The complete works of Evelyn Waugh

Waugh work

The Dictionary of National Biography declares of Evelyn Waugh that his “reputation is now secure as one of the finest novelists of the twentieth century.” Waugh’s best known work remains Brideshead Revisited, his 1945 magnum opus about privileged society between the wars (not least because of the 1980s TV serial, still considered by many as one of the finest literary adaptations ever made).

Several other Waugh novels have a high degree of public recognition, including Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), A Handful of Dust (1934) and Scoop (1938). His overall body of work, stretching across 40 years from the mid-1920s to his death in 1966 (plus numerous posthumous publications) embraces short stories, non-fiction, journalism and a series of infamous diaries. Quite apart from its literary quality, Waugh’s fondness for basing characters on people he knew makes his writing a fascinating insight into his life and times – and provides plenty of scope for literary and historical analysis.

Waugh of Words

In 2013, the University of Leicester and Oxford University Press began a hugely ambitious research project to publish the complete works of Evelyn Waugh in a massive edition of 43 volumes. Funded through an £822,482 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, this will be the most exhaustive collation of work by a British novelist ever undertaken. No fewer than 23 editors are working on the project, collaborating digitally and drawing on archives on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Complete Works will include not only Waugh’s fiction and non-fiction (some with previously excised content) but also all his surviving correspondence, unexpurgated diaries, works written at school and university and miscellanea such as poems. This lavish edition will also include Waugh’s graphic art; he was a skilful artist and for some time considered that his true calling and his writing merely a sideline.

Around 10,000 of Waugh’s letters survive, of which only about 15% have been published. The Complete Works will devote eight of its volumes to correspondence (intercalated with the diaries) including letters that Waugh received from such notable figures as John Betjeman, Graham Greene and Nancy Mitford.

In love and Waugh

Among the significant discoveries of the project was a huge cache of letters from Waugh to Teresa Jungman, a 1920s society beauty who is believed to have inspired Lady Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Long believed destroyed, these were located by Alexander Waugh, curator of his grandfather’s archive and estate and General Editor of the Complete Works. Evelyn Waugh proposed to Jungman in 1933 and her rejection led him to seek solace in North Africa where he wrote the bitter A Handful of Dust.

Far from being an elitist project by literary academics, The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh is working to promote Waugh’s books among the reading public and make his writing more accessible. A series of events, both public and academic, accompany the project. Monthly reading groups are working their way through the author’s prodigious output while Waugh-related events are becoming a regular feature of Literary Leicester, the University’s annual celebration of the written word.

Professor Martin Stannard from our School of English is Principal Investigator and Co-Executive Editor of the project. (Professor David Bradshaw of Oxford University was Co-Executive Editor with Martin until his untimely death in September 2016.) Dr Barbara Cooke from our School of English is Research Associate. The Project Partners are the British Library; the Bodleian Library; the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds; the Estate of Evelyn Waugh; the Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas at Austin; the Huntington Library, California; OUP; and the University of Milan.

Researcher profile: Professor Martin Stannard

Professor Martin Stannard

Professor Stannard is an internationally renowned expert on 20th century English literature including (but certainly not limited to) Evelyn Waugh. His research interests centre on British Catholic convert fiction, biography and non-fiction generally, and the theory and practice of textual editing. His first book, Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage (1984), was followed by a critically acclaimed two-volume biography, Evelyn Waugh. The Early Years: 1903-1939 (1986) and Evelyn Waugh. No Abiding City: 1939-1966 (1992). He edited the ‘Norton Critical Edition’ of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier (1995, revised 2012) and in 2009 received widespread acclaim for Muriel Spark: The Biography which was serialised in the Guardian, shortlisted for the James Tate Black memorial Prize and selected as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week. He is Chair of the organising committee of Literary Leicester and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the English Association.

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