Helena (Waugh novel)

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First edition
Author Evelyn Waugh
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Chapman and Hall
Publication date
Preceded by The Loved One 
Followed by Love Among the Ruins. A Romance of the Near Future 

Helena, published in 1950, is the sole historical novel of Evelyn Waugh.

In the preface Waugh writes in part:

”The reader may reasonably inquire: how much is true? The Age of Constantine is strangely obscure. Most of the dates and hard facts, confidently given in the encyclopedia, soften and dissolve on examination. The life of St. Helena begins and ends in surmise and legend. The story is just something to be read; in fact a legend.” [1]

It follows the quest of Helena of Constantinople to find the relics of the cross on which Christ was crucified. Helena, a Christian, was the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I.

The book has been described as lacking the characteristic biting satire for which Waugh is best known. However, the figure of Constantius Chlorus, Constantine's father, was interpreted by friends of the novelist as a caricature of Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery, a man Waugh mocked as a vainglorious social climber. More generally, the corruption and instability of the Roman society Waugh describes is reminiscent of the malaise and pragmatism that prevails over tradition and chivalric ethics at the end of the Sword of Honour trilogy. Helena's saintliness does not allow her to save her son from an imperial destiny she fears and disapproves of (at one point she fantasises about him becoming a provincial colonel); nor is she able to save her innocent grandson Crispus from being murdered on Constantine's orders in a palace struggle.

The novel includes the unlikely tradition from Geoffrey of Monmouth that Helena was a British princess, daughter of King Coel.[citation needed]

Waugh always described Helena as his best work. Since his death it has received little critical attention and is usually regarded even by admirers as a minor work.[citation needed]


  1. ^ 1903-1966., Waugh, Evelyn, (2012). Helena : a novel. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316216494. OCLC 809250531.