Evelyn Waugh Quotes

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, 1903 – 1966

Born: 28 October 1903, London, England, UK
Died: 10 April 1966, Combe Florey, Somerset, England, UK

The son of a noted editor and publisher (Arthur Waugh), he was raised in an upper-middle class home and attended Heath Mount School. He would have gone on to Sherborne but his older brother had embarrassed them so the school refused to accept Evelyn who then went to Lancing College. He went to Hertford College, Oxford but devoted his energy to his social life, his exams were such that he would have ended with third-class degree, so he didn’t bother finishing. He taught in Wales for a while, tried to drown himself at one point, then turned to writing and was a success from the start. He converted to Catholicism in 1930. His early work was brilliant satire, he traveled extensively in the 1930s, resulting in several books that are still regarded as among the best ever. When war came he saw combat in Africa, Crete, and Yugoslavia and his Sword of Honor trilogy covering based on his war experience was well received. He was injured in a parachute jump in 1943, the recovery gave him time to finish Brideshead Revisited. After the war he lived in the West Country, from 1956 on at Combe Florey, Somerset. He was critical of Vatican II (he deplored the vernacular), and in 1966 he went to his beloved Latin Mass on Easter, came home, and had a fatal heart attack on his toilet.

Evelyn Waugh quotes:

Aesthetic value is often the by-product of the artist striving to do something else.
    Evelyn Waugh – Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)

After all, damn it, what does being in love mean if you can’t trust a person.
    Evelyn Waugh – Vile Bodies (1930)

All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I’d sooner go to my dentist any day.
    Evelyn Waugh – Vile Bodies (1930)

An artist must be a reactionary. He has to stand out against the tenor of the age and not go flopping along.
    Evelyn Waugh

Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums who find prison so soul-destroying.
    Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall (1928)

Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.
    Evelyn Waugh

Conversation should be like juggling; up go the balls and plates, up and over, in and out, good solid objects that glitter in the footlights and fall with a bang if you miss them.
    Evelyn Waugh

Don’t give your opinions about Art and the Purpose of Life. They are of little interest and, anyway, you can’t express them. Don’t analyze yourself. Give the relevant facts and let your readers make their own judgments. Stick to your story. It is not the most important subject in history but it is one about which you are uniquely qualified to speak.
    Evelyn Waugh – Reviewing World within World, the autobiography of Stephen Spender, in The Tablet (5 May 1951)

Don’t hold your parents up to contempt. After all, you are their son, and it is just possible that you may take after them.
    Evelyn Waugh – The Tablet (9 May 1951)

From the earliest times the Welsh have been looked upon as an unclean people. It is thus that they have preserved their racial integrity. Their sons and daughters rarely mate with humankind except their own blood relations.
    Evelyn Waugh

He was gifted with the sly, sharp instinct for self-preservation that passes for wisdom among the rich.
    Evelyn Waugh – Scoop (1938)

His strongest tastes were negative. He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing and jazz — everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime.
    Evelyn Waugh – The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957)

I came to the conclusion many years ago that almost all crime is due to the repressed desire for aesthetic expression.
    Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall (1928)

I can never understand how two men can write a book together; to me, that’s like three people getting together to have a baby.
    Evelyn Waugh

I don’t believe that people would ever fall in love or want to be married if they hadn’t been told about it. It’s like abroad: no one would want to go there if they hadn’t been told it existed.
    Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall (1928)

I felt that I was leaving part of myself behind, and that wherever I went afterwards I should feel the lack of it, and search for it hopelessly, as ghosts are said to do, frequenting the spots where they buried material treasures without which they cannot pay their way to the nether world.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
I have no technical psychological interest; it is drama, speech,and events that interest me.

Evelyn Waugh

“Evelyn Waugh, The Art of Fiction No. 30” interview with Julian Jebb in Paris Review (Summer-Fall 1963)
I haven’t been to sleep for over a year. That’s why I go to bed early. One needs more rest if one doesn’t sleep.

Evelyn Waugh

Decline and Fall (1928)
I put the words down and push them a bit.

