Evelyn Waugh: shake after you’ve laughed

British writer Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), in a portrait of youth.BETTMANN / CORBIS

Every time I return to Evelyn Waugh (London, 1903 – Somersetshire, 1966), I remember that section of the satirical magazine The quail, Tremble after having laughed, signed by Rafael Castellano. We’ll see. Humor is not something that can be put in the warm hands of the first funny person who crosses you in a bar; in fact, it is completely alien to fun and good tone. Rather, it is the opposite. And Waugh is the first to take it to its most disturbing extreme in twentieth-century English literature. His style, rich and precise, unfolds like the silky rug that we would all like to frolic on, but, alas, without giving you a break, because immediately he appears in the next corner with the well-sharpened machete.

I will give an example. Despite the emotional devastation of introducing us to a strangled girl lying in the cemetery of a prosperous city, a minute later Waugh points out the true horror: the killer used the cheap string cord from his brand-new booties. That minute horror testifies that he has already done his part of the work and now it is up to the reader to complete it. Waugh gives you a bitter smile and an incredulous one, but from the beginning he leaves you alone in the face of language. And it is not a concession, it is an act of justice with its readers: words first. You lose your footing, and even without reaching the bottom, you emerge in the center of the story, his and nothing but his, you thought, so clever. And your blood curdles when you guess why, lately, you dodge the haberdashery.

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Having clarified this point, it could be said that Evelyn Waugh was not a lady, not even a gentleman. He was and is the great humorist of the 20th century, without ever being caught in a laugh; Nor when a heart attack took him by the wayside. There is a photo of the writer, when he was still a student at Oxford. There they plan, in languid disagreement, his blond and hairdo adolescent head, a slightly burned smoking pipe, and finally, that sleepwalking gaze, which watches you and dismisses you at the same time. The absolute innovation of his style, which does not want to make anyone laugh and much less sadden you altogether, already appears in that portrait. But why should a fat, misanthropic, attentive, reckless traveler want it; someone decidedly dedicated to reminding us that we are his accomplices or we are nothing? Life is always ridiculed by the force of its despair.

‘Return to Brideshead’, motley and pale work, caused a catastrophe: a television series unable to find the unique style of a genius. I prefer ‘A handful of powder’

Unfortunately, this magnetic writer is known especially for a motley and pale work, with an elegiac tone. Is about Return to Brideshead (1945), which also caused another catastrophe: a television series obviously incapable of finding the unique style of a genius already glorified and hated at that time. Prefer A handful of dust (1934) and I invite you to read it. Carlos Manzano de Frutos accepted the tricky task of translating it and it was first published in Spain in 1995. To tell the truth, it shouldn’t be read all at once. It requires a certain temperance, because, in the midst of the royal frivolity and the unexpected drama, the accurate dialogues raise high gallows for Waugh to pluck the most radiant society birds of the 1920s, while offering us the exact setting. It was nothing less than stale life in the English countryside. The machismo of the hunting societies and the frivolous bewilderment of the guests appear glancingly. Nothing prepares you, however, for an unbearable drama, written with admirable dryness. Only incidentally does he put the corrupt judiciary on the ropes, but without organizing a rally.

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Chicha calm is full of murky occurrences and leathery old women, of muffled cold meat sandwiches. And suddenly, absolutely treacherously, everything stops short, on any page, when the torrent of gossip lowers in intensity, to make room for one of the most astonishing phrases that I have ever encountered in a novel. At one point, blurred by insipid chatter, the profound and courageous Evelyn Waugh appears. One of the central characters, before the corpse of his only son, acknowledges: “I have tried to console myself. It has been very painful … After all, the last thing you want to talk about, at a time like this, is religion. “

I will not apologize for him spoiler, because A handful of dust It is not a detective story. Rather, it is a story of emotions that collide with pleasure and noise: a game of billiards without a prize. There were still a few years left for Evelyn Waugh to abandon Anglicanism for the Catholic religion and thus consolidate her hopelessness. And so, almost like a premonition, and so that no one should be misled, this admirable book opens with a quote that appears in The wastelandby TS Eliot. Says so:

… I will show you something different from your shadow

In the morning walking behind you

Or rising at night to meet you;

I’ll show you fear in a handful of dust

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