Literary Daybook, April 10

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published April 10, 2002 9:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On April 10, 2017, Leon's incept date.
-- "Blade Runner" (1982)
by Ridley Scott, Director

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1966, the English novelist Evelyn Waugh died, at the age of 63. Many regard Waugh's earlier satires -- "Decline and Fall," "A Handful of Dust," "Put Out More Flags" -- as his greatest achievement; others prize the later books, "Brideshead Revisited" or "The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold"; others still find all they want in Waugh's posthumously published letters and diaries. In all three categories the arch-stylist and the arch-conservative combine for our amusement and alarm: "Of children as of procreation -- the pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable" and "The only human relationships I abide are intimacy, formality and servility." Even those commentators who regarded his aristocratic views and behavior as those of a crackpot thought Waugh the best satirist and stylist of his day. A writer, said Gore Vidal, of "prose so chaste that at times one longs for a violation of syntax to suggest that its creator is fallible, or at least part American."

Having much earlier given up on the modern world, Waugh began to feel while still in his 50s that his talent, his health, his ability to amuse, his "capacity for finding objects of love," even his capacity to get drunk, had also abandoned him:

"My life is roughly speaking over. I sleep badly except occasionally in the morning. I get up late. I try to read my letters. I try to read the paper. I have some gin. I try to read the paper again. I have some more gin. I try to think about my autobiography, then I have some more gin and it's lunchtime. That's my life. It's ghastly."

Being a devout, traditional and quarrelsome Catholic, Waugh viewed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council as another source of despair. That he died on Easter Sunday, after an old-style Latin Mass at his local church, led his daughter to seriously wonder if his heart attack was intentional, a desperate attempt to make a good exit before his church, mood and health got worse. The other view of Waugh's death has been made most famously by one of his longtime adversaries and targets, Cecil Beaton, who presumed that Waugh "died of snobbery."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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