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The Timeless Tales of Evelyn Waugh: A Comprehensive Summary of ‘The Complete Stories’ (1998)

The Timeless Tales of Evelyn Waugh: A Comprehensive Summary of ‘The Complete Stories’ (1998)

Evelyn Waugh is widely regarded as one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century. His works spanned across various genres, including novels, essays, and short stories. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive summary of Waugh’s short stories compiled in “The Complete Stories” (1998). These timeless tales are a testament to Waugh’s exceptional storytelling abilities and offer readers a glimpse into his unique perspective on life, love, and society.

Background of Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh was a British novelist born in London in 1903. He attended Oxford University and began his writing career as a journalist. Waugh’s early works were satirical and humorous, often poking fun at the upper class and their social conventions. His most famous novel, “Brideshead Revisited,” was published in 1945 and is considered a masterpiece of 20th-century literature. Waugh’s writing style is characterized by his wit, irony, and sharp observations of human behavior. He was also known for his conservative political views and his conversion to Catholicism in 1930. Waugh died in 1966, leaving behind a legacy of timeless tales that continue to captivate readers today.

Overview of ‘The Complete Stories’

“The Complete Stories” is a collection of short stories written by the renowned British author, Evelyn Waugh. The book was published posthumously in 1998, and it contains all of Waugh’s short stories, including some that were previously unpublished. The stories in this collection span Waugh’s entire career, from his early works to his later, more mature pieces. They cover a wide range of themes and subjects, from love and loss to war and politics. Waugh’s writing style is characterized by his wit, humor, and sharp observations of human behavior. “The Complete Stories” is a must-read for anyone who appreciates great literature and wants to explore the works of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’

“The Man Who Liked Dickens” is a short story by Evelyn Waugh that explores the theme of obsession. The protagonist, Mr. Albert, is a middle-aged man who is obsessed with the works of Charles Dickens. He spends all his time reading and re-reading Dickens’ novels, and even goes as far as to dress up as characters from the books.

Mr. Albert’s obsession with Dickens becomes so intense that he starts to lose touch with reality. He begins to see the characters from the books as real people and even starts to believe that he is a character from one of the novels. His obsession eventually leads to his downfall, as he is unable to distinguish between reality and fiction.

Waugh’s use of satire and irony in this story highlights the dangers of obsession and the importance of maintaining a balance in life. “The Man Who Liked Dickens” is a timeless tale that continues to resonate with readers today, reminding us of the dangers of allowing our passions to consume us completely.

‘Incident in Azania’

“Incident in Azania” is a satirical story that takes place in the fictional African country of Azania. The story follows the British ambassador, Mr. John H. Tulloch, as he navigates the political landscape of Azania and tries to maintain good relations with the country’s ruler, the Emperor Seth. However, things take a turn for the worse when Tulloch accidentally insults the Emperor’s mother during a dinner party. The incident leads to a series of comical misunderstandings and mishaps, ultimately resulting in Tulloch’s expulsion from the country. Waugh’s sharp wit and clever writing make “Incident in Azania” a standout story in “The Complete Stories.”

‘The Sympathetic Passenger’

In “The Sympathetic Passenger,” Waugh explores the theme of unexpected connections between strangers. The story follows a young woman named Mary who is traveling on a train and strikes up a conversation with a fellow passenger, Mr. Hare. As they talk, Mary discovers that Mr. Hare is a former soldier who has fallen on hard times and is now struggling to make ends meet. Despite his difficult circumstances, Mr. Hare remains kind and generous, offering Mary his last bit of food and sharing stories from his past. By the end of the journey, Mary feels a deep sense of connection to Mr. Hare and is left with a newfound appreciation for the power of human empathy. Through this touching tale, Waugh reminds us that even in the midst of our own struggles, we can still find ways to connect with and support those around us.

‘Mr Loveday’s Little Outing’

“Mr Loveday’s Little Outing” is a darkly humorous tale that explores the themes of mental illness and societal norms. The story follows the titular character, Mr Loveday, who is a patient in a mental institution. Despite his harmless nature, Mr Loveday is deemed unfit for society and is kept locked up. However, one day, he is granted a day out with his daughter, Angela, who is horrified by the conditions of the institution and the treatment of her father. The story ends with a tragic twist that highlights the cruel and arbitrary nature of societal norms. Waugh’s sharp wit and satirical commentary make this story a standout in his collection of short stories.

