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Literature / The Loved One

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The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy is a 1948 satirical short novel by English author Evelyn Waugh.

Young aspiring poet Dennis Barlow leaves England and goes to Los Angeles, hoping to get a job as a screenwriter. He stays with his uncle, Sir Francis Hinsley, who now works at Megalopolitan Studios. To make ends meet he gets a job at The Happier Hunting Ground, a mortuary and cemetery for pets. This horrifies the image-conscious members of Hollywood's tight-knit British expatriate community, led by pompous character actor Sir Ambrose Abercrombie. They urge Dennis to get a more respectable job, but fail.

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After losing his job at the studio, Sir Francis kills himself. To make funeral arrangements, Dennis visits Whispering Glades, a huge memorial park. He immediately falls in love with Aimée Thanatogenos, an alluring, naïve cosmetician at Whispering Glades. But Dennis soon finds himself drawn not only into the odd Southern California funeral home community, but into an equally odd Love Triangle with Aimée and Mr. Joyboy, the haughty Senior Mortician at Whispering Glades.

Inspired by Waugh's experiences in Hollywood working on an abortive attempt at a film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, he aimed his satirical arrow at both the pretensions of British expatriates and the vapid materialism of Southern California.

It was adapted into a film in 1965, directed by Tony Richardson, written by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood, and starring Robert Morse alongside an All-Star Cast.

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This work contains examples of:

  • Advice Backfire: Aimée writes letters to a newspaper advice columnist called The Guru Brahmin whenever she has an issue in her life, and follows his advice to a T. When she finally contacts him in person about a crisis, he jokingly tells her to kill herself. She does.
  • Basement-Dweller: Mr. Joyboy lives with his mother.
  • Black Comedy: Obviously a satire about the funeral business includes a lot of this. Notably, though, the suicides of Francis and Aimée are Played for Drama.
  • Break the Cutie: Aimée's character arc is one big example.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Most obviously Aimée, but all the main characters have some trouble dealing with reality.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Whispering Glades is obviously a stand-in for Forest Lawn.
  • Genius Ditz: Aimée and Mr. Joyboy are extremely good at preparing dead bodies for funerals, but are quite feckless and don't have much in the way of a life outside of their jobs.
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  • Horrible Hollywood: A notable early example. Practically everyone Dennis encounters in LA is either a snob, an airhead, or a boor.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: The Guru Brahmin annoyed with Aimée and her constant pestering, and frustrated that she doesn't seem to know how to think for herself, drunkenly tells her to commit suicide, unaware that she'll actually do it.
  • Ironic Name: Mr. Joyboy is a dour, serious, self-important person.
  • Last-Name Basis: Mr. Joyboy.
  • Less Embarrassing Term: Responsible for the Title Drop. At Whispering Glades, a corpse is called a Loved One and their family members are called Waiting Ones.
  • Meaningful Name: Several times over with Aimée Thanatogenos. As she explains, she's named after Aimee Semple McPherson, but "Aimée" also means "the loved one" in French. There's disagreement on what exactly the Bilingual Bonus was that Waugh was intending with "Thanatogenos", but it obviously includes "Thanatos", the Greek term for death.
  • Momma's Boy: Mr. Joyboy has a severe case of this, as Aimée is horrified to learn.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Dennis impresses Aimée by presenting her with famous poems then claiming that he actually wrote them, which she gullibly believes.
  • Suicide as Comedy: While the suicide of Aimée isn't Played for Laughs, the chosen method is amusingly novel: she injects herself with embalming fluid.
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