The Satiric Nature of The Loved One An by huanghengdong


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Jessica Chu

Mrs. E. Richardson

University English II

12 November 2010

               The Satiric Nature of The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy

Thesis: In The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh satirizes American culture through exaggerations of

American society, comedic character depictions, and ironic expositions.

 I. Exaggerations of American society

   A. Whispering Glades

       1. Use of euphemisms

       2. Use of art

   B. Film industry

       1. Egotism

       2. Fraud

   C. Incomprehensible illogicalities

II. Comedic character depictions

   A. Juxtaposition of Dennis Barlow and Mr. Joyboy

   B. Aimée Thanatogenos

       1. Contradicted appearance

       2. Questionable religion

III. Ironic expositions

   A. Manipulation of names

       1. Aimée Thanatogenos
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   2. Mr. Joyboy

   3. Happier Hunting Ground

   4. Mr. Slump

B. Comedic approach to often solemn ideas

   1. Death

   2. Love
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Jessica Chu

Mrs. E. Richardson

University English II

12 November 2010

               The Satiric Nature of The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy

       Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy is a satiric novel

examining the funeral business and film industry of the United States through the eyes of a

young British poet, Dennis Barlow. Dennis originally comes to Hollywood to become a

screenplay writer and work in the film business like his uncle, Sir Francis Hinsley. This

endeavor does not succeed, causing him to seek employment at the Happier Hunting Ground, a

pet mortuary. At Megalopolitan Studios, Sir Francis Hinsley’s main task is to give a new image

to an actress, Juanita del Pablo, but he encounters some difficulties and is fired, causing him to

take his own life. After Sir Francis Hinsley commits suicide, his gruesome body is taken to

Whispering Glades, a fancy funeral and burial home based on the real life Forest Lawn, where

Dennis meets the captivating Aimée Thanatogenos. Dennis falls in love with Aimée just as she

is discovering the affection of Mr. Joyboy, the head mortician. The story follows their erratic

love triangle and the strange workings of Whispering Glades seen through the eyes of a native

Brit. The comedy throughout the story allows readers, even American readers, to laugh at the

absurdities of these strange American rituals. In The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh satirizes

American culture through exaggerations of American society, comedic character depictions, and

ironic expositions.

       Waugh embellishes Whispering Glades as an exaggerated American view of death

through the use of euphemisms. When Dennis Barlow first enters the funeral home, he reads a
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quote by Wilbur Kenworthy, the Dreamer and the creator of Whispering Glades, stating, “Behold

I dreamed a dream and I saw a New Earth sacred to HAPPINESS. There amid all that Nature

and Art could offer to elevate the Soul of Man I saw the Happy Resting Place of Countless

Loved Ones” (Waugh 39). This exaggerates the burial ground and also echoes the book of

Revelations in the Christian scripture. Dr. Kenworthy continues to describe that the loved ones,

the name of the deceased used by the employees at Whispering Glades, would be happy in their

burial ground just as the waiting ones are also happy of their loved ones new resting place. This

is an apt example of how the American culture is not able to accept the reality of death. Those at

Whispering Glades also use the reference of the loved one and the waiting ones to tone down the

grim idea of death. Even the names of the many zones in The Park present a euphemistic tone

such as Pilgrims’ Rest, Lovers’ Nest, Shadowland, Poets’ Corner, and Lake Island, which show

how Waugh mocks the American view of death. Whispering Glades even provides gaudy and

flashy slumber rooms where the loved one is displayed in his or her casket or on a chaise longue

for the waiting ones to pass through. Later, the cosmetician, Aimée Thanatogenos, questions

Dennis about the current state and normal physical appearance of Sir Francis in order to make

him look as natural as possible. Here, Aimée shows her admiration of Mr. Joyboy’s work and

the beautiful corpses he is able to fashion. Critic James Carens comments, “The Loved One

gives concrete form to these views as it builds up a picture of an institution devoted to evading

reality and to substituting a decadent materialism for traditional moral concepts” (21). Another

contrast to a true view of death is seen when Dennis inspects the mortician’s artwork. He finds

the unrealistic perfection of Sir Francis’s skin and joyful smile, loved by Aimée and Mr. Joyboy,

more horrifying than his disfigured and colored appearance after his suicide. These examples
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amplify Waugh’s subtle use of euphemisms to give an exaggerated view of death in American


