Jessica Helfand | Essays

Lost, O Lost

Photograph of Evelyn Waugh by Douglass Glass.

"Literature is either the essential or nothing." — Georges Bataille

The English writer Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) is perhaps best known for his satirical portraits of the British upper class. Several of his novels (including Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust) have been lovingly dramatized in Merchant/Ivory films, where the novelist's own love/hate relationship with the aristocracy underscores the kinds of spiritual and social conflicts for which he is perhaps best remembered. Waugh was, by all indications, a man of contradiction. At turns mean, shy, conservative and shocking, he remained nevertheless a master wordsmith, a writer of uncanny lyricism, whose words — even in a want ad — seem to dance across the page.

We are delighted to share this advertisement, discovered in one of Waugh's scrapbooks at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The title of this post — Lost, O Lost — ran with the ad (which was published in Isis, an Oxford student publication) and may nod to what was the original title of Thomas Wolfe's first novel, published in 1929 as Look Homeward, Angel. Waugh's notice refers to nothing even remotely literary, yet his words retain their fluency, their emotional resonance: his loss is a personal one, for his own misplaced cane.

Evelyn Waugh regrets to announce that he has lost a walking stick made of oak, preposterously short with a metal band around it. It is a thing of no possible value to anyone but himself; for him it is an incalculable loss. If it should fall into the hands of any honest or kindly man or woman, will he or she bring it to the Isis office, and what so poor a man as Mr. Waugh is can do, shall not be lacking.

Posted in: Arts + Culture

Comments [5]

The movie adaptation for Waugh's The Loved One was written by Terry Southern, who also wrote Dr. Strangelove. It's one of the few movies I have seen that includes almost everything in the (relatively short) book, and adds another novel's worth of plot and characters, making it a hilariously uneven satire of Hollywood, old British men living in Hollywood, and overly-lavish funerals. It's also transparently anti-American. Not to mention, there is a cameo by Liberace, who jumps, singing, from a coffin.

The book is better, but the movie is way weirder.
Teddy Blanks

Did he get the stick back?

Speaking about Waugh, catholicauthors.com has a very sensitive idea: "What is true of art is as true of the artist. In the works of Waugh, as in the works of the other literary converts, a tiny gleam of Christ is always reflected."
Respiro, the logo design guy

great great great!!
n a c o

The cane story is delightful, but I think you're mistaken about Merchant/Ivory. As far as I know they have never dramatized a Waugh novel. Brideshead was directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg and Charles Sturridge, and A Handful of Dust was directed by Charles Sturridge. Am I wrong? Are you confusing Waugh with Forster?

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