In 1935 Italy declared war on Abyssinia and Evelyn Waugh was sent to Addis Ababa to cover the conflict. His acerbic account of the intrigue and political machinations leading up to the crisis is coupled with amusing descriptions of the often bizarre and seldom straightforward life of a war correspondent rubbing shoulders with less than honest officials, Arab spies, pyjama-wearing radicals and disgruntled journalists. Witty, lucid and penetrating, Evelyn Waugh captures the dilemmas and complexities of a feudal society caught up in twentieth-century politics and confrontation.
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh ( 28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966), known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, biographies and travel books. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer. His best-known works include his early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), his novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) and his trilogy of Second World War novels collectively known as Sword of Honour (1952–61). Waugh is widely recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century.
The son of a publisher, Waugh was educated at Lancing and Hertford College, Oxford, and worked briefly as a schoolmaster before becoming a full-time writer. As a young man, he acquired many fashionable and aristocratic friends, and developed a taste for country house society that never left him. In the 1930s he travelled extensively, often as a special newspaper correspondent; he was reporting from Abyssinia at the time of the 1935 Italian invasion. He served in the British armed forces throughout the Second World War, first in the Royal Marines and later in the Royal Horse Guards. All these experiences, and the wide range of people he encountered, were used in Waugh's fiction, generally to humorous effect; even his own mental breakdown in the early 1950s, brought about by misuse of drugs, was fictionalised.
Waugh had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1930, after the failure of his first marriage. His traditionalist stance led him to oppose strongly all attempts to reform the Church; the changes brought about in the wake of the Second Vatican Council of 1962–65, particularly the introduction of the vernacular Mass, greatly disturbed him. This blow, together with a growing dislike for the welfare state culture of the postwar world and a decline in his health, saddened his final years, although he continued to write. To the public at large he generally displayed a mask of indifference, but he was capable of great kindness to those he considered his friends, many of whom remained devoted to him throughout his life. After his death in 1966, he acquired a new following through film and television versions of his work, such as Brideshead Revisited in 1981.