The voice of authority : Evelyn Waugh's fiction
A large part of the extant criticism of Evelyn Waugh's fiction is orientated towards either a biographical or a literary-historical interest: there are comparatively few detailed surveys of the novels themselves. This study attempts such a survey, and in particular examines the tension which inheres in the relationship of Waugh's poised, urbane narrators to the social and moral chaos they depict. I have been interested in the source and management of that poise, the testing, as it were to destruction, of a series of narrative positions. There is a very modern equation to be observed in Waugh's fiction, between the potentially anarchic mode of fiction and what Waugh felt to be the actual anarchy of contemporary civilisation. His novels can with interest be read in terms of a comic exploitation of this equation, and subsequently, as the writer aged, of his attempts to evade its logic, to discover a 'voice of authority'. Apparently secure narrative stances are repeatedly undermined, and a succession of 'realities' compromised - Tony Last's, William Boot's, John Plant's, Guy Crouchback's. It is this awareness and exploitation of the reflexive quality of fiction, and its use in disclosing the nature of his age which lends Waugh's writing its real and enduring interest. I seek to draw out this awareness through detailed examination of the different novels' precise narrative stance, the source of their 'voice', and have been largely content to let stand other commentators' descriptions of Waugh's broader thesis. My method involves close attention to Waugh's language, from the conviction that nuances of tone and the development of marginal allusions and metaphors are the keys to many of his characteristic effects.