William H. Pritchard at The Hudson Review:
Edmund Wilson was the first critic who drew a sharp line between early and later Waugh by vastly preferring the early. His first essay, in 1944, titled “The Art of Evelyn Waugh,” took us briefly and admiringly through the early novels; then, after having readBrideshead two years later, Wilson regretted Waugh’s abandoning of the “comic convention” in the latter reaches of that novel and particularly at its end, with the conversion of both Lord Marchmain and the skeptical narrator, Charles Ryder. A “Catholic tract,” Wilson called it, and probably no one could have less sympathy for such a tract than the sturdy atheist Wilson. Perhaps the most crucial motive of Ann Pasternak Slater’s book is her attempt to put things right by making a case for the greatness of “Catholic” Waugh’s creation in Brideshead and the war trilogy. Her emphasis can be seen in the number of pages devoted to later rather than earlier Waugh, roughly 200 for the later, 100 for the earlier. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate Comic Waugh, but she may have felt the earlier novels had been more sympathetically dealt with than the later ones. Thus Decline and Fall, which Kingsley Amis thought Waugh’s masterwork, is allotted nine pages; Brideshead gets thirty, suggesting that Decline and Fallhas already been well scouted, Brideshead not so well.
Overall I concurred with Pasternak Slater’s judgments about the novels from Decline and Fall to Put Out More Flags. The latter she finds underrated in comparison with its predecessors, and she is right to pick out the great comic sequence about the displaced children, the Connollys, whom Basil Seal brilliantly palms off on unsuspecting neighbors; then when they prove ghastly, makes money by taking them back and beginning over. Scoop she sees as Waugh’s “happiest and most intricately constructed novel,” and she is resourceful in making a case for Black Mischief as a book whose canvas has vastly expanded over its predecessors, and whose “tangle of modernism and barbarity” Waugh’s narrative explores.