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Charles Ryder returns to a war torn estate and reminisces in heartbreak and satire about his days at Oxford, while the gilded age declines. The author, who wrote the novel when he was stationed in Croatia during WWII, apologizes for the decorous prose. No need. It’s luscious and prim at once, a fitting style for the undoing of his sentimentality over the lady and friends he thought he knew.
As a young student at Oxford, Charles Ryder chances into a love affair with the eccentric, captivating Sebastian Flyte, younger son of Lord and Lady Marchmain. In time, Ryder is introduced to the rest of the family, and to a world of values he had never imagined existed.
There are many arguments against Brideshead Revisited being considered Waugh's masterpiece. Some maintain (absurdly) that the positive, albeit tragic, vision of the novel neuters the satire, and prefer his earlier works. Others maintain that the Sword of Honor trilogy is more mature, thematically beginning where Brideshead ends. Waugh himself declared Helena to be his best novel, but few agree with him. Yet Brideshead has a power of attraction unique to itself which explains why, whether or not it is Waugh's best-written, it is certainly his best-loved.
I saw the miniseries and thought I need to read the book! The book is beautifully written, but didn't really provide many answers for me. Evelyn Waugh (a man) was married, converted to Roman Catholicism, divorced, remarried, traveled the world (South America, Africa). So, I think much of the story is based on his personal life and experience. I am not Catholic, so do not really understand all the Catholic guilt involved in the story. Everyone loved Sebastian because he was "charming." Charles eventually marries his sister Julia because she reminded him of Sebastian. Charles states, he loved Sebastian because he was the forerunner. The forerunner of what I am not sure, perhaps the beauty and innocence of youth in an era that was sort of falling apart. As a reader, I think we all love Sebastian and to see him fall apart and waste away is disturbing, even though he still firmly believed in his God and his religion. Charles just seems to be along for the ride in this tale of death, decay and destruction and like most of the story characters longing for the days of youth, frivolity, beauty, and innocence.
The story is touching and the writing is fabulous. It is worth reading for the prose alone.
28/12 - I have heard that an artist is never completely happy with their work - despite that I was surprised by what Waugh said about his own book in the preface in this Penguin edition. He was quite dismissive of it, commenting that he would like to bring it up to date, but in order to do so he would have to change the story entirely (and then what's the point?). He said all this in 1959, I hate imagine what he would think of his work in relation to the world of today. He'd probably go about collecting all the editions of Brideshead Revisited and burning them. Although in saying that, the 'cult of the English country house' as he puts it, is in a huge revival thanks to shows like Downton Abbey and all those British 'renovate my crumbling mansion' shows that are so popular on tv right now.
1/1 - I understand what's going on on the surface of this book, but I'm not sure I'm getting any of the deeper themes. I mean, at the beginning of page 72 there's a paragraph detailing some of the activities Charles (our narrator) and Sebastian were filling their time with. Charles likes to remember Sebastian in these moments (rather than so far unmentioned future moments, I guess).I can't help but feel there are more, deeper meanings I'm supposed to be gleaning from some of these passages, but which are flying over my head. I think I'm enjoying the book as much as I would if the themes were as clear as water (rather than mud), but I guess I'll never know for sure.
3/1 - What's with Aloysius the teddy bear? Why isn't Sebastian being mercilessly teased by his fellow classmates? I highly doubt that even the upper class students of universities like Oxford would be able to contain their derision for another student who keeps a teddy bear by his side, and talks to it and sets a place for it at the table as if it's actually alive and capable of eating the food placed before it.
4/1 - Sebastian's desperation to get his hands on some alcohol, no matter what he has to do, or sell, reminds me of a family member's behaviour when he was an active addict. He took piles of DVDs and CDs down to cash converters just to get 20 bucks so that he could go back to his dealer for just a little more heroin. The Marchmain family's reaction to the news that Sebastian has agreed to go hunting reminds me of my family's behaviour whenever our relative made any mention of doing something other than scoring drugs, stuffing his face with lollies, or sleeping. We'd fall all over ourselves to accommodate him, anything to make him happy - cooking his favourite meals, inviting him to watch movies with us - as if any of that would cure him of his addiction and remove the family from the hell life becomes when you're living with an addict. Our addict is now in recovery with 2.5 years of sobriety, but every time he calls there's the terror that he's fallen back down the hole of addiction.