       Waugh is able to further reinforce the atypical ideas of American society’s views of death

through the use of art at Whispering Glades. At common funeral homes the mood is supposed to

be reflective and humble, but at Whispering Glades it is like an attraction of art and tacky

interpretations of poetry. The zones of the burial ground, called The Park, are categorized and

can be chosen by the preference of the loved one or waiting ones. There is also a zone for the

rich called Lake Island of Innisfree, which appears fake compared to the poem it is modeled

after, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats. The closer a plot is to the water, the

more expensive it costs. Prices also range differently if the burial plot is beside a certain piece of

artwork, sculpture, or church. The hostess of Whispering Glades tells Dennis about some art

works stating, “‘Then there is Lovers’ Nest, zoned about a very, very beautiful marble replica of

Rodin’s famous statue, the Kiss’” (43-44). Whispering Glades even provides inspirational

messages that sound throughout the Park in large speakers and inscriptions everywhere around

the gravesites and on statues. The Park also contains beautiful swans, a magnificent landscape,

gaudy gates, and an incomprehensible number of statues. Waugh uses art in Whispering Glades

confirming that every feature was used to eradicate the reality of death seen by Americans.

       Another industry comically satirized by Waugh is the stereotypical and vain film business

of Hollywood. He also emphasizes on the fraudulent nature of the film and funeral industry.

Formerly Baby Aaronson, Juanita del Pablo, the actress Sir Francis was assigned to transform,

was a flamenco singer who now is reborn as a “winsome colleen” (Beaty 173). She decides to

use Sir Francis’s funeral to her advantage. As critic Don Nilsen observes, “Thus, Juanita del

Pablo is a sexy starlet whose career has been personally developed by Sir Francis Hinsley, shows
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up at his funeral to sing ‘The Wearing of the Green’” (227). This song is in her next movie and

she is using Sir Francis’s funeral as a ploy to promote herself. Nilsen goes on to explain that this

song is a “fiery IRA song, which is symbolic of the Irish cause, and which is sung to denounce

the British” (227). Since Sir Francis is English, it is strangely ironic that Juanita would sing this

Irish song at his funeral. She decides to take this time that is supposed to honor Sir Francis to

expand her own egocentric career and insult her former agent. Paul Doyle agrees, stating that

these events “indicate the basic absurdity, incongruity, and irreverence which characterize the

movie colony.” At the beginning of the plot, Sir Francis even gives Dennis advice to not fall into

the influences of the film business by stating, “‘The studios keep us going with a pump. We are

still just capable of a few crude reactions—nothing more. If we ever got disconnected from our

bottle, we should simply crumble’” (14). Gene Phillips confirms the irony of this phrase because

after Sir Francis is fired from his studio job “having outlived his usefulness, he goes home and

hangs himself” (81). These exaggerations of fraud and selfishness in the American film industry

allow Waugh to poke fun at its ridiculous nature.

       Waugh also makes use of incomprehensible illogicalities to create hidden comedy

exaggerating America’s way of life. One example is found when Dennis is writing a poem for

Sir Francis’s funeral, “A peach without a stone. That was the metaphor for Frank Hinsley.

Dennis recalled that he had once tried to eat one of Mr. Kaiser’s much-advertised products and

had discovered a ball of damp, sweet cotton-wool. Poor Frank Hinsley, it was very like him”

(86). While praising the taste of the seedless peach, he is actually indicating it is unappetizing as

well as insulting Sir Francis Hinsley by comparing him to the flavorless peach. The peach is no

longer an authentic peach because there is no pit. Waugh is using this seedless peach to compare

people in the film industry, indicating the lack of personality and originality. Another example is
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found when Sir Francis tells Dennis that “‘They are a very decent, generous lot of people out

here and they don’t expect you to listen. . . . It’s the secret of social ease in this country. They

talk entirely for their own pleasure. Nothing they say is designed to be heard’” (5). These

observations by Sir Francis reveal the superficiality of his own social connections and how he

interprets what they say as meaningless. Frederick Beaty suggests, “[Waugh’s] remarks, though

meant as praise, can be seen as inadvertent condemnation by the reader, who realizes that much

in this baffling society defeats the purpose for which it was intended” (173). This evidence

allows the reader to see how Waugh is able to satirize the traits of many Americans through

numerous subtle interpretations in the text.

