Dates: 28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966
Occupation: Novelist, diarist and satirist
The son of a respected publisher, Evelyn was born in London and was educated at Lancing College and at Hertford College, Oxford. His best-known novels include Brideshead Revisited (popularised on television) and Decline and Fall. After some homosexual encounters as a young man, he was briefly but unhappily married to a woman also called Evelyn but was divorced in 1930. He attempted suicide by swimming out to sea, but he returned to land after being stung by jellyfish!
Waugh converted to the Catholic Church in 1930. His first marriage was annulled and he married the Catholic Laura Herbert, the marriage surviving and producing seven children. Waugh came to see the essential life choice as being between Christianity and chaos, and he described Catholicism as the most complete and vital form of Christianity.
Comments on Catholicism
“I realize that the Roman Catholic church is the only genuine form of Christianity. Also that Christianity is the essential and formative constituent of western culture.”
(Quoted in Evelyn Waugh: A Biography (p. 225) by Selina Hastings.)
“You are coming into the Church with vastly more knowledge than most converts but what you cannot know until Tuesday is the delight of membership of the Household, of having your chair at the table, a place laid, the bed turned down, of the love and trust, whatever their family bickerings, of all Christendom. It is this family unity which makes the weakest Catholic nearer the angels and saints than the most earnest outsider.”
(Quoted in The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (p. 271) edited by Mark Amory. The comment was addressed to Penelope Betjeman, wife of the poet, just before her reception into the Catholic Church.)
“The real answer, which must sound pretentious nonsense to anyone outside the Church, is that the Church is not, except by accident, a little club with its own specialised vocabulary, but the normal state of man from which men have disastrously exiled themselves.”
(Quoted in Eddy: The Life of Edward Sackville-West, London, 1988 (p. 231) by Michael de-la-Noy.)
“Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-glass World, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.”
(Ibid, p. 237.)
Waugh’s journey from the Anglican church through agnosticism and into the Catholic faith is one of many conversions recounted in Literary Converts by Joseph Pearce, published by Harper Collins.