Why Evelyn Waugh Became a Female

This is an age of gender fluidity, when many are embarrassed to be caught occupying one of the two traditional gender identities year after year, as if no progress at all has been made on the gender frontier. Not Evelyn Waugh, however. The great British evelyn waughwriter lived 63 years as a man, and if he is still paying attention, he undoubtedly has noticed that Time magazine listed him last week as the 97th most-read female writer on campus today.

Though nobody knows why Waugh did it, it’s fair to say that changing one’s sexual identity 50 years after one’s death is still considered unusual. A few wags have suggested that Waugh headed for the female list of all-time writers out of cowardice: he feared he wouldn’t make the top 100 if he had to face big-time male writers like Shakespeare and George Eliot.

That would have been unworthy. Still, we all know that Time rarely makes things up, so there must have been some indication that Waugh was ready for a change, even after so many quiet, basically decision-free years.  For evidence, Time likely looked to Waugh’s autobiography, which reveals him/her fretting that people took Evelyn as a girl’s name. Didn’t Freud teach us that things often mean their opposite? So it fair to deduce, as Time’s editors obviously did, that fretting=yearning.

Also, Waugh tellingly had a long romance with a woman named Evelyn. This was no coincidence but a clear indication (how did we miss it?) that he/she identified so immensely with the girly name and considered marriage as a way of possessing even more of it, until internal conflict forced him to put off the big gender decision until the quieter time after death.

Besides, the writer’ full name was Arthur Evelyn Waugh, so if he wasn’t committed to a long and exhausting 116-year march toward  a fresh gender identity, as now seems likely, why didn’t he just call himself Artie Waugh? No, Time magazine is right. Waugh wanted change and sought it boldly, though perhaps a bit slowly.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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11 thoughts on “Why Evelyn Waugh Became a Female

  1. “Also, Waugh tellingly had a long romance with a woman named Evelyn.”

    Perhaps it’s fortunate that that didn’t culminate in a marriage. It would have made introductions rather awkward.

  2. I wonder if the reference to George Elliot might be lost on more than a few? Did he (George Elliot, that is!) make Time’s list of outstanding male authors? Yes, I know. Time doesn’t create such lists. It would be sexist or patriarchal or misogynistic.

  3. Thoroughly delightful! A welcome reminder of why “Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police” has kept me company so very well for two decades. Artie Waugh? No one with a name like that could have written “Brideshead Revisited.” It took a gal like Evelyn to do it.

  4. Waugh figured (s)he could take the safe route, not having to go up against male heavyweights like P.D. James and Georges Sand.

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