A Terry Teachout Reader, my self-anthology, came out sixteen years ago. I’ve published hundreds of pieces on various subjects since then, and I have no plans to put together a sequel to the Teachout Reader, so I’ve launched a series of occasional posts drawn from my fugitive essays, articles, and reviews. I hope you like this one, which came from a 2004 review of Bright Young Things, the film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.
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Like so many other novelists of his generation, Waugh was keenly interested in how films “make things happen” on the screen by showing “actions and incidents” instead of allowing characters to explain their motivations at length. In Vile Bodies he translated this essentially visual approach into words on paper, depicting London in the Twenties in a tumbling rush of fragmentary scenes and spare, elliptical dialogue that suggests far more than it states. Nothing could have been so self-consciously modern. Yet the uproariously funny Vile Bodies turns out to be the darkest of “comic” novels, one whose inhabitants are all hurtling gaily toward their doom. It’s anything but surprising to learn that Waugh’s first wife left him while he was writing Vile Bodies, or that he converted to Catholicism eight months after it was published. Every page is scented with the anguish of a disillusioned young man searching for meaning in a world gone grossly wrong.