Evelyn Waugh in his diary, worldly wise:
We are all American at puberty; we die French.
Aphorisms like the above close out the book, when he was in his 60s and already about to rot to death. Up until then we get his dissatisfied little records of the day to day. One suspects he played up his selfishness in the entries; a writer that good is always aware of effect.
In 1955, about a servant:
Mario is causing annoyance by losing his reason. He is obsessed like a character from a Renaissance drama with suspicion of his wife’s infidelity, pretends to go out and conceals himself under the bed to spy on her. Under the strain her cooking has become unendurable.
Nine days later:
After much coming and going of magistrates and alienists Mario was removed to the lunatic asylum. It is hoped that the cooking may improve.
The diary is too flat and disgusted to ever give much detail. Writing a given entry, Waugh had just enough energy to list the various peoples and events who on that day had proven to be bird crap on his shoulder. Getting together with a friend: “I took Christopher to the cinema and found him insane.” The next day: “I took Christopher to the cinema and found him more insane.” The day after: “I sent Christopher tiger lilies to acknowledge my faults of the evening before.” Uh oh, something got left out. Well, “Christopher” is Christopher Sykes, author of Waugh’s posthumous biography, and a footnote to the second diary entry fills us in with a quote from that same book. Sykes says he had introduced Waugh to a friend, John, and “a rather uncannily well-placed remark by John excited Evelyn to an outpouring of religious polemics, wholly unsuited to the occasion and grossly insulting to the memory of my father.” Don’t ask me what the father has to do with all this; I’m going to let that lie.
Waugh’s diary suffers because it is life as seen by someone who is depressive and incompetent. That is, he has to leave out a whole lot to get the effect he wants, which is that he’s a victim of universal stupidity and bad manners. In the novels, to get this effect, he could put things in, crazy things. Here that’s the job of the editor’s notes, and the crazy things in question all turn out to be specimens of Waugh’s behavior. “The circumstances of Waugh’s expulsion from Jugoslavia, with which the next part of the diary deals, are not easy to follow from the text,” the editor says dryly of a wartime passage. He adds a little further down:
Waugh’s superiors in any case resented his habit of sending comparatively trivial signals to headquarters prefixed by four ‘Q’s, which meant that a senior officer must decode them; a colonel who had got to bed at 4 am was unlikely to be amused when he was woken up an hour later to decode a Waugh signal about, for example, bars of soap.