Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family
It’s no accident that the publication of this book
coincides with Evelyn Waugh’s centenary (and George
Orwell’s, too, by the way). British headline writers,
over-stimulated by reading pieces about the various Waughs, have
perpetrated a series of ghastly juvenile puns, including “In
Waugh and Peace,” “A Family at Waugh with Each
Other,” “My Life in the Waugh Zone,” etc.
The title, FATHERS AND SONS, is perfect and evidently
couldn’t be resisted, even though that Russian fellow,
Turgenev, had thought of it first. Mothers, and women in general,
are of no consequence in this history of five generations of
illustrious Waugh males. Of course, females played a role in
bringing them into the world, but afterwards they receded quietly
into the background and were heard from no more.
The progenitor of the most famous literary Waughs --- Evelyn and
his son Auberon --- was Arthur Waugh, great-grandfather of
Alexander, the author of this book. Arthur might have been the
obvious starting point. But Alexander takes readers back one
generation further --- to Dr. Alexander Waugh, FRCS, who is
known to all of his descendants simply as “the Brute.”
He was a sadist “whose taste for flagellation never deserted
him,” who carried with him, wherever he went, an
ivory-handled whip and an urge to use it. Stories of his brutish
excesses continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
A video made available on the Internet shows a Waugh toddler
spitting on the Brute’s headstone while an approving father
or uncle stands in the background, beaming at his precocity.
The Brute’s grandfather, Dr. [of Divinity] Alexander Waugh,
known to the family as “The Great and Good,”
didn’t make the cut for inclusion in this limited history.
Nor did the Brute’s father, another divine, the rector of
Corsley. These omissions may only reflect an author’s
informed assessment of his prospective audience; no one ever read a
Waugh for moral enlightenment or spiritual uplift.
Alexander’s earlier books were TIME and GOD, their subjects
calculated perhaps to put off the really challenging task of
writing this “autobiography” of his family. If so, he
needn’t have worried. Although it’s not true that you
can’t miss with good material, Alexander has fulfilled his
obligations both to his family and his readers, and it seems likely
that the Waughs past and present, and maybe even Turgenev, would be
satisfied with the job he has done.
Reviewed by Harold Cordry on January 21, 2011