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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.

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

    Like

    May 7, 2015
  2. Reblogged this on Fonte da arte.

    Like

    May 7, 2015
  3. Susan #

    I wonder if he was reacting more to the time and the mental state in which he wrote it, rather than to the work itself. “That’s not who I am now, and I can’t believe that was ever me.”

    Liked by 3 people

    May 7, 2015
    • “Appalled” is such a strong word that I would think it would be more than that. But could be the case, sure.

      Like

      May 7, 2015
    • Couldn’t it be both? “I can’t believe I was ever such a person to write such an appalling piece.” Not that I think anything by Waugh is appalling, mind. I just think that the self-judgement and the writing-judgement are inextricably linked.

      Like

      May 8, 2015
  4. Super interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    May 7, 2015
  5. Really enjoyed this one! Though it has been turned into tv series, my favourite one is still the 1st adaptation which had Castle Howard as Brideshead. The real house Waugh had in mind looks totally different though. The real book is also better than any tv series adaptation too!

    Like

    May 7, 2015
  6. Reblogged this on Book Geeks Anonymous and commented:
    Rest assured, writers! Even the masters hate their own stuff.

    Like

    May 8, 2015
  7. Reblogged this on Friends of the Library Mississauga and commented:
    Some days just need an indulgence in food, wine, the past and drop-dead gorgeous language….

    Like

    May 8, 2015
  8. Reblogged this on themonkseal.

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    May 9, 2015
  9. Let’s give hime a break… the war years in Britain were in fact very bleak. Jolly Old England and ‘stiff upper lip’ took a back seat to damp lodgings even amoung the aristocrats. It was a time of few creature comforts.

    Like

    May 9, 2015
  10. Very Interesting..Thanks

    Like

    May 12, 2015
  11. By 1950 apparently Waugh had aged a good deal more than his years and, as a convert, was becoming ever more devout and conservative in his outlook; this at a time when most people had voted for a changed post-war Britain, with a Welfare State and nationalisation; he must have felt out of step with them, yet, in bleak 1950 – there was still tough rationing – his book must have been a tonic.

    Like

    May 13, 2015
  12. Hi Robert – I’m going to reblog this post on August 10th – all credits & links in place of course. Thanks! A.K.

    Like

    June 1, 2015

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