A Life Revisited, as the modest, almost nervous, title suggests, mainly concerns Evelyn Waugh’s life with comments on but no analysis of his books. There have been at least three major biographies already, as well as large volumes of diaries, letters and journalism and many slighter volumes. There is more to come. Waugh’s grandson, Alexander, who has defied current trends by writing a fine book on the males of the family, is editor-in-chief of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, with the first of 43 volumes coming out next year. He has also collected an unrivalled archive containing unpublished notes, letters and interviews, and commissioned this book for the 50th anniversary of his grandfather’s death.
All of which presents Philip Eade with a problem. How much knowledge can he assume? Should he include the best known stories and remarks? On the whole he does. I must admit that I read about the second world war hoping to find his reply to a general who complained of his having had a few drinks in the mess: ‘I told him I could not change the habits of a lifetime for a whim of his.’ Also the funniest letter he ever wrote, concerning the blowing up of a tree stump near the castle of the Earl of Glasgow is quoted in full. At the end Waugh wrote, ‘this is quite true’, and Eade commends Waugh’s flair for embellishment, but the present Lord Glasgow confirms that yes, it did actually happen pretty much like that.
So this reader, along with many others, followed a familiar story, nodding at some bits, uncertain whether other details are new or had just been forgotten. To know more turns out to be to forgive more. Yes, Waugh was a snob but a selective snob, not a sucker up to grand bores.