Why Was Evelyn Waugh “Apalled” By His Own Work?
The critics love Brideshead Revisited. As you know, it’s on the Time list–that’s why I’m reading it–but it’s also #80 on the Modern Library list of English-language novels in the 20th Century. Newsweek listed the novel as one of its 100 best books of world literature, and the BBC lists it at #45 on its literature list.
By all accounts, this is literature at its finest.
However, the novel’s author, Evelyn Waugh, wasn’t a fan of his own work. In 1950, he wrote to Graham Greene saying “I re-read Brideshead Revisited and was appalled.”
Waugh doesn’t even hold back criticizing the novel in the Brideshead Revisited preface:
“It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster – the period of soya beans and Basic English — and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful.”
Well, doesn’t that really just get you in the mood to read? The author himself trashing the novel in its very own preface.
How should one interpret this?
I think it’s pretty simple. We’re always our own worst critics. That’s just human nature.
So when an author says something he wrote sucks, I believe you have to take that with a grain of salt. Too many authors expect perfection from themselves and feel like failures when they don’t achieve that impossible standard.
Evelyn Waugh might not have been a fan of Brideshead Revisited, but most everyone else who read it is.
And that’s good enough for me.