Vile Bodies--Evelyn Waugh

| | Comments (1)

It is said by some that Evelyn Waugh writes some of the most biting satarical novels of the twentieth century. This description strikes me an inaccurate in one respect and that is the question as to whether Mr. Waugh's work could properly be characterized as "novels."

Take this book for example. While I enjoyed it tremendously, I would ve very hard-pressed to give you any notion whatsoever as to what it was actually "about" in terms of story. It is about the glittery, flittery, flilghty, uncertain, undependable between-the-wars generation of youth and their vapid, aimless lives. It takes into its broad sweep everything from politics to religion to the upper class of Great Britain of the time. And yet, to say that there is a story would be an exaggeration.

Vile Bodies is a follow-up to Decline and Fall, Waugh's first novel. It contains some of the same characters continuing their odd trajectories through life. For example, we meet once again the white-slaver Lady M. who hosts a party at which a well-known evangelical minister presents her choir. We meet Peter Pastmaster--hero of the first novel and fall-guy. But this novel centers around two new people, Adam and Nina, penniless, profligate, promiscuous, and desiring marriage.

Vile Bodies has the same abrupt happenings and mordant wit as when a young lady who plays no considerable role in the novel dies in accident resulting from swinging on the chandelier. And the fate of Ms. Runcible is also mordantly recounted.

I find moments in each of Waugh's novel amusing--not uproarious, not hilarious--merely amusing. But his writing is so darned good and his observations of the people around him so acute that each novel is a gem. And more than this, his unflinching gaze into the mirror is admirable. When Waugh satirizes, no one is spared, including Waugh himself.

Vile Bodies has been made into a movie recently. In an interview with the director of the film (Jeeves--Stephen Frey) the "auteur" revealed that he played this straight, that these are admirable people going about finding meaning in life. This suggests to me that Mr. Frey completely missed the point of Mr. Waugh's novel.

An even higher recommendation is that the epigraph is, I believe from Phillippians 2:11:

"Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. "

Nowhere does Waugh suggest this transformation in the book. Moreover, the last chapter of the book is a complete change of scenery--a complete divergence from what has come before.

Perhaps my confusion regarding this work is that I don't really "get" satire. I don't understand its purpose, and too often if seems petty, mean-spirited, and hardly what one might expect from a gifted Christian writer (although I grant that this novel is from the "pre-Chrisitan" or at least pre-Catholic-Christian phase of Waugh's career).

Despite my lack of assurance with the text, I did enjoy the work and I do recommend it highly to those interested in Waugh and in why Waugh has the high reputation he does. (An easier and much more mordant beginning can be found in the uproarious The Loved One.)

Bookmark and Share


Waugh made Fr. John Hardon's list of the 100 must-read authors on the Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan. Presumably on the basis of Brideshead, though he does list all? of Waugh's books in the appendix.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 29, 2004 8:26 AM.

From an E-mail Correspondent was the previous entry in this blog.

From Ronald Knox--Sermon on Advent is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll