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3.61  ·  Rating details ·  1,161 ratings  ·  142 reviews
“In Helena, the play of words and the fireworks, the exquisite descriptions of landscapes, and even the finished portraits of the heroine, her husband, and her son, are always subordinate to the author’s broad vision of the mixed anguish and hope with which the world of Constantine’s time was filled.”
New York Herald Tribune

“[Helena] may be read on two levels of appreciat
Paperback, 264 pages
Published March 1st 2005 by Loyola Classics (first published 1950)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,161 ratings  ·  142 reviews

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Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: british
I Want My World Back

I doubt that a recognised talent like Waugh would spend time on an historical fantasy like Helena without a purpose. So reading the book one is constantly searching for his intention. Piety? Whimsey? Correction of historical perceptions? Who knows for sure. But there are some clues worth nothing.

The Roman Empire had its founding myths; but it had no ideology, no coherent theory of itself, and therefore no real culture except what it borrowed from Greece. Instead it had an eco
Dhanaraj Rajan
It is a short novel (historical novel) that speaks of the life of St. Helen, the mother of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, the Great. She is also popularly known for her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and finding the True Cross on which was crucified Jesus Christ.

Few Remarks:

It is an historical novel. And so the history, rather the Roman politics comes more alive than the character. Helen appears as a simple clog in the heavy machine of history. She does not emerge a live character with flesh and b
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: evelyn-waugh
A story about Helena mother of Constantine one of the many Roman Emperors. The story mixes fact with fiction and is entertaining as well as satirical in placed. The clergy trying to hoodwink Helena who sees through their lies and exaggerations.

The first part goes through her life in Britain and courtship with Constantius. Later he divorces her and their son rises to be Emperor but also develops an ego and his wife Fausta manipulates him. However, when she tries to get him to murder his mother H
Robert Corzine
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a very different sort of historical fiction. Waugh does evoke the time and place of the fourth Century Roman Empire but he never leaves you to really imaginatively enter into that world. He's always at your side, nudging the careful reader in the ribs to share a laugh at the expense of self-important intellectuals or effete no-talent artists trying to pass off their lack of ability as refined aesthetic sensibility. Some laughs, he throws in just for the fun of it and because he can (look ...more
Amy Hughes
In this short book Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited) takes a turn with Constantine's famously pious mother Helena. We know little about the woman behind all of the rumors and conjecture so her life is perfectly suited to a fictive rendering. We don't even know where she was born, only that she was rumored to be low-born and that her early life had something do with being around inns and/or horses, possibly but very possibly not including some sort of sexual servitude. Large swaths of her life ...more
Patrick St-Amand
Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting little novel incorporating fiction with historical events. I'll say that if you don't have a Christian background you might find this a bit of a bore. It's not particularly engaging plot-wise but there are some nice satirical moments. ...more
Mar 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Waugh called this book "far the best book I have ever written or ever will write". I would amend that to 'far the best thing he ever tried to write.'

Briefly, the book recreates the life of Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine and credited with finding the cross of Christ hidden at Jerusalem after the crucifixion.

The book's style oscillates between a fictional historical novel and a traditional Life of a Saint. The first three-quarters documents Helena's life, from her hypothetical youth as
Edoardo Albert
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Helena is probably Evelyn Waugh's least regarded novel but it is a personal favourite. In part, that's because of Waugh's portrayal of Helena herself, the mother of the future Emperor Constantine, which is one of his most vivid and affecting character studies. But most of all it is for the single finest passage in Waugh's writing - and there are so many - but Helena's prayer outmasters them all for it is Waugh's prayer for the salvation of his own soul and I can do no better than to quote the fi ...more
Mark Summers
May 19, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a story imaging the life of St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine who "legalized" the practice of Christianity with his Edict of Milan. Helena is herself credited with finding the "True Cross" upon which Jesus called the Christ was crucified. The author of this work, Evelyn Waugh, writes in the preface, "The Age of Constantine is strangely obscure. Most of the dates and hard facts ... soften and dissolve on examination. The life of St. Helena begins and ends in surmise and le ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A completely different book than my love, Brideshead, but that is okay. This novel tells the story of St. Helena and her discovery of the True Cross. Yes, it's a hagiography, but it is also a good story, a commentary on our times, and literary apologetic, as well.

There are delightful moments, such as when Helena's father, King Coel, calls for his pipe, his bowl of food, and three fiddlers. Lots of clever writing by Waugh.

One of the most interesting things about this book is its treatment of conv
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Witty and sometime humorous novella of St. Helen, mixed with a good deal of hagiography. The last few chapters were my favorite part: a "Golden Legend"-type pilgrimage to Jerusalem where Helena finds the True Cross and other relics. I also relished the literary or classical allusions such as Helena's father, King Coel of the Trinovantes calling for mead and music then dismissing his bowl, fiddlers three and pipe. Also Helena takes the young Constantine to "Government House" in her husband's post ...more
Maximilian Nightingale
I loved it! Waugh is pretty clever in how fills in the blanks and makes the whole novel a beautiful reflection on Roman Catholicism, and how it differs from mere mythology or philosophy. A must read for anyone visiting Rome or Jerusalem. Very funny depictions of Constantine and Eusebius too.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-fiction
Let’s first try and classify the genre of Evelyn Waugh’s Helena. His characters—or, at least, many of them—are known to have existed…so the book is historical, nonfiction, if you will. Yet Waugh calls Helena a novel…so it must be fiction. It is also a religious tale, and we may as well add part fantasy, as Waugh plays fast and loose with dreams and myths. There you have it: Helena is a true, fantasy tale of religious, historical fiction!

