stick to your story. It is not the most important subject in history but it is one about which you are uniquely qualified to speak.
    • Reviewing World within World, the autobiography of Stephen Spender, in The Tablet (5 May 1951)
  • Don't hold your parents up to contempt. After all, you are their son, and it is just possible that you may take after them.
    • The Tablet (9 May 1951)
  • Of children as of procreation— the pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable.
    • Letter to Nancy Mitford, May 5, 1954, cited from Mark Amory (ed.) The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982) p. 423
    • "The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable" is sometimes attributed to Lord Chesterfield (British statesman, diplomat and wit, 1694-1773), but has not been found in his works.
  • One can write, think and pray exclusively of others; dreams are all egocentric.
    • Diary entry (5 October 1962)
  • I think it great cheek of the Germans to try & teach the rest of the world anything about religion. They should be in perpetual sackcloth & ashes for all their enormities from Luther to Hitler.
    • Letter to Lady Acton on the Second Vatican Council (15 March 1963), quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (1980), p. 602
  • The Eastern Uniate Churches retain ancient habits of worship which are dear to them, and liturgies which in many cases are unintelligible to the faithful. Is not the time to seek similar privileges for Roman Catholics? Will you promote an appeal to the Holy See for the establishment of a Uniate Latin Church which shall observe all the rites as they existed in the reign of Pius IX?
    • Letter to the Editor of The Tablet (16 March 1963), quoted in A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes: Expanded Edition, ed. Alcuin Reid (2001), p. 47
  • A typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it."
    • Diary entry (March 1964), after hearing that doctors had removed a benign tumor from Randolph Churchill, quoted in The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 792
  • When I first came into the Church I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of the priest as a craftsman. He had an important job to do which none but he was qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up to the altar with their tools and set to work without a glance to those behind them, still less with any intention to make a personal impression on them. "Participate" – the cant word – does not mean to make a row as the Germans suppose. One participates in a work of art when one studies it with reverence and understanding.
    • Diary entry (March 1964), quoted in The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 792
  • I go to Rome for Easter (Grand Hotel) to avoid the horrors of the English liturgy.
    • Letter to Ann Fleming (3 March 1964), quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (1980), p. 618
  • George Orwell wrote in 1942 at the height of his revulsion from what he regarded as the feeble hypocrisy of English socialist journalism. If he were alive today he would no doubt derive much ironic amusement from the changed position in popular esteem of the Boers in this half-century from that of the gallant little people fighting for their homesteads and way of life to that of the villains of apartheid.
    • 'The Light That Did Not Wholly Fail', The Sunday Times (22 March 1964), quoted in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Donat Gallagher (1983), p. 623
  • The distinction between Catholicism and Romanità has already been stressed in the American journal Commonweal. Of course it is possible to have Faith without Romanità and to have Romanità without the Faith, but as a matter of recorded history the two have kept very close. "Peter has spoken" remains the guarantee of orthodoxy.
    • Letter to the Editor of The Catholic Herald (7 August 1964), quoted in A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes: Expanded Edition, ed. Alcuin Reid (2001), p. 55
  • Father Sheerin suggests that Catholic conservatism is the product of the defensive policy necessary in the last century against the nationalistic-masonic secularism of the time. I would ask him to consider that the function of the Church in every age has been conservative—to transmit undiminished and uncontaminated the creed inherited from its predecessors.
    • Letter to the Editor of The Catholic Herald (7 August 1964), quoted in A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes: Expanded Edition, ed. Alcuin Reid (2001), p. 56
  • Finally, a word about liturgy. It is natural to the Germans to make a row. The torchlight, vociferous assemblies of the Hitler Youth expressed a national passion. It is well that this should be canalized into the life of the Church. But it is essentially un-English. We seek no "Sieg Heils". We pray in silence. "Participation" means God hearing our voices. Only He knows who is "participating" at Mass. I believe, to compare small things with great, that I "participate" in a work of art when I study it and love it silently. No need to shout. Anyone who has taken part in a play knows that he can rant on the stage with his mind elsewhere. If the Germans want to be noisy, let them. But why should they disturb our devotions?
    • Letter to the Editor of The Catholic Herald (7 August 1964), quoted in A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes: Expanded Edition, ed. Alcuin Reid (2001), p. 57
  • [M]y friends and I are totally at a loss to understand the new form of the Mass... Every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or edification. I shall never, pray God, apostatize but church-going is now a bitter trial.
    • Letter to Archbishop Heenan (3 January 1965), quoted in A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes: Expanded Edition, ed. Alcuin Reid (2001), pp. 69, 71
  • Nice to go to Rome. They are destroying all that was superficially attractive about my Church. It is a great sorrow to me and for once undeserved. If you see Cardinal Bea spit in his eye.
    • Letter to Lady Diana Cooper (7 February 1965), quoted in A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on the Liturgical Changes: Expanded Edition, ed. Alcuin Reid (2001), p. 68
  • I find the new liturgy a temptation against Faith, Hope and Charity but I shall never, pray God, apostatise.
    • Letter to Monsignor McReavy (15 April 1965), quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (1980), p. 631
  • A year in which the process of transforming the liturgy has followed a planned course. Protests avail nothing... More than the aesthetic changes which rob the Church of poetry, mystery and dignity, there are suggested changes in Faith and morals which alarm me. A kind of anti-clericalism is abroad which seeks to reduce the priest's unique sacramental position. The Mass is written of as a "social meal" in which the "people of God" perform the consecration. Pray God I will never apostatize but I can only now go to church as an act of duty and obedience.
    • Diary entry (Easter 1965), quoted in The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), p. 793
  • I have become very old in the last two years. Not diseased but enfeebled. There is nowhere I want to go and nothing I want to do and I am conscious of being an utter bore. The Vatican Council has knocked the guts out of me.
    • Letter to Lady Mosley (9 March 1966), quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (1980), p. 638
  • Easter used to mean so much to me. Before Pope John and his Council – they destroyed the beauty of the liturgy. I have not yet soaked myself in petrol and gone up in flames, but I now cling to the Faith doggedly without joy. Church going is a pure duty parade. I shall not live to see it restored. It is worse in many countries.
    • Letter to Lady Mosley (30 March 1966), quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (1980), p. 639
  • I put the words down and push them a bit.
    • As quoted in his obituary in The New York Times (11 April 1966)
  • Aesthetic value is often the by-product of the artist striving to do something else.
    • Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)
  • Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.
    • Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)
  • We cherish our friends not for their ability to amuse us, but for ours to amuse them -- a diminishing number in my case.
    • Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976) p. 786
  • There is a great deal to be said for the Arts. For one thing they offer the only career in which commercial failure is not necessarily discreditable.
  • Please bear in mind throughout that IT IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY.
    • Author's note
  • Mr. Sniggs, the Junior Dean, and Mr. Postlethwaite, the Domestic Bursar, sat alone in Mr. Sniggs's room overlooking the garden quad at Scone College.
  • Augustus Fagan, Esquire, Ph.D., Llanabba Castle, N.Wales, requires immediately junior assistant to teach Classics and English to University Standard with subsidiary Mathematics, German and French. Experience essential;first-class games essential...
'Might have been made for you,' said Mr Levy.
'But I don't know a word of German, I've had no experience, I've got no testimonials, and I can't play cricket.'
'It doesn't do to be too modest,' said Mr Levy. 'It's wonderful what one can teach when one tries..' (Part One, Chapter One)
  • 'I couldn't understand why God had made the world at all...' I asked my bishop; he didn't know. He said that he didn't think the point arose as far as my practical duties as a parish priest were concerned..' ( Mr Prendergast, Part One , Chapter IV)
  • 'But what am I to teach them?' said Paul in sudden panic.

