Three Comparisons: why Waugh’s good

Three Comparisons

by Gregory C. Eaves

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

 

Hemingway. Faulkner. Dickens. Waugh.

 

Do you ever wonder why people like to read Evelyn Waugh?

 

Hemingway would write this:

 

“…Hooper was cool. He didn’t live in childhood, soldier fantasies. By the time that I was a teenager and only cried when caned at school, Hooper still cried, but never for noble heroics. His history books had no tales of chivalry, only law and technology. Famous battles that stirred me to the core, which moved me, sounded in vain to Hooper…”

 

 

Faulkner would write this:

 

“…It was on the far side of the creek, across the dirt path, that the dark clouds that were gathering over Hooper showed his lack of romance, the way he was never moved by any form of ancient tale or heroic deed. By the time I was already old enough to never cry, except when reading some particularly moving poetry — when I was in those middle years, with scuffed knees on the playground and beaten knuckles in the classroom — Hooper still wept often, but never for famous stirring speeches or heroic battles. The histories he learned about didn’t include any of the thundering, silent tales that towered above mortal men; he just learned the law, in the abstract, and all about mechanical and industrial processes. All those gory bayonet charges that screamed inside a man’s head, silent to the outside world, those banshees in his mind, tales of glory that even now, in my listless afternoon of life, as the thunder clouds roll in over the fields, call to me across the creek, across the dirt path and across time; these all howled for naught in the mind of Hooper, whose ears heard a solitary, quieter call…”

 

 

Dickens would write this:

 

“…For a long time after I met Hooper the first few times, it came commonly to my mind that he really wasn’t much of a Romantic person, in the continental sense of the word. As a boy, it was clear that he had never read the books that swept him up with wild English cavalry of yore, nor sailed across the Aegean with Homer’s mariners. Indeed, by the time I was grown up enough to not cry at most anything, except for perhaps the occasional passage of moving poetry — that still-too-young age when a young man feels as if he stands tall, but when society still sees the growing boy as small, when boys’ knees are scuffed and when headmasters still hold the upper hand — Hooper still genuinely cried at some things, but was never truly moved by anything noble, or royal, neither for Shakespeare nor for Homer. The library that surrounded young Hooper in his youth covered mostly, and solely, Serious Matters, like the law and engineering. There are a hundred battle sites and royal proclamations that move me, and, indeed, would likely move any former boy equal to me in my youth; they would move me today, too, my current advanced age notwithstanding, but those particular clarions called on deaf ears when they harked out toward Hooper…”

 

 

However, Evelyn Waugh… the glorious, glorious Evelyn Waugh… writes this:

 

“…Hooper was no romantic. He had not as a child ridden with Rupert’s horse or sat among the camp fires at Xanthus-side; at the age when my eyes were dry to all save poetry— that stoic, red-skin interlude which our schools introduce between the fast-flowing tears of the child and the man— Hooper had wept often, but never for Henry’s speech on St. Crispin’s day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change. Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn, Roncevales and Marathon— these, and the Battle in the West where Arthur fell, and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even now in my sere and lawless state, called to me irresistibly across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood, sounded in vain to Hooper…”

 

— Waugh, Evelyn. “Brideshead Revisited” (pp. 9-10). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.



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