But the genre doesn’t really matter much when compared to t
May 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
Very odd book, some nice flashes of Waughvian comedy particularly in the contemporary, colloquial dialogue, but they're set pieces within a plodding exposition that is ultimately not only humourless but sanctimonious. Not quite a novel, not quite a hagiography; its inconsistencies suggest less postmodernism avant la lettre than they betray a native satirist (and quintessential Briton of his class and moment) struggling awkwardly to justify and also to subordinate his own sensibilities and talent ...more
A Tissue of Delightful Lies

The three-star rating is a compromise. As a rattling good yarn, and a beautifully written one to boot, this book deserves four. Yet for its proselytizing intent and the liberties it takes with history in order to further that intent, it deserves no more than one.

Evelyn Waugh was a prose stylist of the first rank. There are images and sentences here that are almost Nabokovian--the comparison of the Empress Fausta to a doll left floating in the sea after a shipwreck, for
Matthew Colvin
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
Contains some witty bits, and makes Helena an interesting and likable character. Trashes Constantine unmercifully and probably beyond the reasonable bounds of cynicism. Waugh's Roman Catholic doctrine of relics is presented winsomely, if somewhat heavy handedly, but it did not persuade this Protestant one bit. The best parts of the book are the passages that require a bit of historical knowledge to get the joke, as when Constantine leaves Rome to pope Sylvester, and one of the priests present sa ...more
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
I suppose I should write a few words, because I’m typically such a Waugh fan. This book, though, has almost none of his usual wit evident in works like like Scoop, A Handful of Dust, or even dramatic stories like his famous Brideshead Revisited.

It, instead, has very thick, overwrought sentences. The story follows Helena – the woman who will become Saint Helena – through her life. It’s mostly fiction, tied together with the thin bits of fact they had in the 1940s. It’s marked by Waugh’s absolute
May 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: catholic, history
I read this book years ago after re-reading Waugh's Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. It wasn't your typical "lives of the saints" but Helen appeared very real in this telling of the saint and her search for the true cross of Christ. I need to re-read this book! ...more
Edward Renehan
May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Eloquent and devout. Takes the scattered remnants of facts that we have regarding the life of Helena and her discovery of the True Cross, and weaves them together into an elegant narrative. Waugh emphasizes that this is a novel, with much invention added to what little we know. But there is an essential spiritual truth underlying all.
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was all over the place--It had moments of hilarious observation (like basically everything Helena said), moments of sadness, and long stretches that were utterly boring. Overall, it just didn't work for me but I'm glad I read it because Evelyn is awesome, duh. ...more
Apr 09, 2013 rated it liked it
What a hard language to read. I do not understand half of the words. But I am determined to finish.
Katie Hanna

The relationship is laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame and I'm not in the mood.
Thom Willis
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How delightful!

Loved Waugh's little joke about Edward Gibbon early on when talking about beasts writing history.
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
It was a quick read. Waugh has a writing style that suits the story well. Helena is British which is kind of a historical myth. The ending was nice and satisfying.
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those open-minded folks interested in late Roman era, early Church history or just excellent writing
Well, as almost every other (semi)detailed review already stated that, Evelyn Waugh himself viewed this novel as his finest. And we presume that he knew a thing or two about literature, don’t we? While I tend to respectfully disagree with Waugh on this very matter, certainly severe underappreciation of ‘Helena’ (as almost everyone aside of its author viewed it as a rather minor addition to his oeuvre) is both predictable and unjust.

I’ve said ‘predictable’ since this book somewhat misses the mar
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: catholic-reading
Meh. Another acclaimed novel from a Jesuit publishing house. If I hadn't read such raving reviews and had the highest expectation for this book, I might have enjoyed it more. In the end, it was a clean book, interesting a parts, and mostly respectful of the faith (even if it misrepresented the faith significantly at moments). If I stumbled across those qualities in a modern novel, I'd probably be thrilled.

I found large sections of the book at the beginning confusing. The flowery language created
Apr 07, 2010 rated it liked it
This is not one of Evelyn Waugh's more popular novels, and I've been curious about it, since I first learned about it. While Waugh regarded it as his best work, it's not often that you're able to find in being stocked by a bookseller. Indeed, it's been in and out of print since it was first published back in 1950. So imagine my delight in finding it in Borders, of all places. I snapped it right up.

Having finished it, I don't think it's his best novel. I still think his Sword of Honour trilogy is
Although Waugh’s trademark humour makes this a distinctive work, Helena is not anything like A Handful of Dust or Brideshead Revisited or any of the other droll masterpieces of social commentary that you’ve heard of. It is a novella of just over 200 pages, and it’s historical fiction – a fictionalised life of Helena, Empress of the Roman Empire and the mother of Constantine the Great who reigned from 306–337. The Catholics (and Waugh was a Catholic) made her a saint because she purportedly disco ...more
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If we are to believe one of Evelyn's Waugh's children, Helena was his favorite novel. There is a good bit of religious inquiry in this tale, starting with young Helena's tutelage in Britain where she had a happy, free life under the watch of her father, King Coel. Helena frequently complained she could not get a straight answer when she boldly questioned teachers and the religious. She believed when she was taken by ambitious young man to wife and then away from Britain that she would finally ge ...more
Oct 31, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, boring
Listen, I'm not one to drag the dead, but I mean...the author sure did with the Romans, so I don't think he'd mind.

This book was uncomfortable. Not in the "wow, I'm out of my comfort zone and my world is expanding" way, but more of a "the author sure is spending a lot of time talking about Helena's chest". There was a passage where Helena slept with her husband and the next morning, she rode a horse, which the author claimed reinstated her maidenhood?? Not to mention a literal slave argued that
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Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note. In fact, his book “The Loom of Youth” (1917) a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College. He said of his time there, “…the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was al ...more

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