        Waugh is also able to fuse comedy throughout this dark novel through the juxtaposition

of the two conflicting male characters, Dennis Barlow and Mr. Joyboy. Mr. Joyboy and Dennis

both possess unique and strange ways of showing Aimée their own affection. Dennis is able to

court Aimée through the use of poetry after their meeting at Lake Island, where she tells him

about her life before Whispering Glades. They talk about her work and his poems, but Dennis

avoids talking about his occupation because Aimée sees the Happier Hunting Ground as a

mockery of Whispering Glades. The narrator observes that she is indifferent towards him until

he mentions he is writing a poem: “Until then she had treated him with that impersonal

insensitive friendliness which takes the place of ceremony in that land of waifs and strays. Now

her eyes widened. ‘Did you say a poem?’” (87-88). On the other hand, Mr. Joyboy ironically is

only able to show his love for Aimée through death. Mr. Joyboy goes on to say, “‘Miss

Thanatogenos, for you the Loved Ones just naturally smile.’ . . . ‘It’s true, Miss Thanatogenos. It

seems I am just powerless to prevent it. When I am working for you there’s something inside me

says ‘He’s on his way to Miss Thanatogenos’ and my fingers just seem to take control. Haven’t
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you noticed it?’” (69). Mr. Joyboy also appears both “cartoonish and bland” compared to Dennis

(Davis). Aimée finds Dennis intriguing because she has never encountered an English poet.

She enjoys the poems he frequently sends to her, which are taken from other famous poems.

Aimée especially likes the following line from Keats’s poem, “Half in love with easeful death”

(96). She sees “Ode to Nightingale” as exactly “what I’ve thought so often and haven’t been

able to express” when she tries to explain her feelings about death and art (96). The mere

differences of the two rivals create an entertaining battle over the love and affection of Aimée.

       Waugh also uses comedic characterization of both Mr. Joyboy and Dennis through their

physical, social, and cultural traits. Waugh sees Dennis as “a young man of sensibility rather

than of sentiment” (37). Dennis is a British expatriate poet who takes a job at the Happier

Hunting Ground, which his uncle finds grotesque. Mr. Joyboy is the head mortician of

Whispering Glades and well regarded in his profession. The women who work there all swoon

over his charm and excellence as an embalmer. The narrator offers Mr. Joyboy’s stock

appearance by stating, “he had scant eyebrows and invisible eyelashes; the eyes behind his

pince-nez were pinkish-grey; his hair, though neat and scented, was sparse; his hands were

fleshy; his best feature was perhaps his teeth and they though white and regular seemed rather

too large for him; he was a trifle flat-footed and more than a trifle paunchy” (66-67). To most

people, this is an unattractive description of a man, but to Aimée, he is very appealing. She finds

her suitors both attractive; however, Aimée is faced with the issue of Dennis’s unethical trait,

unknown British heritage, and uncultured lifestyle compared to Mr. Joyboy, who is ethical and

very well known as an embalmer. Dennis also presents the idea of becoming a nonsectarian

minister in order to feel a closer connection to Aimée through her work at Whispering Glades.

Later, Aimée discovers a surprise when Mr. Joyboy invites her over to his home to meet his
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mother. Beaty acknowledges, “Most disillusioning is her discovery that Joyboy is dominated by

a rude, vulgar mother, who has psychologically castrated him” (178). Mr. Joyboy discovers that

Dennis works at the Happier Hunting Ground and that the poems he sends Aimée are

plagiarized. The death of his mother’s parrot comes at a convenient time to uncover the truth

about Dennis to Aimée. One of their only similarities is that they are around death constantly

and have a strange intimacy with the notion of death. The three fall into a volatile yet comedic

love triangle that will not reach resolution until the end.

       Waugh also satirizes the thoughts and actions of Americans through the characterization

of Aimée Thanatogenos. When Aimée is introduced she is described with a contradicted

appearance. The narrator illustrates her looks as she is walking towards Dennis: “Her hair was

dark and straight, her brows wide, her lips were artificially tinctured, . . . Her full face was oval,

her profile pure and classical and light. Her eyes greenish and remote, with a rich glint of

lunacy” (55). Dennis is attracted to her because she is different from every other girl he has met.

He wants a girl who he is not able to find the same product and same views of across the

continent. Dennis claims that she was a decadent but as Robert Davis states, “She does have

aspirations toward culture and spirituality.” But critic Carens also argues, “The Loved One is an

Anglo-American tragedy and that Dennis is also decadent” (22). Dennis is very interested in the

workings of Whispering Glades and is very curious about Aimée’s involvement with her job.

