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Reading the party: festivity as waste in Evelyn Waugh’s 1930s fiction


Milthorpe, N and Murphy, E, Reading the party: festivity as waste in Evelyn Waugh's 1930s fiction, Journal of Festive Studies, 1, (1) pp. 36-51. ISSN 2641-9939 (2019) [Refereed Article]


Copyright Statement

Copyright 2019 the authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

DOI: doi:10.33823/jfs.2019.1.1.20


This article outlines an approach to understanding festivity through the lens of literary texts. Studies of festivity in early twentieth-century literature center largely on the image of the party. Representations of parties in the literary texts of this period range widely, and the sheer number of parties found in this body of literature highlights the shared interest of writers of the time to explore the implications of festive sociability. Given these parameters a reader might expect the literature of the period to show parties positively: as utopian occasions for transformative jouissance leading to catharsis and (satisfying) narrative closure. Yet many texts of this time represent festivity not as pleasurable renewal but as unpleasurable waste. This is particularly the case in fiction by the English satirist Evelyn Waugh (1903-66). In Waugh’s texts, celebration tends toward destructive (rather than restorative) disorder. This paper will read Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies (1930) and short story "Cruise: Letters from a Young Lady of Leisure" (1933), using Roger Caillois’s theory of games, to explore the ways in which parties become sites of wasteful play. Moreover, as this article will demonstrate, literary texts are central documents for understanding the cultural history and subjective experience of parties. They evidence the felt and imagined experiences of social and moral transgression; bodily, mental and affective transformation; and class, race, gender, and sexual boundary-crossing occasioned by festivity. In that sense, the discipline of literary studies can contribute to a robust interdisciplinary approach to understanding festivity.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:literary studies, Evelyn Waugh, satire, interwar literature, parties in literature, Roger Caillois
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Literary studies
Research Field:British and Irish literature
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Communication
Objective Field:Literature
UTAS Author:Milthorpe, N (Dr Naomi Milthorpe)
UTAS Author:Murphy, E (Dr Eliza Murphy)
ID Code:132816
Year Published:2019
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2019-05-21
Last Modified:2022-08-26
Downloads:22 View Download Statistics

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