Women and Biographers First!

"One would suffer a great deal to he happy."
—Marly Wortley Montagu

To be really successful a modern writer must reach and hold a huge audience, and there seems to be essentially two ways of doing it: the journeyman (or tradesman-like) and the heroic-histrionic. Scott, Trollope, Agatha Christie, and P.G. Wodehouse represent the first way, which demands a lifetime of hard work and patient marketing, and leaves little time for the kind of experience of which exciting biographies are made. Byron, Dickens, and Hemingway represent the second, which requires strong nerves and a knack for self-promotion.

Evelyn Waugh's career places him firmly in the Byronic line, even though he thought of himself as a craftsman and revered P.G. Wodehouse as "the master." Nonetheless, he had almost nothing in common with Wodehouse, a modest, private, intensely shy man. Waugh was a very different type. He shared Byron's gift for dramatics and publicity, and he was similarly brave, pugnacious, and ambitious. Like Byron he hankered for success in action rather than in literature, a desire which took him traveling and soldiering. And as with Byron, he had a violent streak. The role of antagonist came naturally to him.

Although Evelyn Waugh had a sign on his gate reading "No admittance on business," he led much of his life in public, in a character largely...

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