Waugh revisited : destabilizing language and structure in Vile bodies, A handful of dust, and Brideshead revisited by Jabe Ziino.
Author(s)Ziino, Jabe (Jabe S.)
Destabilizing language and structure in Vile bodies, A handful of dust, and Brideshead revisited
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Literature Section.
Arthur Bahr, Shankar Raman and James Buzard.
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Introduction: Last Fall semester I had only a very vague idea of a thesis topic: with a broad interest in the conflict between romantic love and religion inspired in part by a summertime reading of Brideshead Revisited, I spent a few evenings sharing company with St. Augustine, Abelard and Eloise, and Julian of Norwich. My interest in serious religion was quickly satisfied. Soon after choosing to focus on twentieth century British Catholic novelists-Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, and Evelyn Waugh-I realized the extent to which my enjoyment of Waugh greatly surpassed that of all my other readings. Jabe, I told myself, if you are going to spend a year of your precious young time on a literature thesis, you had damn well better have fun. Evelyn Waugh it was. His work is often noted for its contradictory nature. A devout Catholic, he was also somewhat of a misanthrope; across and within works he mixes bitter, hilarious satire with authentic, often quiet, human concern to a powerful effect that proves remarkably difficult to analyze. The distant narrator of many of his works and the romantic narrator of others both seem at odds with the public Waugh, a crotchety, outspoken conservative to whom critics often refer. Thus it was somewhat with the interest of finding a "new voice" in Waugh that I began my project. I did not find the voice I expected, but eight months, countless hours of reading and discussion, and many drafts later, my interest in the complex workings of Waugh's work has only deepened, surely the sign of a successful topic choice. While there have been numerous biographies of Evelyn Waugh in recent years, with another due to be published in several months, there has been a notable dearth of full-length, or indeed even article-length, critical texts on Waugh's work. This phenomenon can perhaps be explained in part by the seemingly autobiographical nature of his best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited, which was adapted in 1981 into an enduringly popular BBC miniseries and in 2008 into a full-length feature film. However, it is not only the popular imagination that seems to be captivated by Waugh's life; numerous critics of Waugh attempt to understand his work through the lens of his biography, using details such as his conversion to Catholicism early in his career or his political writings and public statements to inform their readings of his novels. The themes and qualities of Waugh's novels are not easily unified across his career; the cynical work of his early career seem very much at odds with the sentimentality and overtly religious concerns of much of his later writings, of which Brideshead Revisited is the best-known example. Accordingly, Waugh's career is often divided into two sections. The first section begins in 1928 with the publication of his first novel Decline and Fall and ends before the publication of Brideshead Revisited in 1945, while the second section begins with Brideshead Revisited and continues to the end of Waugh's career, encompassing the historico-religious novel Helena and the Catholic war novels of the Sword of Honour trilogy. Attempts at reconciling these "two Waughs" recur throughout the criticism; many studies of Waugh as an author either read the later novels as representing Waugh's "true concerns" and attempt to fit the early satires into this model, or dispense altogether with trying to unify the concerns of Waugh's early and later works. According to James Carens, "in Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh turned from the nihilistic rejection of his early satires to an affirmative commitment; to satisfy the other impulse of the artist-rebel, as Albert Camus has described him, Waugh affirmed a vision which he believed gave unity to life." According to Frederick L. Beaty's reading of Brideshead Revisited, Waugh's "affirmative commitment" is a belief in God and Catholicism: The chaos that surrounds [Waugh] becomes not only tolerable but meaningful as he views from a radically changed perspective a universe he once saw in ironic terms. Relativism, paradox, and indeterminacy give way before the conviction that an immanent, transcendent Deity is the ultimate reality. Waugh's enunciation of this positive credo marks a conscious turning away from philosophical irony-with its essentially skeptical vision-as the underlying world view for his fiction. The conclusion of Brideshead Revisited thus functions as an articulation of Waugh's religious beliefs and a rejection of his earlier secular works; Beaty secures meaning in Waugh's writing by aligning each novel with Waugh's presumed personal philosophy. In contrast, non-biographical criticism of Waugh often fails to find consistent themes or concerns across the novels. Michael Gorra articulates this phenomenon well in the following argument, which begins with criticism of to Jeffrey Heath's The Picturesque Prison: Evelyn Waugh and His Writing: Like most of the explicitly Catholic criticism of Waugh, [Heath's book] places too much weight upon his comic prefigurations of his later beliefs. Most treatments of Waugh as a satirist tend, similarly, to read his career backwards.. .A useful corrective to accounts of Waugh as either Catholic apologist or satirist is David Lodge's argument in Evelyn Waugh that his early novels in particular contain "a mosaic of local comic and satiric effects rather than a consistent message." In this paper, I propose a different reading of Waugh: one that finds neither dogmatic affirmation nor disparate ingenious effects but finds rather the performance of a complex expression of the insecurity and energy of the modern world that disintegrates the traditional interpretation of Waugh's work as strict ironic satire.
Thesis (S.B. in Literature)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Humanities, 2011.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (p. 64-66).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Literature Section.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Literature Section.