Aimée’s lack of education is also an advantage for Dennis to use his poetry to trick her. Beaty

reasons, “Her delusions about poetry and its connection with death make her highly susceptible

to Dennis’s amorous, melancholy verses until she is scandalized by the discovery that they are

plagiarized” (176). She becomes fascinated with poetry and creates connections between that

and her work. When T.J. Ross examines Aimée, he claims, “Her education has allowed her no
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hint of the effects of either art or passion” (160). Waugh’s depiction of Aimée represents a dark,

comical image of an eccentric American girl, therefore supporting his strange view of


       Aimée Thanatogenos’s indecisiveness towards religion further derides Waugh’s view of

American society. Aimée is fully committed to Whispering Glades, and the only other place she

seeks for advice when it is not available at work is the local newspaper’s advice columnist, Guru

Brahmin. When she is facing the challenge of choosing between Dennis and Mr. Joyboy, she

does not choose to confide in a religion but instead in Guru Brahmin and the wisdom of

Whispering Glades. Beaty writes, “Her morbid ‘religion’ proves so deficient, however, in

offering spiritual strength for the problems of life that at the time of her amatory dilemma she

turns for advice to the fraudulent Guru Brahmin” (176). Her bitter approach to religion possibly

comes from her father’s unsuccessful investment into the Los Angeles-based church of the Four

Square Gospel founded by evangelist Aimée McPherson, for whom she is named. She later

states in a letter to Guru Brahmin, “I do not think [Dennis] has any religion. Neither have I

because I was a progressive at College and had an unhappy upbringing as far as religion went

and other things too, but I am ethical” (102). Aimée explains she has had a troubled life and is

emotionally stable. She does not understand how to act when life is unbearable. Later, Aimée

discovers Dennis’s deceitful ways and becomes newly engaged to Mr. Joyboy. During a

confrontation with Dennis, he reminds her, “‘You loved me and swore to love me eternally with

the most sacred oath in the religion of Whispering Glades’” (143). She feels guilty and goes

back to her “concrete cell which she called her apartment” and she “fell victim to all the devils of

doubt” (144). She is in a state of confusion and asks Mr. Joyboy to come speak with her but he

refuses. Aimée frantically seeks help from the Guru Brahmin but is left with Mr. Slump who has
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just been discharged from the paper. Her naïve attitude, gullible nature, and risky faith that she

has in Mr. Slump causes her to follow through with his advice and commit a tragic suicide.

Aimée’s unconventional religious beliefs cause her to make an irrational and irreversible

decision leading to her destruction. Waugh is able to use Aimée’s character to exemplify the

irrational foolishness of Americans.

       Waugh is further able to show humor through many of his ironic expositions presented

throughout the novel such as the manipulation of names. Aimée Thanatogenos is a prime

example of Waugh’s clever use of names. Thanatogenos literally means, “loved one born of

death” in Greek. This is ironic because Aimée loves her job at Whispering Glades and it is as if

she was born to be a cosmetician for the dead. Nilsen also declares, “Aimée is ‘the loved one,’

but this name is ironic, because Barlow is not very loving toward her” (227). Both Dennis and

Mr. Joyboy love Aimée, but she is not able to choose between the mother lover and the cheating

poet. Eventually, she cannot handle it any longer and ironically chooses death as her final fate.

Mr. Joyboy’s name is also manipulated as ironic because he is a mortician, a usually morbid and

depressing occupation. The name of the pet mortuary, The Happier Hunting Ground, is also

ironic because it is a funeral home for pets where they are not happy because they are dead and

usually burned. Mr. Slump, also known as Guru Brahmin, is an ironic name for him because he

is basically in a slump. Critic Phillips adds, “Her letters are actually answered by Mr. Slump,

who lives in an ever-increasing alcoholic haze” (84). Mr. Slump is steadily deteriorating

especially due to his smoking and alcoholism as depicted by the narrator, “For the first hours of

every day he was possessed by a cough which arose from tartarean depths and was relieved only

by whisky. On bad mornings it seemed to the suffering secretary that Mr. Slump would vomit. .

. . He retched, shivered, and wiped his face with his handkerchief” (118). Finally, Mr. Slump is
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fired from his job just as Aimée seeks him for advice. His indifferent personality causes him to

give her the impatient and rude advice that leads her to her death. Waugh uses ironic names to

give the novel a witty and brilliant edge.

       Waugh also presents another ironic exposition through the amusing use of usually solemn

ideas such as death and love. Death is a recurring theme in The Loved One shown through Sir

Francis, Whispering Glades, The Happier Hunting Ground, and Aimée Thanatogenos. Death can

also almost be seen as an art, especially to Mr. Joyboy and Aimée because of the fastidious

nature of their professions. The mere gaudy formalities of organizing Sir Francis’s funeral at

Whispering Glades is funny because every single aspect reduces the reality of death through a

perfectly articulated corpse and special burial zone. The Happier Hunting Ground even provides

a card to the owners of the dead animal on the anniversary of its death. Aimée’s feelings

towards the Happier Hunting Ground are indicated when she states, “‘They try and do everything

the same as [Whispering Glades]. It seems kinda blasphemous’” (95). This is comical because

Dennis works there and she is unknowingly insulting him. Later, Mr. Joyboy discovers Aimée’s

death by lethal injection in his workroom. Also, the way Mr. Joyboy and Dennis go about

Aimée’s death is facetious. Mr. Joyboy seeks help from Dennis in order to avoid a scandal.