Evelyn Waugh
I read the newspapers with lively interest. It is seldom that they are absolutely, point-blank wrong. That is the popular belief, but those who are in the know can usually discern an embryo of truth, a little grit of fact, like the core of a pearl, round which have been deposited the delicate layers of ornament.

Evelyn Waugh

Scoop (1938)
I regard writing not as an investigation of character but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed.

Evelyn Waugh

“Evelyn Waugh, The Art of Fiction No. 30” interview with Julian Jebb in Paris Review (Summer-Fall 1963)
I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
I think there’s almost nothing I can’t excuse except perhaps worshiping graven images. That seems to be idiotic.

Evelyn Waugh

BBC interview (1953)
I think to be oversensitive about clichés is like being oversensitive about table manners.

Evelyn Waugh
If we can’t stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside.

Evelyn Waugh
I’m one of the blind alleys off the main road of procreation.

Evelyn Waugh

Decline and Fall (1928)
In the dying world I come from, quotation is a national vice. No one would think of making an after-dinner speech without the help of poetry. It used to be the classics, now it’s lyric verse.

Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One (1948)
Instead of this absurd division into sexes they ought to class people as static and dynamic.

Evelyn Waugh

Decline and Fall (1928)
It doesn’t matter what people call you unless they call you pigeon pie and eat you up.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
It is a curious thing that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste.

Evelyn Waugh

Put Out More Flags (1942)

It is easy, retrospectively, to endow one’s youth with a false precocity or a false innocence; to tamper with the dates marking one’s stature on the edge of the door.

Evelyn Waugh
It is no longer possible to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it is based.

Evelyn Waugh
It may happen in the next hundred years that the English novelists of the present day will come to be valued as we now value the artists and craftsmen of the late eighteenth century.

Evelyn Waugh

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957)
It’s a rather pleasant change when all your life you’ve had people looking after you, to have someone to look after yourself. Only of course it has to be someone pretty hopeless to need looking after by me.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
I’ve always had two principles throughout all my life in motion-pictures: never do before the camera what you would not do at home and never do at home what you would not do before the camera.

Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy (1948)
Manners are especially the need of the plain. The pretty can get away with anything.

Evelyn Waugh

quoted in The Observer, London (15 April 1962)
Money is only useful when you get rid of it. It is like the odd card in ‘Old Maid’; the player who is finally left with it has lost.

Evelyn Waugh
My father and I were never intimate in the sense of my coming to him with confidences or seeking advice. Our relationship was rather that of host and guest. Perhaps host and guest is really the happiest relation for father and son.

Evelyn Waugh

“My Father” in The Sunday Telegraph, London (2 December 1962), reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly (March 1963)
My unhealthy affection for my second daughter has waned. Now I despise all my seven children equally.

Evelyn Waugh
Never get mixed up in a Welsh wrangle. It doesn’t end in blows like an Irish one, but goes on forever.

Evelyn Waugh
News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.

Evelyn Waugh

Scoop (1938)
Not everyone grows to be old, but everyone has been younger than he is now.

Evelyn Waugh
Novel-writing is a highly skilled and laborious trade. One does not just sit behind a screen jotting down other people’s conversation. One has for one’s raw material every single thing one has ever seen or heard or felt, and one has to go over that vast, smoldering rubbish-heap of experience, half stifled by fumes and dust, scraping and delving until one finds a few discarded valuables. Then one has to assemble these tarnished and dented fragments, polish them, set them in order, and try to make a coherent and significant arrangement of them.

Evelyn Waugh

“People who Want to Sue Me” in Daily Mail (31 May 1930)
O God, if there is a God, forgive him his sins, if there is such a thing as sin.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
Of children as of procreation — the pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable.

Evelyn Waugh

letter to Nancy Mitford (5 May 1954)

Of the many smells of Athens two seem to me the most characteristic – that of garlic, bold and deadly like acetylene gas. And that of dust, soft and warm and caressing like tweed.

Evelyn Waugh
Once you start changing a name, you see, there’s no reason ever to stop. One always hears one that sounds better.

Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One (1948)
One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.

Evelyn Waugh

diary entry (25 December 1962) in The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Michael Davie, ed. (1995)
One has to regard a man as a Master who can produce on average three uniquely brilliant and entirely original similes to every page.

