Vile Bodies

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Vile Bodies
Viles Bodies.jpg
Jacket of the first UK edition of Vile Bodies
Author Evelyn Waugh
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Chapman & Hall
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
ISBN 0-14-118287-3
OCLC 42700827
Preceded by Decline and Fall
Followed by Black Mischief

Vile Bodies is a 1930 novel by Evelyn Waugh satirising the Bright Young People: decadent young London society between World War I and World War II.


The title is a literal translation of the Latin phrase "corpora vilia," the plural of "corpus vile," meaning a person or thing fit only to be the object of experimentation. The characters in the book are unwittingly at the mercy of the author's whims in the same way that, according to Biblical tradition, human lives are subject to the designs of their supernatural creator. This form of mirroring is a common literary metaphor. It has been suggested that the title could be a reference to St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 3:21 which, [in the Authorised Version or King James Bible of 1611], reads "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body," but it is hard to see any way in which this interpretation relates to the plot or themes of the book. The original title was to be Bright Young Things, which went on to be that of Stephen Fry's 2003 film adaptation. Waugh changed it because he thought the phrase had become too clichéd. The title that he eventually settled on also appears in a comment made by the novel's narrator in reference to the characters' party-driven lifestyle: "All that succession and repetition of massed humanity... Those vile bodies...",[1] which would tend to support the translation of "corpora vilia" as the title's source.


Heavily influenced by the cinema and by the disjointed style of T. S. Eliot, Vile Bodies is Waugh's second and most ostentatiously "modern" novel.[2] Fragments of dialogue and rapid scene changes are held together by the dry, almost perversely unflappable narrator.[3] Waugh claims it was the first novel in which much of the dialogue takes place on the telephone.

The book was dedicated to B. G. and D. G. (Bryan and Diana Guinness).[4]


Adam Fenwick-Symes is the novel's antihero; his quest to marry Nina parodies the conventions of romantic comedy, as the traditional foils and allies prove distracted and ineffectual. War looms, Adam's circle of friends disintegrates, and Adam and Nina's engagement founders. At the book's end, we find Adam alone on an apocalyptic European battlefield. The book shifts in tone from light-hearted romp to bleak desolation (Waugh himself later attributed it to the breakdown of his first marriage halfway through the book's composition[5]). Others have defended the novel's curious ending as a poetically just reversal of the conventions of comic romance.[6][7]


David Bowie cited the novel as the primary influence on his composition of the song "Aladdin Sane".[8]

A stage adaptation of Vile Bodies, endorsed by the Evelyn Waugh estate, was staged at the Warwick Arts Centre in March 2012.[9][10]

In a Ustream chat, Ezra Koenig, of Vampire Weekend, said it was one of his favourite books.


  • Adam Fenwick-Symes
  • Nina Blount
  • Ginger Littlejohn
  • Colonel Blount
  • The Drunken Major
  • Lottie Crump
  • The Honourable Agatha Runcible
  • Simon Balcairn
  • Miles Malpractice
  • Mrs Melrose Ape


  1. ^ Waugh Vile Bodies, p104.
  2. ^ Frick "Style and Structure".
  3. ^ Waugh, Evelyn, Vile Bodies, p. 146. A good example is the death of Simon Balcairn, a declining earl whose gossip columnist name is "Mr. Chatterbox"; his death forms a bridge between chapters VI and VII. ("He shut the door and the window and opened the door of the gas-oven. Inside it was very black and dirty and smelled of meat. He spread a sheet of newspaper on the lowest tray and lay down, resting his head on it. Then he noticed that by some mischance he had chosen Vanburgh's gossip-page in the Morning Despatch. He put in another sheet. At first he held his breath. Then he thought that was silly and gave a sniff. The sniff made him cough, and coughing made him breathe, and breathing made him feel very ill; but soon he fell into a coma and presently died...Then Adam became Mr. Chatterbox.")
  4. ^ "Obituary: Lady Diana Mosley". BBC. 13 August 2003. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Waugh Preface to the 1965 edition.
  6. ^ Hollis Evelyn Waugh.
  7. ^ O'Dea "What's in a Name?".
  8. ^ Circus magazine, July 1973
  9. ^
  10. ^

Further reading[edit]