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Fathers and Sons: The Autobiography of a Family Paperback – May 13, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767927486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767927482
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,423,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The scion of an illustrious—and fabulously eccentric—English literary dynasty referees four generations of father-son antagonisms in this scintillating family memoir. Waugh (God) focuses on the fraught relationship between his great-grandfather, prominent critic and publisher Arthur Waugh, and Arthur's son, the famous novelist Evelyn. Arthur was a hopeless Victorian who doted on his elder son Alec and warmly sentimentalized their family life and boarding school traditions, Evelyn was the disaffected black sheep who wallowed in drink, bisexual dissipation and modern cynicism. In contrast to Arthur's paternal overinvolvement, Evelyn tried hard to avoid his own children's company or, when contact was inescapable, to heap exquisitely refined derision on their heads. But while he found his seven-year-old son, Auberon, the author's father, to be "clumsy and disheveled, sly, without intellectual, aesthetic or spiritual interest," he managed to impart a legacy that emerged in Auberon's career as a notoriously acerbic columnist. Waugh often lets the diaries and letters of his compulsively self-documenting subjects carry the story, sprinkling in smarmy family anecdotes and his own color commentary. If this tome were merely an excuse to reprint some of Evelyn's hilarious jottings, it would be well worth the price, but it's also an absorbing study of how writers process their most painfully formative experiences. (May 29)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The hearts of four generations of Waughs have pumped more ink than blood. This, after all, is a family that since 1888 has published nearly 200 titles in a half-dozen genres. Naturally, that means that when Alexander Waugh looks back at his family history, he surveys literary monuments, including his great-grandfather's "Gordon in Africa," his grandfather's Brideshead Revisited, his father's oxglove Saga, and his own Time. But Alexander concerns himself here chiefly not with the family's books but rather with the family's tangled emotional relationships. Again and again, his candid narrative exposes fathers who alienate their sons, who in turn attack their fathers. Readers thus learn how Arthur cruelly slighted his younger son, Evelyn, who subsequently vented his rage against his unjust father through condemnatory images of fictional fathers recognizably similar to his own. But as a real-life father, Evelyn failed in his own way, yielding to pathological depression and condemning his son Bron with unforgiving rigor for his imaginative lies. Yet in Bron, Alexander finally finds a Waugh father willing to break the pattern by giving his children a home life of love, loyalty, and happiness. Alternately scalding and tender, this group portrait deserves a place next to other Waugh masterpieces. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on June 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A well-written, dryly-humorous account of the male line of the famous English literary clan. Some bold accounts of womanizing and yet lower -- but still keen -- pleasures. Alexander Waugh is an apple that did not drop far from the family's vigorous tree.

(I rank the jacket's author photograph as one of my favorites.)
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on June 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's no accident that the publication of this book coincides with Evelyn Waugh's centenary (and George Orwell's, too, by the way). British headline writers, over-stimulated by reading pieces about the various Waughs, have perpetrated a series of ghastly juvenile puns, including "In Waugh and Peace," "A Family at Waugh with Each Other," "My Life in the Waugh Zone," etc.

The title, FATHERS AND SONS, is perfect and evidently couldn't be resisted, even though that Russian fellow, Turgenev, had thought of it first. Mothers, and women in general, are of no consequence in this history of five generations of illustrious Waugh males. Of course, females played a role in bringing them into the world, but afterwards they receded quietly into the background and were heard from no more.

The progenitor of the most famous literary Waughs --- Evelyn and his son Auberon --- was Arthur Waugh, great-grandfather of Alexander, the author of this book. Arthur might have been the obvious starting point. But Alexander takes readers back one generation further --- to Dr. Alexander Waugh, FRCS, who is known to all of his descendants simply as "the Brute." He was a sadist "whose taste for flagellation never deserted him," who carried with him, wherever he went, an ivory-handled whip and an urge to use it. Stories of his brutish excesses continue to be passed down from generation to generation. A video made available on the Internet shows a Waugh toddler spitting on the Brute's headstone while an approving father or uncle stands in the background, beaming at his precocity.

The Brute's grandfather, Dr. [of Divinity] Alexander Waugh, known to the family as "The Great and Good," didn't make the cut for inclusion in this limited history.
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By David Schweizer VINE VOICE on June 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you have ever wondered what is wrong with the American public schools, read this book. Here you will at least be exposed to what a real school system can produce: people who can use the English language with grace and wit and clarity. This is a first-class piece of writing, gorgeous and positively Tacitian in his brevity. The subject matter is the torment of family life, specifically as experience by one of England's great dynasties of "letters," the Waughs. Alexander, son of Auberon, and grandson of Evelyn Waugh, possesses that extraordinary ability to avoid sentimentality. Like his grandfather, he possesses an undertaker's aloofness. His description of his father's death reminded me of the best passages of "The Loved One," his grandfather's little masterpiece on death and dying. What is it about English boarding schools that produces generation after generation of prose masters?
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Uitlander on June 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
You will find very few books that can match Fathers and Sons as a revealing family biography. The Waughs have been one of England's most literary families for four generations. This effort by Alexander is a fascinating study of their filial relations. Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) is the best known of the family, though his father, brother, son and grandsons have all turned out well-crafted prose. What was not well-crafted was their relationships. Evelyn was an irritable being and he could suffer no foolishness. Since all the principals kept diaries and corresponded frequently, we have a shocking record of their foibles and failures as well as their obvious talents. (All the Waughs wrote entertainingly, even in casual notes.)

Is this biography by a family member to be judged unbiased? An adversarial opinion draws strength from the author's comment to his mother-in-law who had inquired what sex he hoped his in utero child would be. 'I don't particularly mind so long as it's a liar' he replied. And then, "a child is no good unless it is charged with fantasy and confidant enough to foist it upon others."

In many ways, this gives insight into what propelled the whole clan. While they thought they were acting justifiably in embroilments, they were primarily responding to what their circle expected of them. And that was to produce well-written and entertaining prose. Much of this book consists of long quotations from the authors' works, including diary entries and correspondence. The relationship between Evelyn and his father is the best developed and the old man's preference for Evelyn's less renoun brother Alec is deeply elaborated. Be assured that the author spares nothing for relations sake.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John Sollami on August 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm sorry to report that I collapsed under the weight of the very personal details Alexander Waugh presented about his famous family. Although the author has an engaging style and a good sense of humor, he uses this book to settle some personal scores and to indulge himself about his family a bit too much for this reader's patience level. I made it through almost 200 pages, but then could not find the point of my continuing. I admit I have not read much of Evelyn Waugh's works, so I did not feel invested in the basic content. I was brought to this work by Alexander Waugh's far more engaging "House of Wittgenstein," where so much more is going on.

If you are not a big Waugh fan, don't enter these pages. If you are, you'll love this bit of intimacy with the family tree and all its odd fruits.
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