Evelyn Waugh

on P. G. Wodehouse, quoted by Frances Donaldson in Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of a Country Neighbor (1967)
Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.

Evelyn Waugh

A Little Learning (1964)
Perhaps host and guest is really the happiest relationship for father and son.

Evelyn Waugh

“My Father” in The Sunday Telegraph, London (2 December 1962), reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly (March 1963)
Pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.

Evelyn Waugh
Professional reviewers read so many bad books in the course of duty that they get an unhealthy craving for arresting phrases.

Evelyn Waugh
Properly understood, style is not a seductive decoration added to a functional structure; it is of the essence of a work of art. The necessary elements of style are lucidity, elegance, and individuality; these three qualities combine to form a preservative which ensures the nearest approximation to permanence in the fugitive art of letters.

Evelyn Waugh

quoted by David Lodge in “The Fugitive Art of Letters” in David Pryce-Jones, Evelyn Waugh and His World (1973)
Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.

Evelyn Waugh

Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)
Saints are simply men and women who have fulfilled their natural obligation which is to approach God.

Evelyn Waugh
Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
Soon someone would say the fatal words, “Well, I think it’s time for me to go to bed.”

Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies (1930)
Style is not a seductive decoration added to a functional structure; it is of the essence of a work of art.

Evelyn Waugh

quoted by David Lodge in “The Fugitive Art of Letters” in David Pryce-Jones, Evelyn Waugh and His World (1973)
The audiences certainly have [declined]. If I go to the theatre now I find people come there to eat and smoke and talk to one another. And look like scarecrows.

Evelyn Waugh

BBC interview (1953)

The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a heaven that it shows itself cloddish.

Evelyn Waugh

Put Out More Flags (1942)
The languor of Youth — how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably, lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth — all save this come and go with us through life.

Evelyn Waugh
The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
The truth is that Oxford is simply a very beautiful city in which it is convenient to segregate a certain number of the young of the nation while they are growing up.

Evelyn Waugh
There are no poetic ideas; only poetic utterances.

Evelyn Waugh
There is a species of person called a ‘Modern Churchman’ who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.

Evelyn Waugh

Decline and Fall (1928)
There is no ordinary run of mankind, there are only individuals who are totally different. And whether a man is naked and black and stands on one foot in Sudan or is clothed in some kind of costume in a bus in England, they are still individuals of entirely different characters.

Evelyn Waugh

BBC interview (1953)
There is something in the red of a raspberry pie that looks as good to a man as the red in a sheep looks to a wolf.

Evelyn Waugh
There’s only one great evil in the world today. Despair.

Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies (1930)
These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing certainly except the past—were always with me.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
They should have told me that at the end of that gay journey and flower-strewn path were the hideous lights of home and the voices of children.

Evelyn Waugh

Decline and Fall (1928)
Those who are in the know can usually discern an embryo truth, a little grit of fact, like the core of a pearl round which have been deposited the delicate layers of ornament.

Evelyn Waugh

Scoop(1938)
To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee.

Evelyn Waugh

on Stephen Spender in The Tablet (5 May 1951)

To understand all is to forgive all.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
We cherish our friends not for their ability to amuse us, but for ours to amuse them.

Evelyn Waugh
We possess nothing certainly except the past.

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited (1945)
We schoolmasters must temper discretion with deceit.

Evelyn Waugh
What is youth except a man or woman before it is ready or fit to be seen?

Evelyn Waugh
What is youth except a man or woman before it is fit to be seen?

Evelyn Waugh
When we argue for our limitations, we get to keep them.

Evelyn Waugh
Wine is a bride who brings a great dowry to the man who woos her persistently and gracefully.

Evelyn Waugh
Words should be an intense pleasure, just as leather should be to a shoemaker.

Evelyn Waugh
You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid, I would hardly be a human being.

Evelyn Waugh
You never find an Englishman among the under-dogs—except in England, of course.

Evelyn Waugh

The Loved One (1948)
You spend the first term at Oxford meeting interesting and exciting people and the rest of your time there avoiding them.

Evelyn Waugh

P. G. Wodehouse Quotes

H. G. Wells Quotes