Waugh After Waugh

When, after a stint in the British Army which left him crippled for life, Auberon Waugh went up to Oxford in 1959, by his own admission he knew nothing of the place apart from what he had read in his father's novel, Brideshead Revisited, describing the Oxford of 35 years earlier—and in Sinister Street, portraying Oxford 25 years before that, and Zuleika Dobson, ten years earlier still. He was appalled, he recalls, "by how few public schoolboys there were, appalled by the number of earnest, working-class youths whose humorless faces betokened young men on the make." It was equally sobering to learn that few of his contemporaries at university "had ever heard of Evelyn Waugh, let alone read Brideshead." But of course. The ambitious working-class youths had not yet taken to television in those days, and it was not until John Mortimer's adaptation of the Oxford novel for the screen that Evelyn Waugh became as famous as he is now.

I start on this note because both in real life—that is to say, the cultural life of London during the last 30 years—and in his own autobiography—the off-the-cuff squib under review here—Bron Waugh is shadowed, if not always overshadowed, by his electronically enlarged father. This is absurd, but it often happens. During much of his life, Boris Pasternak had to smile pleasantly and endure comparisons with his father,...

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