24/CHRONICLESning positions at obscure Arnold Housenand Aston Clinton. During this period,nWaugh reluctantly began his writingncareer with his well-received biographicalnessay on Rossetti.nAt this point in the book, Stannard’snbiographical design crystallizes. Waughnstudied briefly at Heatherley’s ArtnSchool, and though not a vocationallynfruitful endeavor, it helped to providenhim with what was to be an enduringnaesthetic foundation, namely, the artistnas artisan. “Waugh’s attitudes were,nand remained, those of the artistcraftsman,”nsummarizes Stannard.nWriter, painter, printer,ncarpenter—the object of allntheir labours was to producenuseful, pleasurable, well-wroughtnobjects. Nothing, as far as hencould see, distinguished theirnessential function. A writer’snbusiness was not to confess or tonproselytise or to render thenstates of heightenednconsciousness of sensitivenintroverts; it was to entertainnand to inform.nAnd it was this “classical” approach thatnhe brought to the writing of a trio ofnsuperbly comic novels: Decline andnFall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), andnBlack Mischief (1932). Stannard saysnthat with these works Waugh wasnemerging as a “serious writer,” intentnnot only on satirical laceration but “asnmuch interested in stylistic innovationnas Joyce or Gertrude Stein. He wasneven concerned with the identical aestheticnproblem of developing a newnform of literary expression which banishednthe author’s intrusive voice.”n(Stannard’s sedulous collation of thenextant manuscripts with the publishedntexts reveals Waugh’s deliberate excisionnof the authorial presence.)nWaugh’s meticulous care in mattersnof form was coupled with a quickeningnconcern for content: his conversion tonCatholicism in 1930 was beginning tonreverberate thematically in his fiction.nStannard is correct in observing thatn”All social structures in Waugh’s fictionalnworld tend towards collapse,”nbut Catholicism brought Waugh to andarker, more penetrating apprehensionnof this process. It seems clear, moreover,nthat a significant part of thenChurch’s attraction for Waugh (at leastninitially) was its embodiment of ordernin a civilization bent on anarchy.nRonald Knox—whose official biographynWaugh was to write in 1959 —nnoted in his The Belief of Catholicsn(1927): “Catholicism appeals, no longernto the antiquarian faddist or to thenrestless in search of spiritual adventure,nbut to the lovers of order. It beckonsnlike a lifeboat to shipwrecked souls whonhave seen the conventions go downnunder their feet.” Waugh echoed thisnview in a 1930 article defending hisndecision to convert, saying “that in thenpresent phase of European history thenessential issue is no longer betweennCatholicism, on one side, and Protestantism,non the other, but betweennChristianity and Chaos.” The battlenlines were sharply drawn.nWaugh’s embrace of Catholic ordernallowed him to see the intrinsic transiencenand absurdity of this world innthe context of an authoritative theologicalnsystem; in other words, “Declinenand fall,” as Stannard remarks, “werenno longer the subject for jokes.” Indeed,nWaugh’s ambivalence toward thenchaos portrayed in his first three novelsnis conspicuously jettisoned in his finestnachievement, A Handful of Dustn(1934). Stannard notes the sophisticationnof Waugh’s new emphasis: “Thisntime, it seems, he wanted to write annovel which would unequivocally establishnhim as a writer in T.S. Eliot’sncamp, defending civilization againstnthe barbarians.” To be sure, A Handfulnof Dust doesn’t employ the “mythicnmethod” that is the hallmark of ThenWaste Land, but both works are premisednon a view of modern man asnsecularized, deracinated from his fragmentedncivilization and its Christiannfoundation. Eliot interweaves desiccatednmodernity with the vanished grandeurnof antiquity; Waugh juxtaposesnMr. Todd’s Conradian savagery withnthe moral anarchy of contemporarynLondon. Eliot, however, concludesnwith a movement in the direction ofnrenewal (“Then a damp gust / Bringingnrain”); Waugh is content with whatnStannard calls “the negative assertionnof order through an evocation of chaos.”nIn short, he had not yet incorporatedneschatology into his fictional universe.nWaugh’s world view led him to annidiosyncratic political conservatism. Upnto a point, political opinions should benof little concern to a reader; but thennnpoint at which we begin to inquire intonthe politics of an author is when we arenforced to—which is to say when anwriter allows the political or, morenprecisely, the ideological, to dominatenthe aesthetic. This insufferable corruptionnis widespread in our century, but itnwas particularly egregious in then30’s — “a low, dishonest decade,” innW.H. Auden’s justly famous phrase.nDuring this period the totalitarianntemptation proved far too seductive fornmany left-wing artists and intellectualsn(Auden among them), leading themninto the propagation of shameless cantnand outright mendacity. This was notnthe case with Waugh: he viewed, saysnStannard, “Art and politics … as mutuallyndestructive.” In fact, Waugh wasnquite aware of the artistic consequencesnof ideological engagement. His critique,nfor example, of the Marxistnapproach to art is remarkably cogent:n”I do not think any artist, certainly notnwriter, can be a Marxist, for a writer’snmaterial must be the individual souln(which is the preconception of Christendom),nwhile the Marxist can onlynthink in classes and categories, andneven in classes abhors variety.” Indeed,none wonders what a Marxist wouldnmake, say, of Paul Pennyfeather!nWaugh’s creation of such characters —nwhat Stannard refers to as his “temperamentalnsympathy for eccentrics, manipulators,nmen of the world” —was innkeeping with his profound loathing ofnwhat he discerned as the trend towardnbland conformism in modern life.nAppropriately, the volume closesnwith Waugh’s life and work concludingnone phase and evolving in a vastlyndifferent direction. He had finished thenperipatetic wanderings that characterizednhis life in the 30’s. His marriage tonLaura Herbert (this was his second; hisnfirst, to Evelyn [“She-Evelyn”] Gardner,nended quickly in divorce, eventuallynannulled) supplied much-needednstability. What’s more, he had exhaustednthe novelistic form that, up to thisntime, he had so deftly exploited. Clearly,nScoop (1938) marks the end ofnWaugh’s early period. Stannard indicatesnthat Waugh “was thirsting for annew fictional form which could includenthe dimension of ‘supernatural reality,'”nbut the quenching of this thirstnwas not to come until BridesheadnRevisited (1945). V.S. Pritchett, withnhis standard perspicacity, has said ofn