For a queer fan like me, Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (1903-1966) is bit of a conundrum. He moved freely in the gay social circles of England in his era. He had at least three important affairs with dudes while at Oxford in the early 1920s, and then he married, sired six children, and apparently remained straight for the rest of his life.
Waugh created one of the most heated homoerotic relationships in 20th century literature with his characters Charles Ryder and the teddy bear carrying Sebastian Flyte in his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited (1945), but then he brought homophobic contempt for characters in many of his other novels. Waugh’s own Oxford assignations with men were the inspiration for his characters in Brideshead Revisited. Apparently, being gay was all very much perceived as acceptable as long as it was a phase you grew out of when you left Oxford.
Waugh would tease friends who had not had their own homosexual phase that they had “missed out on something”. I used to make the same claim at church camp as a youth.
Because Waugh was a wildly popular writer, a respected Catholic, and because same-sex activity was still illegal in Britain during his lifetime, his writing about gay relationships is coded and obtuse. But for me, it is obvious what he is talking about, without having to spell it out. But then, as you know, I see “gay” everywhere.
Waugh wrote four decades worth of novels, essays and travel books. If you don’t know his work, try Brideshead Revisited of course, or better yet, just skip to the celebrated British miniseries from 1981 starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, or the less successful, but still worth seeing film version from 2008 with yummy Matthew Goode and out and proud actor Ben Whishaw. I also enjoyed his Vile Bodies (published posthumous in 1980), A Handful Of Dust (1934) and especially, his biting satire of America, The Loved One (1948) which was made in to a first rate film in 1965 with Liberace! Nearly all of Waugh’s works have been smartly adapted to film or television.