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Reviewed by:
  • From Grimes to Brideshead: The Early Novels of Evelyn Waugh, and: Aspects of the Novelist: E. M. Forster—Rhetoric, Pattern and Rhythm
  • Marvin Magalaner
Robert R. Garnett. From Grimes to Brideshead: The Early Novels of Evelyn Waugh. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1990. 179 pp. $29.50.
Audrey A. P. Lavin. Aspects of the Novelist: E. M. Forster —Rhetoric, Pattern and Rhythm. Cenuah: Universidad de Alcala de Henares, 1989. 200 pp. pb. $19.95.

Robert R. Garnett's study of the early fiction of Evelyn Waugh recalls the world of our youth when writers like Huxley and Wells, Galsworthy and Waugh occupied center-stage in fiction as Auden, Spender, and C. Day Lewis did in poetry—a time of innocence shattered by violent experience, a time when, certainly in England, class meant everything, but when the handwriting on the wall told of a social world ripe for assault. The glamour of these once august names has faded. One comes to the works with scholarly and historical interest but scarcely with a sense of discovery or excitement.

Garnett sees the "problem" in Waugh criticism as that of "devising a critical formula that will make sense of both Decline and Fall and Brideshead Revisited." He rejects or is skeptical of earlier critical commentaries purporting to expose deep layers of symbolic content in these extremely diverse books, as well as in the novels that come in between. He finds untenable the notion that Waugh deliberately set out to preach to readers an arcane message through the stories he told. Rather Garnett sees all the novels as autobiographical statements of Waugh's strong emotions, whether induced by predicaments in his early days at Oxford or his adulation of British high society, and then, in war and peace, by his attempt to enter that elite class and become himself a member of that aristocratic society.

The critic emphasizes that Waugh's youthful exuberance, creating wild, anarchic scenes in the early novels like Black Mischief, belies the author's desperate need for "order," exemplified by the numerous references to home, to country houses, and to the "privacy" and "innocence" such places imply. That the culminating novel of the early group should have been Brideshead Revisited, with its faery estate and mansion, is cited as evidence of Waugh's desire for such a base—eventually attained in his own life.

With considerable skill, Garnett parallels the events and people of the novels to the facts of Evelyn Waugh's life and demonstrates how these influences operate [End Page 611] in Waugh's fiction. He emphasizes particularly in his Brideshead chapter the religious strain in the author as it is transmuted fictionally to Charles Ryder and worked out in the affair with Julia.

There may be some question of how important such a study is in assessing a work of art by a minor writer. But if one assents to the step-by-step delineation of the life of the author as it is revealed in his fiction, then Garnett's contribution is considerable.

Audrey A. P. Lavin's book on Forster is unusual in many ways. It is the first book to be published in English by the Universidad de Alcala de Henares in Madrid (where the author has taught as a Fulbright professor). Maybe because of that fact, it is one of the most sloppily produced volumes this reviewer has ever encountered. The number of misspellings is appalling. The inconsistencies in punctuation are jarring: sometimes the title of Forster's novel is rendered as Howards End and sometimes as Howard's End; mention is made of a card "that leads Jacky to the Schlegel's," and in some pages further on readers are told of the "Wilcox's nervous search" or variously of "the Wilcoxes'" handling of a matter. Referring to two of Forster's novels, the critic informs readers that "both take part in England and Italy." Another paragraph discusses Forster's view of the night recorded "in a diary-like entrance in his Commonplace Book." These atrocious slips impede the reader's progress, although what Lavin has to say makes it worthwhile to go on.

As Lavin's title indicates, the study attempts to...


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