'Oh, I shouldn't try to teach them anything, not just yet, anyway. Just keep them quiet.' (Part One, Chapter V)

  • I'm one of the blind alleys off the main road of procreation.
    • Grimes
  • "We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School. Frankly," said Mr Levy, "School is pretty bad..." (Part One, Chapter One)
  • There will be a prize of half a crown for the longest essay, irrespective of any possible merit.
  • Chokey thinks religion is just divine.
  • They should have told me that at the end of that gay journey and flower-strewn path were the hideous lights of home and the voices of children.
  • It's the seed of life we carry about with us like our skeletons, each one of us unconsciously pregnant with desirable villa residences. There's no escape. As individuals we simply do not exist. We are just potential home builders, beavers, and ants. How do we come into being? What is birth? (Part One, Chapter XII)
  • What is this impulse of two people to build their beastly home? It's you & me, unborn, asserting our presence. All we are is a manifestation of the impulse to family life, and if by chance we have escaped the itch ourselves, Nature forces it upon us another way. (Part One, Chapter XII)
  • I don't believe that people would ever fall in love or want to be married if they hadn't been told about it. It's like abroad: no one would want to go there if they hadn't been told it existed.
  • And the only interest about him arises from the unusual series of events of which his shadow was witness.
  • There is a species of person called a 'Modern Churchman' who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief
  • That's the public-school system all over. They may kick you out, but they never let you down.
  • Instead of this absurd division into sexes they ought to class people as static and dynamic.
  • I came to the conclusion many years ago that almost all crime is due to the repressed desire for aesthetic expression.
  • I expect you'll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That's what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.
  • I haven't been to sleep for over a year. That's why I go to bed early. One needs more rest if one doesn't sleep.
  • Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.
  • Creative Endeavour lost her wings, Mrs. Ape.
    • Chapter 1
  • Mrs. Ape's famous hymn, There ain't no flies on the Lamb of God.
    • Chapter 1
  • A copy of Dante's Purgatorio excited his especial disgust.

