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 writer 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.