Strangely, Dennis is not greatly affected by the death of Aimée because he is not sentimental.

Ironically, he agrees to cremate her at the Happier Hunting Ground instead of at Whispering

Glades. Dennis also remembers to write in the books that a postcard should be sent every year to

Mr. Joyboy with a message saying, “Your little Aimée is wagging her tail in heaven tonight,

thinking of you” (163). Dennis even decides to recite a plagiarized poem before the cremation of

Aimée, and it can be seen that Dennis’s love for Aimée perishes the moment he realizes she has

died. Naomi Milthorpe supports this justification by adding, “The disposal of Aimée’s body is
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ripe with the humor of extreme detachment” (211). Beaty also uncovers Mr. Joyboy’s fading

love for Aimée and adds, “[Mr. Joyboy] is thoroughly debased by his willingness to conceal

Aimée’s death in order to save his reputation and his ‘Mom’” (178). The only reason Dennis is

aiding Mr. Joyboy is for a passage back to England, therefore, creating the story that Aimée has

run away with him. Neither Dennis nor Mr. Joyboy truly loved Aimée or else her death would

have been dealt with in a sentimental and patient way. Waugh is able to weave humorous details

in usually serious situations such as the deaths of Sir Francis and Aimée and Aimée’s love


        Waugh satirizes the American culture by fusing a humorous mood through the plot by

exaggerating American customs, giving characters a dark witty edge, and using ironic

explications. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh is a clear representation of his feelings about

death and the notion of how Americans deal with death in both the funeral and film industry.

Whispering Glades diminishes the reality of death through its materialistic and extravagant

services it provides to a loved one. Beaty indicates, “By glorifying and preserving the body, it

glossed over the face of mortal decay. By disguising death as an entrance into immediate

happiness, it obliterated the possibility of purgatory and hell” (181). Waugh also distinguishes

the film industry as an egotistical and fraudulent business whose only concern is what others

may think. The characterization of both Mr. Joyboy and Dennis contrast each other and cause

Aimée to have doubts on whom to be with. Aimée herself is a comical character because she

frequently has no idea what to do with her future. She is naïve and gullible and believes

everything Dennis, Mr. Joyboy, and Guru Brahmin tell her. Aimée worships Whispering Glades

almost as if it is her religion. Many of the names in this novel exemplify Waugh’s use of irony

such as Thanatogenos, Mr. Joyboy, and Mr. Slump. One of Waugh’s greatest sources of comedy
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come from his ironic approach towards death and love. Death is usually melancholic and sad,

but through the numerous vulgarities of Whispering Glades and the death of many characters,

Waugh satirizes Americans’ lack of reality and refusal to accept one’s death. The love Mr.

Joyboy has for Aimée disappears as soon as he realizes a scandal like this could ruin his career

and mother. Dennis only sees the disposal of Aimée’s corpse as a ticket back home to England

where he belongs. Through these dark plot lines, Waugh is able to create a novel so brilliantly

ridiculous and witty that Americans cannot help but laugh at themselves.
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                                         Works Cited

Beaty, Frederick L. The Ironic World of Evelyn Waugh. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois UP, 1992.


Carens, James F. The Satiric Art of Evelyn Waugh. Seattle: The U of Washington P, 1966. Print.

Davis, Robert Murray. "Sex, Death, and Art in Hollywood: The Day of the Locust and The

       Loved One." Evelyn Waugh Newsletter & Studies 38.2 (2007): 1-4. Humanities

       International Complete. Web. 23 Sept. 2010.

Doyle, Paul A. "Evelyn Waugh." British Novelists, 1930-1959. Ed. Bernard Stanley Oldsey.

       Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 15. Literature

       Resource Center. Web. 9 Nov. 2010.

Milthorpe, Naomi. "Death is at the Elbow": The Loved One and Love Among the Ruins.

       Renascence 62.3 (2010): 201-217. Humanities International Complete. Web. 23 Sept.


Nilsen, Don L. F., ed. Humor in Twentieth-Century British Literature. Westport, CT:

       Greenwood, 2000. Print.

Phillips, Gene D. Evelyn Waugh’s Officers, Gentlemen, and Rogues: The Fact Behind His

       Fiction. Chicago: Nelson, 1975. Print.

Ross, T.J. "Reconsidering Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One." Modern Age 37.2 (1995): 156-162.

       Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Nov. 2010.

Waugh, Evelyn. The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy. Boston: Little, 1948. Print.

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