The Decline and Fall of Evelyn Waugh’s Octopuses


There are many octopuses in the literary world of English novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-66). From the monstrous metaphor of Empire inherited from the late 19th Century, through to The Octopus and England (1928) critique of sprawling suburban architecture inherited from his friend Clough Williams. In Waugh’s novel though there are other octopuses – living creatures in varying states of entrapment and wildness. In Waugh, the octopus shifts from allegory to animal throughout a series of novels that recuperates the sentience and intelligence of the cephalopod, albeit within a highly conservative frame. This paper traces Waugh’s fascination with the octopus beyond metaphor and allegory, and attempts to locate the narrative of the caged octopuses that so often appear in his novels.


Toby Juliff is lecturer in Critical Practices and coordinator of the Fine Arts Honors program at the University of Tasmania. From 2012 to 2017 he was lecturer in Critical and Theoretical Studies at the University of Melbourne. A curator, historian and artist, Toby has published widely on modern sculpture, contemporary video and heritage studies. Recent essays explore the histories of British Art in New York (ANZJA), confessional video art (Journal of Visual Practices) and the interface of participatory art and cultural heritage (Emotion, Affective Practices and the Past in the Present). Recently curated exhibitions include Gothic pathologies, quarantines, and creative explorations of fear and transmission (Plimsoll Gallery). He lives and works in Hobart.