‘Scott-King’s Modern Europe’

One of the most notable stories in Evelyn Waugh’s “The Complete Stories” is “Scott-King’s Modern Europe.” This satirical tale follows the titular character, a classics master at an English public school, as he is sent on a mission to promote the study of Greek and Latin in a newly-formed European state. However, upon arriving, Scott-King finds that the government is more interested in modernizing and promoting their own language and culture. Despite his best efforts, Scott-King is unable to convince the officials of the value of classical education, and he returns to England defeated. The story is a commentary on the changing values and priorities of Europe in the early 20th century, and the decline of traditional education in favor of modernization.

‘Winner Takes All’

In many of Evelyn Waugh’s stories, the theme of “winner takes all” is prevalent. Whether it’s the ruthless competition between schoolboys in “The Balance,” the cutthroat world of journalism in “Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing,” or the social climbing of the Bright Young Things in “Vile Bodies,” Waugh portrays a world where success often comes at a steep price. The characters who come out on top are often those who are willing to do whatever it takes to get there, even if it means sacrificing their morals or relationships. This theme serves as a commentary on the competitive nature of society and the lengths people will go to achieve their goals.

‘Bella Fleace Gave a Party’

In “Bella Fleace Gave a Party,” Waugh explores the absurdity of the upper-class society through the lens of a party thrown by the titular character. The story is filled with witty dialogue and satirical commentary on the frivolous nature of the wealthy. Bella, a wealthy and eccentric woman, invites her friends and acquaintances to her home for a party, but chaos ensues when her guests become increasingly drunk and disorderly. Waugh’s sharp observations on the behavior of the upper class make “Bella Fleace Gave a Party” a timeless tale that still resonates with readers today.

‘The Loved One’

“The Loved One” is a satirical novel by Evelyn Waugh that explores the absurdity of the funeral industry in Los Angeles. The story follows the lives of several characters, including Dennis Barlow, a disillusioned British poet who works at a pet cemetery, and Aimée Thanatogenos, a beautiful and ambitious mortician who works at the Whispering Glades funeral home. As the plot unfolds, Waugh exposes the greed, hypocrisy, and superficiality of the funeral industry, as well as the emptiness and loneliness of modern life. With its dark humor and biting social commentary, “The Loved One” remains a timeless classic that continues to resonate with readers today.

‘Love Among the Ruins’

In “Love Among the Ruins,” Waugh explores the theme of love in a post-apocalyptic world. Set in a future where civilization has collapsed, the story follows the relationship between a young man and woman who meet in the ruins of a city. Despite the bleakness of their surroundings, the two find solace in each other’s company and begin to fall in love. However, their happiness is short-lived as they are forced to confront the harsh realities of their situation. Waugh’s poignant portrayal of love in the face of destruction is a testament to the enduring power of human connection.

‘An Englishman’s Home’

In “An Englishman’s Home,” Waugh explores the idea of home and the lengths one will go to protect it. The story follows a wealthy couple, the Outrams, who live in a grand estate in the English countryside. When a group of travelers set up camp on their property, the Outrams become increasingly agitated and paranoid, fearing that their home is being invaded. As tensions rise, the Outrams take drastic measures to protect their property, ultimately leading to a tragic and ironic ending. Through this tale, Waugh highlights the absurdity of the English obsession with property and the lengths people will go to maintain their status and privilege.

‘Work Suspended’

In the short story “Work Suspended,” Waugh explores the theme of procrastination and its consequences. The protagonist, John Plant, is a writer who has been commissioned to write a book on the history of architecture. However, he finds himself unable to start the project and instead spends his days indulging in leisurely activities. As a result, he falls into debt and is forced to take on a job ghostwriting a memoir for a wealthy socialite. The story ends with Plant realizing the futility of his procrastination and resolving to finally begin his book. “Work Suspended” serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of putting off important tasks and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions.


