|Vile Bodied by Evelyn Waugh|
Vile Bodies (1930)
by Eveyln Waugh
I must confess that I read Vile Bodies with absolutely NO memory of the plot or characters of the last Evelyn Waugh title I read, Decline and Fall. My review of Decline and Fall, in total, was three paragraphs. (1) Vile Bodies soldifies his focus in a way similar to how Great Gatsby soldified the focus of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In America, the group of characters was called "the Lost Generation." In England, the corresponding group was the Bright Young Things. These people were Artists, trust fund babies, proto celebrities, demi-mondes, patrons of the Arts, etc, etc, etc. So the important thing to understand about Waugh is that he satirizing these people, not worshipping them.
And although Waugh is hardly at the forefront of experimental literary modernism, he isn't stuck in the past the same way that say, Ford Madox Ford was in Parade's End. Vile Bodies will inevitably put readers in mind of the celeb obsessed culture epitomized by TMZ and the Kardashian clan. In fact, much of the plot revolves around a scurrilous gossip column dedicated to printing the most libelous falsehoods that evoke the gossip of the web.
Waugh's characters may not be memorable, but Waugh's writing is. Much of the breezy style of modern pop literature owes a direct debt to Vile Bodies, consciously or not.
Decline and Fall (1928)
by Evelyn Waugh
Decline and Fall is Evelyn Waugh's first novel. Waugh belongs to the "comic" strand of the novel, a strain of literature that is present in the creation of the novel itself and in a certain sense is a constituent element of the literary elements that preceded the novel proper. Waugh draws from different comic sub-traditions: contemporary critics claimed that Waugh was simply aping Voltaire's Candide. If you are looking for French inspiration closer in time, the characters of Guy de Maupassant in Bel Ami come immediately to mind.
At the same time, Waugh is a quintessentially English writer. Although his books are perhaps not particularly popular in 2014, his influence in mediums like television and film is omnipresent. The whole idea of a dry, sarcastic, archness in dialogue seems to originate with Waugh himself. Compared to other "light" authors of the teens and twenties- Edith Wharton, I'm looking at you- Waugh's satire cuts with a knife and would not be considered "gentle."
There can be no question that Waugh is NOT for everyone. I'm sure J.K. Rowling has read everything Waugh has ever written, but I bet none of her Harry Potter fan base have even heard of him. When you take Waugh's influence on other light lit franchises- Bridget Jones diary would be a not so distant grand child. Television shows like Absolutely Fabulous- these are all made possible by Waugh.