Mr. Waugh Makes Us Laugh

Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One (1948) shares a young British poet’s hapless situation in Hollywood. Dennis Barlow penned his one successful volume while serving in the war, but inspiration isn’t so easy to come by these days. So he works at Happier Hunting Ground, a pet cemetery.

The novel is about death, in more ways than animals. The first character who speaks dies shortly thereafter. Sir Francis—like Dennis, a transplanted Englishman—was abruptly fired from a studio and then hangs himself. So Dennis, left to take care of his friend’s corpse, goes to a real cemetery, Whispering Glades, where he is entranced by the production, the commercialization (and capitalization) of the dead. He hopes, at first, to take some of their more successful innovations back to Happier Hunting Ground.

But he falls in love with a cosmetician at Whispering Glades, and here’s our love story—full of deceit, envy, another man and death.

The novel delivers a few laughs, maybe like one out-loud guffaw a chapter (for this reader). And it attempts to comment on capitalism and death and materialism, but alas in this progressive age, these ideas have mostly been subsumed in our monolithic cultural attitude—not reckoned with, just dismissed as something purportedly dealt with, and because it (the knowledge of our materialism) is everywhere, we can easily recognize it. And in Mr. Waugh’s way, to apply the materialism to such a bleak subject (a loved one’s death), that comical distance allows us to view the point from afar, without any personal investment or feeling, so we can laugh at these characters because they share nothing with us readers.

But that is the way of satire, sometimes, I guess. However, there are plenty of reasons to read this book. It’s short, funny, and spattered with inspections of the artistic temperament (because, as you’ll recall, our protagonist is a poet).