Compassion is a recurring theme in Evelyn Waugh’s short stories. In “The Sympathetic Passenger,” a man on a train journey is moved to tears by the plight of a fellow passenger who has lost his wife and child. In “Bella Fleace Gave a Party,” the protagonist shows kindness and understanding towards a group of eccentric guests, despite their odd behavior. And in “The Man Who Liked Dickens,” a lonely man finds solace in the works of Charles Dickens, which provide him with a sense of empathy and connection to others. Through these stories, Waugh reminds us of the importance of compassion and empathy in our interactions with others, and the power of literature to inspire these qualities in us.

‘The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold’

“The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold” is a semi-autobiographical novel by Evelyn Waugh, published in 1957. The story follows the protagonist, Gilbert Pinfold, a successful author who begins to experience hallucinations and delusions while on a cruise ship. As his mental state deteriorates, Pinfold becomes increasingly paranoid and convinced that the other passengers are conspiring against him.

The novel is a fascinating exploration of mental illness and the fragility of the human mind. Waugh draws on his own experiences with drug-induced hallucinations to create a vivid and unsettling portrait of Pinfold’s descent into madness. The novel is also notable for its use of metafiction, as Pinfold’s hallucinations often take the form of conversations with fictional characters from his own novels.

Despite its dark subject matter, “The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold” is also a witty and satirical work, with Waugh skewering the pretensions and foibles of the upper classes. The novel is a testament to Waugh’s skill as a writer, and a must-read for fans of his work.

‘The Balance’

In “The Balance,” Waugh explores the delicate equilibrium between duty and desire. The protagonist, a young man named Tony Last, is torn between his responsibilities as a husband and father and his longing for adventure and excitement. As he embarks on a journey to the Amazon, Tony must confront the consequences of his choices and ultimately decide what truly matters to him. Through Tony’s struggles, Waugh highlights the universal struggle to find balance in life and the consequences of neglecting one’s obligations. “The Balance” is a poignant and thought-provoking tale that will resonate with readers of all ages.

‘Charles Ryder’s Schooldays’

In “Charles Ryder’s Schooldays,” readers are transported back to the early 1900s and introduced to a young Charles Ryder, a student at the prestigious boarding school, Hazeley. Waugh’s vivid descriptions of the school’s traditions and hierarchy provide a glimpse into the strict and often brutal world of British public schools. Charles struggles to fit in with his peers and finds solace in his friendship with another outsider, Peter Beste-Chetwynde. However, their friendship is cut short when Peter is expelled for stealing. This event marks a turning point for Charles, as he begins to question the values and traditions of his school and society as a whole. “Charles Ryder’s Schooldays” sets the stage for the themes of class, tradition, and disillusionment that are prevalent throughout Waugh’s works.

‘The Bookshop’

“The Bookshop” is a short story by Evelyn Waugh that was first published in 1936. The story follows the life of Mrs. Helene Hanff, a middle-aged woman who runs a bookshop in a small English town. Mrs. Hanff is a passionate lover of books and is always on the lookout for new titles to add to her collection. However, her business is struggling, and she is finding it difficult to make ends meet.

One day, a wealthy American businessman named Mr. Bentley enters her shop and offers to buy the entire stock of books. Mrs. Hanff is initially thrilled at the prospect of making a large sum of money, but she soon realizes that Mr. Bentley has no interest in the books themselves. He plans to burn them all in a bonfire as a publicity stunt for his company.

Mrs. Hanff is horrified at the thought of her beloved books being destroyed and refuses to sell them to Mr. Bentley. However, she soon realizes that she has no other choice. Her business is failing, and she needs the money to keep it afloat. In the end, she reluctantly agrees to sell the books to Mr. Bentley, but not before she has removed all of her personal favorites from the collection.

“The Bookshop” is a poignant and thought-provoking story that explores the themes of love, loss, and the power of literature. It is a testament to Waugh’s skill as a writer that he is able to create such a vivid and memorable character in Mrs. Hanff, and to evoke such strong emotions in his readers. Whether you are a fan of Waugh’s work or simply a lover of great literature, “The Bookshop” is a must-read.

‘The Death of a Bishop’

In “The Death of a Bishop,” Waugh tells the story of a bishop who dies while on a mission trip to Africa. The bishop’s death is not the only tragedy in the story, as his wife and daughter also suffer greatly in the aftermath. The story explores themes of faith, loss, and the complexities of relationships. Waugh’s writing is both poignant and thought-provoking, leaving readers with much to ponder long after finishing the story.