So, I understand what Sebastian's family are going through. I think the only way Sebastian's likely to stop drinking is through hospitalisation and a complete absence of alcohol anywhere in his vicinity. Allowing him one or two drinks at dinner, then expecting him to abstain all the rest of the day is never going to work. It needs to be stopped completely, even if that means that others in the house are cut off as well.
Evelyn Waugh wrote in a "to the manor born" style not much distinguishable from that of old classic or Victorian British fiction. His books from the 1940s seem like throwbacks to pre-modernist days. By the time "Brideshead Revisited" was published, after too many people had done too many bad impressions of Joyce and Eliot, Waugh must have brought great relief to many. Along with another Roman Catholic, Graham Greene, Waugh was there to write good, philosophically flavored stories, and that was it. Here he provided a great yet simple tale of friendship between eccentric Oxford lads in the 1920s, looked back upon from the WWII era. They wander from England to Italy and deal with their odd families and relatives, while occasionally interrupting their rounds of partying to attempt a higher education. But anyone who envies the well-off will think twice about that once they meet Ryder's father, who is too cheap to loan him what amounts to pocket change, or Sebastian's, who fancies himself a Lord Byron type and finds the pursuit of this lifestyle more interesting than relating to his son, who is imitating his father to the point of self-destruction. Accordingly, the boys look to magic and wonder in any form they can find it for relief, with Ryder finding himself strangely drawn to the mystic Catholicism of Sebastian's family. Other characters weave smoothly in and out of the plot as if each were getting a short story of their own. Readers willing to slow down and take their time with this novel will find it to be a feast of excellent writing of all kinds. Best of all is the way that religion is handled - i.e., CONVINCINGLY, without any of the corny and over-sentimental dramatics to be found in a lot of Christian fiction today. Highly recommended for well-rounded, classicist reading.
I had put off reading this because I had seen both the movie and the TV adaptation. The book is fabulous, definitely a new favourite.
Not 'Anglo-Catholic' (that's an entirely different thing), but 'English Catholic'. The American poet, T. S. Eliot was an Anglo-Catholic, and not a Catholic or really English.
Rich language, engaging story and characters - a true feast. I am sorry I waited so long in life to read this book. One of my best reads of all time. Thought-provoking themes of religion, class and sexuality follow all of the characters across their changing lives and fortunes. A must read - particularly if you enjoy the setting of Britain's early 20th Century or are interested in its anthropology.
Waugh's novel is rich in textures with truly brilliant turns of phrase suddenly appearing out of nowhere. Given that a substantial portion of the novel takes part in the 1920s, comparisons with [The Great Gatsby] are inevitable. However, the work has a distinct flavour, not only because sections occur during the 1930s and WWII, but because Charles Ryder's development is far more rich than Fitzgerald's narrator. The characters are fascinating from Sebastian and his teddy-bear, Aloysius, to Lady Marchmain and her devout Catholicism to Julia and her sparkling sadness. Ryder's attempts to understand and bond with these last standard-bearers of a society that is disappearing is equally intriguing. A novel that glimmers with the glamours of a bygone era and a reminder that "we possess nothing certainly but the past."
Waugh wrote this after becoming a Roman Catholic. hence I think the protagonist's off page conversion near the end. However, though the thread of RC duty (and guilt) is woven though the whole story, one doesn't acquire the impression that the sacred portion of Ryder's memories are bound to the Christian faith but rather to his feelings and impressions of one or two of the aristocratic Flyte family. The sacred and Profane being one and the same. I often doubt that Waugh intended it this way. It's possible there was a difference between what the writer reasoned in his head and believed in his gut, and while his head may have written in certain religious plot points, the story lives and breathes with a different intention. In any case, the world and pleasures of pre-war Oxford has been wonderfully evoked;( as is the bitterness of Ryder's middle-age) If later in the book, Waugh was able to successfully instill a sense of spiritual revelation as well as the earlier worldly remembrances, this would of been one of the greatest books of all time. As it is, it's still very good.
Doomed and Decadent. With a capital D.
I wish I had enjoyed this classic. But sadly, I did not. Waugh's prose is too verbose for my personal taste.