The Waugh at Home

By McCarthy, Daniel | The American Conservative, October 8, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Waugh at Home


McCarthy, Daniel, The American Conservative


[Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family, Alexander Waugh, Nan A. Talese, 472 pages]

The Waugh at Home

By Daniel McCarthy

Theyf- -k you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with faults they had, And add some extra, just for you. -Philip Larkin, "This Be the Verse"

AUBERON WAUGH came home Easter Sunday 1966 to find a policeman waiting for him. His father, the great novelist Evelyn Waugh, had died. That came as a relief-Auberon at first feared something had happened to his children. He made his way to his father's house. By the time he got there, the body was gone but not his father's last remains. "On arrival," Auberon later recalled, "I found a small pile of excrement on the carpet outside the downstairs lavatory" where Evelyn died. "Others must have noticed it too, but, being Waughs, they all pretended not to have done so until the daily help arrived, when it vanished without anything being said."

Other Waughs kept their peace; Auberon put the story in his autobiography. His son Alexander always wondered why he did it. To dump on his father's memory? To show the clan's indifference to "dung, death and other worldly horrors"? In Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family, Alexander speculates that his father appreciated the symbolism of Evelyn's death-that it came on Easter, appropriate for a devout Catholic, and that he left behind something obscene, befitting a comic novelist.

Whatever the case, this episode-and a half dozen like it involving deaths, weddings, wars, and bananas-illustrates the ambiguous relations between the Waugh fathers and sons. Alexander revered his father, but he was the exception: Evelyn resented his father for the favoritism he showed his other son, Alec; Auberon, for his part, warmed up to Evelyn in adulthood, but earlier they were not close. Evelyn did not hide his feeling that his children were bores-"Of children as of procreation," he wrote Nancy Mitford, "the pleasure is momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable."

Four generations of Waugh boys-from Evelyn's father Arthur, born 1866, to Alexander, born 1963-have grown up to be writers. Between them, Arthur's descendents-daughters, too-have produced 180 books of all kinds: biographies, novels, journalism, poetry, even treatises entitled Time and God. The last two are among Alexander's previous works: warm-ups for tackling the Waughs, one might say.

Alexander begins with the last of the nonliterary Waugh patriarchs, his great-great-grandfather and namesake Alexander, known to posterity as "the Brute." (The author claims he was not named after the Brute but an earlier Alexander, "the Great and Good," first of the English Waughs. The family name itself is of Scottish origin, and good evidence suggests it is the singular of Wales.) The Brute read the Bible, Shakespeare, and Wisden's Cricketing Almanac, but not much else. His old-fashioned ideas of child rearing involved sticking son Arthur high up in a tree and firing off a shotgun near his ears to cure his nerves. Arthur, a boy of his time, was dutifully eager to please his father, but the only interests they shared were cricket and amateur theatricals.

Arthur turned out to have a literary streak: at Oxford he won the Newdigate Prize-past winners included John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, and Oscar Wilde-for "Gordon in Africa," a poem celebrating the British general decapitated at Khartoum. The poem impressed the Brute. Four years later, Arthur published a life of Alfred Lord Tennyson and was on his way to minor fame as a biographer of eminent Victorians. He fondly wished to be one himself, affecting Dickensian mannerisms and an outmoded style of dress that would later grate on his younger son, Evelyn.

It took a while for Arthur to catch on to that; his attention was fixed on his elder son, Alec. Reacting against the hard ways of the Brute, Arthur doted on Alec-"the son of my soul," he called him-and when Alec was kicked out of boarding school for homosexual activity, Arthur was crestfallen but stood by his boy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Waugh at Home
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.