With the completion of this two-volume biography, Martin Stannard has made an invaluable contribution to English letters. Biographical material on Evelyn Waugh is plentiful—memoirs by his family members, army acquaintances, country neighbors, and Oxford contemporaries deal with Waugh to a greater or lesser extent, and his friend Christopher Sykes published a full-length study in 1975—but until now there has been no first-rate and inclusive biography. Sykes’s book, Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, is, though serious and well documented, too evidently the work of a co-religionist and a sycophant to make a convincing portrayal. It is also painfully dull, a fault inexcusable in the biography of an artist whose interest to posterity lies, above all, in his outrageous, often offensive, humor.

The virtue of Stannard’s biography is the author’s apparent detachment—difficult to maintain when dealing with a...


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