Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One

While recently re-reading—after almost forty-five years—Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, his piercing 1948 novel set in the United States—in Southern California, in and around Los Angeles and Hollywood—I gratefully came to realize for the first time the deep and purifying pathos artfully expressed in that often disturbing, but carefully nuanced, text—especially when one also becomes gradually aware of what is missing. For, there are certain sacred elements that are not there amidst the poignant suicides and the human cremations and the self-deluded evasions of Death. Despite Waugh’s unmistakably Catholic perspective and allusions, we are only implicitly led to consider altogether the Four Last Things.

That is to say, there is a certain “presence of absence”—in G.K. Chesterton’s profound paradoxical words—such as the absence of a traditional Catholic Requiem Mass and the absence of a traditional Catholic burial, with the reverent interment of a body, as distinct from the remains of a deliberate cremation. Part of Waugh’s literary art is to draw us to consider what is intimately missing and why.

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