You are on page 1of 3

Evelyn

Waugh's
Artistic
1
Credo
In 1941 Evelyn Waugh self-published 'Work Suspended' against the advice of his literary advisers.
200 copies were printed and distributed among friends. When 'Work Suspended' was published in
1949 along with a number of other shortish pieces of his fiction the first several pages of the story
as it appeared in the 1941 edition were left out.

I noted the first few pages of 'Work Suspended' several years ago when I happened to encounter one
of the first editions. My verbatim notes appear below. The significance of what was left out from
the 1949 edition of 'Work Suspended' is that this is as close as we get to a statement by the artist
(Waugh) of the principles which lie behind his fiction certainly at this point after his masterpiece 'A
Handful of Dust' had been written. Waugh was notoriousl circumspect about describing what he did
as art. Though once or twice he let the mask slip. For instance he was once asked b an interviewer if
he ever re-read his work and he replied: 'Incessently'.

A caveat of course is that the excerpt below is written in the first person by Waugh's protagonist in
'Work Suspended'. Therefore there is attempted 'distancing' by and between the writer and the
character through which Waugh would attempt to disguise the autobiographical nature of the
writing.

1 The below text is excerpted from the 1941 self-published edition of 'Work Suspended'. It was excised from later
editions of the book.

1
Revealingly Waugh actually tries in my view to put us off the scent by almost clumsily having his
protagonist refer to how he (the protagonist) aspired to writing pulp fiction which “had absolutely
nothing of myself in it”. The other reason (or conscious reason) why Waugh might have included
that bit is that he also did not want it suspected (how could it not be?) that the real subject matter of
'Work Suspended' was his (Waugh's) falling in love with his university friend Bryan Guinness's
young wife Diana (nee Mitford and later to marry Oswald Mosley) while she was pregnant with her
first child (Desmond?).

In any event given the particular care Waugh would have taken prior to publishing this story for his
friends in 1941 and its absence in the 1949 edition and subsequent editions it is worthwhile reading
for anyone interested in Waugh's art. That and the fact of its rarity is wh I have put it onto the world
wide web.

Stephen Douglas 8 September 2009 stephendouglas@cantab.net

Evelyn Waugh 'Work Suspended' (1941 self-pubished edition)

“...In youth we had pruned our aesthetic emotions hard back so that in man cases the had
reverted to briar stock; we none of us wrote or read poetry or if we did it was of a kind
which left unsatisfied those wistful half-romantic half aesthetic peculiarly British longings
which in the past used to find expression in so man slim lambskin volumes. When the
poetic mood was on us we turned to buildings and gave them the place which our fathers
accorded Nature – to almost any building but particularly those in the classical tradition.

Whatever secretly we thought about our own work we professed in public to regard it as
drudgery and our triumphs as successful impostures on the world at large. To speak
otherwise would be to suggest that we were concerned with anyone else's interest but our
own...To write of someone loved of oneself loving above all of oneself being loved – how
can these things be done with propriety? How can the be done at all.

Love that delights in weakness seeks out and fills the empty places and completes itself in
its work of completion. Love which has its own life its hours of sleep and waking its health
and sickness growth death and immortality its ignorance and knowledge experiment and
master.

The algebra of fiction must reduce its problems to symbols if they are to be solvable at all. I
am shy of a book commended to me on the grounds that the characters are alive. There's
no place in literature for a live man solid and active...The alternative classical expedient is
to take the whole man and reduce him to a manageable abstraction.

Set up our picture plain fix our point of vision make our figure 20 foot high or the size of a
thumbnail he will be life-size on our canvas; hang our picture in the darkest corner our
heaven will still be its one source of light. Beyond these limits lie the only trouser buttons
and crepe hair with which futurists used to adorn their paintings. It is anyway in the
classical way I have striven to write.

I had always been a one corpse man eschewing the blood transfusions which most of my
rivals resorted to revitalise their flagging stories; moreover I eschewed anything that was
remotely sordid or salacious... My corpses invariably were male solitary of high position
unworldly and bloodless. I abhorred blunt instruments and features battered beyond
recognition.

2
GV in 'Death in the Dukeries' was decapitated but only it will be remembered after he had
been dead for some time through other causes. No character of mine ever writhed or
vomited. On the other hand while avoiding blood I was tolerabl free with the thunder. I
despised a purely functional novel as I despised contemporary architecture; the girders
and struts of the plot require adornment and concealment; I relish the masked buttresses
false domes superfluous columns all the subterfuges of literary architecture and the plaster
and gilt of its decoration.

A tenth of my writing or more went on stage effects: sudden eddies of cold air would strike
my curtains and now and then when the sequence of emotions I planned for my readers
required a moment of revulsion and terror I would kill an animal in atrocious
circumstances.......The delicate fibres of a story suffer when it is chopped up into
instalments...My ambition was to eradicate moneye as much as I could from my life and to
do so required planning...

To produce something saleable in large quantities to the public which had absolutely
nothing of myself in it; to sell something for which the kind of people I liked and respected
would have a use...Their writing was painful – because I have an unhappy combination of
being lazy and fastidious...indispensable austerity [where I write]...I was asleep by half-
past-nine. In those circumstances the book progressed well. Family love and independence
don't go together... my father made me an allowance of 30 shilling a week for the first 3
years I was in London and he never forgave me never........

I had not then learned to appreciate the massive defences of what people call the
'borderline of sanity' and I was at moments afraid he was going out of his mind...an
element of persecution mania...”

And then Work Suspended continues as published and available everywhere.