Top Fives #2: Evelyn Waugh Novels

I like Evelyn Waugh.  Like him a lot.  Admire him hugely as a novelist.  Hugely.  Admire his acerbic wit.  Like him sufficiently to be able to ignore the fact that I probably wouldn’t have liked him at all.

I like all of his novels––not often that I can say this of an author––although, within this love-in, there is still a ranking of sorts.

Warning: the following does contain some spoilers.

Decline and Fall: not always my favourite, but it has achieved its premier position through dogged rereading and, as such, deserves its victory through a hard-fought war of attrition.  After all, what’s not to like in Captain Grimes’ eternally being ‘in the soup’ and Paul Pennyfeather’s realisation that a tranquil classroom can best be achieved by setting the longest essay “irrespective of any possible merit”.

A Handful of Dust contains the most shocking “Thank God!” in literature, uttered by Brenda Last upon the realisation that it is her son John Andrew who has been killed in a riding accident and not her lover John Beaver.

Black Mischief is the Ronseal of novels: it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Basil Seal is acid-Waugh condensed into a single character and Put Out More Flags sees Basil at his most scheming and multi-dimensional.

And then we arrive at Brideshead.  For most Waughovians and non-Waughovians, Brideshead Revisited is considered the stand-out classic.  It was Waugh’s most famous novel, long before the 1981 big-cast miniseries.  I can appreciate why it is revered; admire its scope and subtlety; however, it does not connect with me in the same way as do some of his other works.  Ultimately, it keeps its distance in the same way that the Marchmain’s turn away from Charles Ryder.

© Fergus Longfellow


Fergus Longfellow ranks Evelyn Waugh’s novels in order of his personal preference.

  1. Decline and Fall
  2. A Handful of Dust
  3. Black Mischief
  4. Put Out More Flags
  5. Brideshead Revisited

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