Waugh Stories

        "A shriller note could now be heard rising from Sir Alastair's rooms; any who have heard that sound will shrink at the recollection of it; it is the sound of the English county families baying for broken glass."—Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall

Two vignettes illustrate Evelyn Waugh's character. One has to do with art; the other, protocol. In 1951, Evelyn Waugh commissioned a painting depicting the interior of a plane's cabin. At Waugh's direction, all the passengers' faces are contorted in various expressions of horror. The implication is unavoidable. The plane is moments away from crashing. Upon seeing it in Waugh's home, a guest wondered aloud if people might find it shocking. Waugh gleefully replied, "I hope so."

As for protocol, Waugh was so committed to the pre-Vatican II Lenten discipline that he carried a tiny scale with him when dining away from home. Whether visiting friends or a restaurant, he would produce his scale at the dinner table and weigh his portions to ensure they did not exceed the requirements of the season's tasting regulations.

Shocking excess, on one hand; scrupulous fussing, on the other: These were the poles that bounded Waugh's life. He was, in short, a man of extremes, mischievously provocative one moment and unwaveringly austere the next. It was this inner tension that made him preternaturally alert...

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