    "French, eh?" he said. "I guessed as much, and pretty dirty too, I shouldn't wonder. Now just you wait while I look up these here books"—how he said it!—"in my list. Particularly against books the Home Secretary is. If we can't stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside."

    • Chapter 2
  • All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I'd sooner go to my dentist any day.
  • "We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty-fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the throne of our ancestors, do hereby proclaim. . ." Seth paused in his dictation and gazed out across the harbour where in the fresh breeze of early morning the last dhow was setting sail for the open sea. "Rats," he said; "stinking curs. They are all running away."
    • First lines
  • "You see my adjutant made rather a silly mistake. He hadn't had much truck with boots before and the silly fellow thought they were extra rations. My men ate the whole bag of tricks last night."
    • Chapter 5
  • "Was anyone hurt?"
    "No one I am thankful to say," said Mrs. Beaver, "except two housemaids who lost their heads and jumped through a glass roof into the paved court."
    • First lines
  • While still a young man, John Courteney Boot had, as his publisher proclaimed, "achieved an assured and enviable position in contemporary letters."
  • As there was no form of government common to the peoples thus segregated, nor tie of language, history, habit, or belief, they were called a Republic.
  • Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.
    • An oft-quoted example of William Boot's style. When first mentioned in the novel it is "splashy" and not "plashy", but this is a remembrance of another journalist; when Boot himself quotes it, he has "plashy".
  • "The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere," he said. "Self-sufficiency at home, self-assertion abroad."
    • A quote from Lord Copper.
  • Other nations use 'force'; we Britons alone use 'Might'.
  • News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it. After that it's dead.
  • He was gifted with the sly, sharp instinct for self-preservation that passes for wisdom among the rich.
  • "I will not stand for being called a woman in my own house…"
  • "Up to a point, Lord Copper."
    • Lord Copper, proprietor of the Daily Beast is a man to whom one never says 'No' directly. This is what one says instead.
  • Lord Copper quite often gave banquets; it would be an understatement to say that no one enjoyed them more than the host, for no one else enjoyed them at all, while Lord Copper positively exulted in every minute.
  • It is a curious thing... that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste.
    • Ch. 1: Autumn, § 7
  • The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.
    • Ch. 1 : Autumn, § 7
  • So the two of them went to London by the early morning train. 'Let's surprise her,' said Nigel, but Cedric telephoned first, wryly remembering the story of the pedantic adulterer - 'My dear, it is I who am surprised; you are astounded.'
    • Ch. 3 : Spring
  • When I reached C Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning.
    • First lines of Prologue
  • "I have been here before," I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest.
    • First lines part 1, chapter 1
  • But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiousity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.
    • Part 1, Chapter 1
  • To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.
    • Part 1, Chapter 1
  • '...Conversation should be like juggling; up go the balls and the plates, up and over, in and out, good solid objects that glitter in the footlights and fall with a bang if you miss them. But when dear Sebastian speaks it is like a little sphere of soapsud drifting off the end of an old clay pipe, anywhere, full of rainbow light for a second and then - phut! vanished, with nothing left at all, nothing.'
    • Part 1, Chapter 2
  • How ungenerously in later life we disclaim the virtuous moods of our youth, living in retrospect long, summer days of unreflecting dissipation. There is no candour in a story of early manhood which leaves out of account the home-sickness for nursery morality, the regrets and resolutions of amendment, the black hours which, like zero on the roulette table, turn up with roughly calculable regularity."
  • The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant they are
    • Part 1, Chapter 3
  • "It is typical of Oxford," I said, "to start the new year in autumn."
    • Part 1, start of chapter 4
  • O God, make me good, but not yet
    • Part 1, start of chapter 5
  • '...I wonder if you remember the story mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk - I mean the bad evening. "Father Brown" said something like "I caught him" (the thief) "with an unseen hook and and invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."'
    • Part 2, Chapter
  • It doesn't matter what people call you unless they call you pigeon pie and eat you up.
    • Part 2, Chapter 3
  • My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time.
  • We possess nothing certainly except the past.
    • Part 3, start of chapter 1
  • 'perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; vagabond-language scrawled on gate-posts and paving-stones along the weary road that others have tramped before us; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.'
  • She seemed to say "Look at me. I have done my share. I am beautiful. It is something quite out of the ordinary, this beauty of mine. I am made for delight. But what do I get out of it? Where is my reward?"

