Evelyn Waugh: Where to Begin?


Well-read members of CAF I ask you: as someone who has never read any Evelyn Waugh, where do I begin? Read them in order? Start with his magnus opus? Are any of his works particularly “skippable”? Are there 3-5 novels that are generally considered better than the rest?

He was obviously quite a prolific author but I have to admit to never having read so much as one page of his work, so I look forward to your suggestions.


I would start with Brideshead Revisited. Mr. Waugh was a convert to Catholicism and this was written post-conversion. He witnessed a death bed conversion which became the source for a portion of the book.
The book deals with the working of grace and it beautifully written, almost geometrical in form. The sentences, the paragraphs, the way an idea touched upon echoes and re-echoes, Waugh was a genius.
You might also enjoy a letter or two concerning Brideshead Revisited from the book of his correspondence- I recall a note, I believe in response to Nancy Mitford who suggested that he might be on the side of Lady Marchmain, responding that he thought God might side with her. Mitford’s semi-autobiographical novel “Love in a Cold Climate” will introduce you to a friend of Waugh’s who did not share his faith.
Rereadings of Brideshead will not fail to delight.
You might also read Chestertons’ The Innocence of Father Brown (detective fiction) to thoroughly enjoy the Twitch upon the thread quote which sets off the second half of the novel. The quote surfaces several times in the story as well as being used as a subtitle and has great significance, plus, it’s a good excuse to read some Chesterton fiction.
And then you are ready for the 10 + hour BBC television series (not to be confused with the loathsome 3 hour movie attempt). The long form was directed by someone unfamiliar with the book, so he had to read it each night and shoot it each day. Subsequently, it’s very faithful to Waugh’s writing.


I liked “The Loved One.”


I’m embarrassed to admit I thought Evelyn was a woman until I read his bio in the intro to Brideshead Revisted


Watching the miniseries version of “Brideshead Revisited” was quite enough for me. It was all downhill after Aloysius the bear stopped appearing and it turned into a long-drawn-out story of being in tortured love with a married Catholic.




I studied “The Loved One” in school. And thoroughly enjoyed it. :+1:


Definitely Helena first, for three reasons:

It’s very short, only 159 pages in the Penguin edition

The explicitly Catholic content: it’s a historical novel, a fictionalized biography of Constantine’s mother, St. Helena

Waugh once said that, of all his novels, Helena was the one he himself liked best.



Very interesting. I have to imagine that there’s also a big difference between his work before and after his military service in WWII.

Since you seem to be a Waugh fan, what are your favorite 2-3 of his books besides ‘Brideshead’?


Hard to argue with the man himself. I might just have to start with that one.


Good idea! You won’t be disappointed.
You mention Waugh’s military service. Toward the end of the war, in 1944-45, Waugh spent eight or nine months in Yugoslavia as the British Army’s liaison officer with Tito’s Communist Partisans, fighting against the Nazi occupation. He evidently draws heavily on his memories of Yugoslavia in Chapter 4 of Helena. Constantius, Constantine’s father, was a native of Nish, in the country that is now Serbia, and there is a long, colorful description of the journey across the mountains from Nish down to the coast, followed by Constantine’s childhood years in Dalmatia.


I enjoyed ‘A Handful of Dust,’ and would read it again. ‘The Loved One’ is also good. I never really ‘got’ Brideshead Revisited, perhaps I read it at too young an age.


Brideshead Revisited is a marvelous, very deep, beautifully written book. In my opinion, it is his best work. The evocation of Catholicism is very rich and deep. I taught it for many years and students loved it. The 1970s TV miniseries (10 or 12 episodes long) follows the book very, very faithfully and is unique in expressing fully the depth of the book’s Catholicism. One can’t imagine that occurring today for a TV series. Do not view the failed fairly recent 2 hour film remake–it was NOT faithful to the book and pretty forgetable film all around.
A Handful of Dust is my favorite early Waugh satire. Very witty about the “bright young things.” The Loved One is also excellent.
Helena is ok–but in my opinion more hagiography than rich story.
I crawled through the long war trilogy, Sword of Honor, and wasn’t much attracted by it.


Wasn’t the tv series with Jeremy Irons in the early 80’s?


Brideshead Revisited is in my list of books to take with me on a desert island.


BBC Mini Series. That one was better than the recent film (pure trash) however neither do the novel full justice.


I read the book after watching the series and thought the series was extremely faithful, to the point that I felt I was reading a screenplay of the series.


I’ve only read The Loved One. I’ve also seen TV adaptations of A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited.

All are excellent and part of the 20th century canon, but I’d recommend The Loved One as an introduction to Waugh, so as to begin with something accessible before tackling his major works.

The Loved One is deliciously funny and mordent. It’s quite short and is set in the US - so, if you are American, then there’s local interest for you.

Thirty years after reading it, I still remember this line…

Mortuary nurse: “What did your loved one pass away from?”

Thanks for the tip. I’ll put that on my reading list.


I don’t think the view of America was very positive, though. It was a bit like Humbert Humbert’s view of America in ‘Lolita.’


Yes, it is almost word for word and scene for scene. What is most remarkable is that when they did cut some things out of the book, they succeeded in cutting non-essentials and kept all the Catholicism.

Sebastian is gay and conflicted because of it and his Catholicism. This was rather shocking for a book of its time but it is handled well by the author with neither overt sentiment or condemnation. The largest issue of the book is how God uses each person’s sins, failings, circumstances, etc. to move us closer to Him and bring about His will despite appearances. All the characters have deep flaws, but the only one who warrants Waugh’s truly vicious satire is the thoroughly “modern” man, Rex. The scene where Rex meets with Fr. Mowbry in an attempt to convert to Catholicism is hysterical!

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