Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, born October 28, 1903, was the second son of Arthur,
managing director of Chapman & Hall, Publishers, and Catherine Raban Waugh.
Reading and writing played a significant role in the home-life of young Evelyn,
whose older brother Alec also became a well-known writer. Waugh began writing
illustrating short stories at the age of four, and at the age of nine he and a
of friends produced a creative magazine for their Pistol Troop club.
In addition to his youthful interest in writing, Waugh developed a strong interest
religion. When his brother's escapades made it impossible for Waugh to follow
family tradition of attending Sherbourne prep school, his father found a place
him at Lancing, a school with a strong religious tradition. During his tenure
Lancing, Waugh studied under Francis Crease, who helped him refine his technique
medieval-style illumination. He performed well in his studies, developed into
something of a social bully, decided that he was an atheist, and earned a
scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford.
When Waugh entered Oxford in 1922 he found his new freedom to be intoxicating. He
soon found himself part of a crowd similar to the one he later described in Brideshead Revisited (1945), which included Harold
Acton. While at Oxford, he adopted the pseudonym of Scaramel, and became well
for his caricatures and designs for magazines including the Broom, the Isis, and the Cherwell. He did very little studying and left after two
years with many experiences and debts, but no degree. He considered a career in
and enrolled at the Heatherley School of Art in September 1924 but left at the
of the year and took a series of low-paying teaching positions. In 1927 he began
write steadily and launched himself into a successful career.
The critical success of his first book, a biography, Rossetti:
His Life and Works (1928), and the popular success of Decline and Fall (1928) brought Waugh to the attention
of the reading public. The financial success of Decline and
Fall made it possible for Waugh to marry Evelyn Gardner, called
She-Evelyn by their friends. The marriage was short lived, but served as a backdrop
for several of Waugh's later works, including Vile
Bodies (1930) and Labels: A Mediterranean
Journal (1930). Also in 1930, Waugh converted from Anglicanism to Roman
For the next several years Waugh spent his time writing short stories, travel books,
a biography of Edmund Campion, and several more novels including Black Mischief (1932), A Handful
of Dust (1934), and Scoop (1938). He
obtained an annulment of his first marriage and in 1937 married Laura Herbert,
whom he had seven children.
1939 brought the start of World War II and Waugh took the earliest opportunity to
join in the defense of England. As part of the Home Guard in 1940 he participated
the fiasco of the Battle of Crete which was the basis for Put
Out More Flags (1942). Waugh was not a good leader, despite fearless
action in the face of battle, and in 1943 he resigned from his Commando unit.
1944 he was sent to Yugoslavia as part of a mission to shore up Tito's partisan
efforts in the German held territory. During this mission he completed his best
known and most controversial work, Brideshead
Discharged from the military in 1945, Waugh continued to write and travel. He went
Hollywood in 1947 to work on a screenplay for Brideshead, which fell through when he refused to give up the final say on
the script. While he was in California he found a rich source of material: Forest
Lawn Memorial Park. This lavish funeral home inspired Waugh to write The Loved One (1948), one of his funniest and most
Waugh continued to write, though he became increasingly reclusive. Growing health
problems related to a lifetime of heavy drinking, smoking, and the use of sedatives
to induce sleep, limited public appearances. On a cruise in 1956 he suffered a
of paranoid hallucinations which formed the centerpiece of his most autobiographical
novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957). Waugh
lived until 1966, ending his writing career with the publication of The Sword of Honor trilogy (1965).
Although Waugh had more success as a writer, he continued his art work, providing
illustrations for his novels Decline and Fall, Black Mischief, and Love Among
the Ruins, as well as creating dust jacket designs for many of his own
works and for works by other authors.