That was the change in her from ten years ago; that, indeed, was her reward, this haunting, this magical sadness which spoke straight to the heart and struck silence; it was the completion of her beauty."

    • Part 3, Chapter 4
  • I have lived carefully, sheltered myself from the cold winds, eaten moderately of what was in season, drunk fine claret, slept in my own sheets; I shall live long.
    • Part 3, chapter 5, Lord Marchmain's dying soliloquy.
  • O God, if there is a God, forgive him his sins, if there is such a thing as sin.
  • '...But I saw today there was one thing unforgivable - like things in the school-room, so bad they were unpunishable, that only mummy could deal with - the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I'm not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God's.'
    • Part 3, near end of chapter 5
  • Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
    • Epilogue
  • All day the heat had been barely supportable but at evening a breeze arose in the West, blowing from the heart of the setting sun and from the ocean, which lay unseen, unheard behind the scrubby foothills. It shook the rusty fringes of palm-leaf and swelled the dry sounds of summer, the frog-voices, the grating cicadas, and the ever present pulse of music from the neighbouring native huts.
    • First lines
  • You never find an Englishman among the under-dogs—except in England, of course.
    • Chapter 1
  • In the dying world I come from, quotation is a national vice. No one would think of making an after-dinner speech without the help of poetry. It used to be the classics, now it's lyric verse.
    • Chapter 9
  • Tomorrow and on every anniversary as long as the Happier Hunting Ground existed a postcard would go to Mr. Joyboy: Your little Aimée is wagging her tail in heaven tonight, thinking of you.
    • Chapter 10
  • It may happen in the next hundred years that the English novelists of the present day will come to be valued as we now value the artists and craftsmen of the late eighteenth century.
    • First lines
  • He had no wish to obliterate anything he had written, but he would dearly have liked to revise it, envying painters, who are allowed to return to the same theme time and time again, clarifying and enriching until they have done all they can with it. A novelist is condemned to provide a succession of novelties, new names for characters, new incidents for his plots, new scenery; but, Mr Pinfold maintained, most men harbour the germs of one or two books only; all else is professional trickery of which the most daemonic of the masters — Dickens and Balzac even — were flagrantly guilty.
    • Chapter 1
  • His strongest tastes were negative. He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing and jazz — everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime.
    • Chapter 1
  • Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.
    • First lines


  • Your action, and your action alone, determines your worth.
    • Johann Gottlieb Fichte in The Vocation of Man [Die Bestimmung des Menschen] (1800), p. 94 : "You are here, not for idle contemplation of yourself, not for brooding over devout sensations — no, for action you are here; action, and action alone, determines your worth." [Nicht zum müßigen Beschauen und Betrachten deiner selbst, oder zum Brüten über andächtigen Empfindungen, — nein, zum Handeln bist du da; dein Handeln und allein dein Handeln bestimmt deinen Werth.]
  • Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.
    • Simone Weil, The Pre-War Notebook (1933-1939), published in First and Last Notebooks (1970) edited by Richard Rees

Quotes about Waugh

  • You know what made me want to become a journalist? Reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop when I was about eleven. Enough to make anybody want to be a journalist! I absolutely adored it.
  • If Brideshead Revisited is not a great book, it's so like a great book that many of us, at least while reading it, find it hard to tell the difference.
  • The lady said, "It's no good trying to buy a paper here. That Sir William Beveridge is going to abolish want, so all the papers were sold out". Later that day or the next day I asked him to come to lunch. I was meeting with Evelyn Waugh, an old friend and famous writer. They did not get on at all well. Evelyn Waugh said to him at the end, "How do you get your main pleasure in life, Sir William?" He paused and said, "I get mine trying to leave the world a better place than I found it". Evelyn Waugh said, "I get mine spreading alarm and despondency" — this was in the height of the war — "and I get more satisfaction than you do". So he did not meet with universal acclamation, but nearly everyone admired Beveridge at that time. He was a wonderful man.
  • If future generations want to know what the second world war was like for English people, they can safely turn to Sword of Honour by Evelyn Waugh (1965), the greatest work of a great English novelist.
  • In fact, the real problem with the thesis of A Genealogy of Morals is that the noble and the aristocrat are just as likely to be stupid as the plebeian. I had noted in my teens that major writers are usually those who have had to struggle against the odds -- to "pull their cart out of the mud," as I put it -- while writers who have had an easy start in life are usually second rate -- or at least, not quite first-rate. Dickens, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Shaw, H. G. Wells, are examples of the first kind; in the twentieth century, John Galsworthy, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Samuel Beckett are examples of the second kind. They are far from being mediocre writers; yet they tend to be tinged with a certain pessimism that arises from never having achieved a certain resistance against problems.
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