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shereadsthings: Brideshead Revisited

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shereadsthings: Brideshead Revisited:


Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Who, by the way, was not a lady, but a man.

Seriously, though.

I finished reading Brideshead about two days ago. Overall, Id give it about a 3.8-3.9 out of five stars. In a lot of ways, it reminded me quite a bit of Atonement by Ian McEwan - another of

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Evelyn Waugh: the best and the worst

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by Charles J. Rolo

O C T O B E R 1 9 5 4


WHEN blurb writers are caroling the praises of some newly emerged maestro of sophisticated farce, they can seldom resist the temptation of comparing him to the early Evelyn Waugh. Despite the fact that Brideshead Revisited which introduces the later or serious Evelyn Waugh has sold many more copies in the United States than all of Waughs other books put together, his name, at least among the literary is still most apt to evoke a singular brand of comic genius. He is, par excellence, an example of the artist who has created a world peculiarly his own. The adjective Waughsian is too much of a tongue twister to have passed into our vocabulary, but a substitute phrase has Its pure Evelyn Waugh.

Pure Evelyn Waugh. The expression evokes a riotously anarchic cosmos, in which only the outrageous can happen, and when it does happen is outrageously diverting; in which people reason and behave with awesome inconsequence and lunatic logic. A primitive ruler, eager to be modern, is induced by a wily contractor to purchase boots for his barefoot army: the savages happily heat up their cookpots and devour the boots. An Oxford porter says to an undergraduate who has just been expelled: I expect youll be becoming a school master, sir. Thats what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour. On the planet where Waughs comic novels have their being, Oxford and Mayfair are as barbarous in their way as darkest Azania.

There are few contemporary writers of the first rank whose imagination runs to such appalling and macabre inventions as Waughs does; and there is none who carries audacity to such lengths in using the atrocious as the material of farce. Consider a few of the episodes from which (taken in their proper context) Waugh has succeeded in distilling the choicest entertainment. Agatha Runcible one of the Bright Young People in Vile Bodies tipsily joins a motor race, has a crackup, and, after a cocktail party in her sick room, dies. The hero of Black Mischief, after feasting with savages on a delicious pot-au-feu, learns that he has just eaten his recent mistress, Prudence, daughter of the British Minister. The Loved One focuses with a bland and relentless fascination on every detail in the preparation of cadavers for burial by a de luxe establishment in Southern California.

Crazy accidents; cannibalism; cadavers. They are merely outr symbols of the theme, often explicitly stated, which underlies all of Waughs work that our twentieth-century civilization is a decaying corpse. In Waughs view, the Modern Age has crazily destroyed and cannibalized what he finds supremely valuable veneration for tradition and hierarchy; the aristocratic way of life; the onetime supremacy of the Catholic Church throughout Western society. At the conclusion of Scott-Kings Modern Europe, the dim schoolmaster warned that soon there wont be any place for a teacher of the classics refuses to take on a more utilitarian subject: I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.

After rereading, as I have just done, the greater part of Waughs writings, it becomes unmistakably clear that both his comic and his straight novels however different in manner and in tone are expressions of precisely the same viewpoint. That viewpoint dates back to his very first book, written when he was twenty-three: a capable and nostalgic study of those nineteenth-century enemies of technology, the Pre-Raphaelites. And with the passing of the years, Waughs repudiation of his time has been carried to extreme lengths even in the pattern of his personal life.

Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh was born in a suburb of London in 1903, the son of a busy man-of-letters. Waughs origins were gentlemanly but in no way aristocratic, a point he seems to have been inordinately touchy about even as a boy. He was sent to Lancing, one of Englands less fashionable public schools; and from there he won a scholarship to one of Oxfords decidedly less fashionable colleges. At Oxford, however, his wit, good looks, and resolute preference for the elite carried him into the company to which he aspired. There is a striking portrait of him at this time in Harold Actons Memoirs of an Aesthete: I still see him as a prancing faun, thinly disguised by conventional apparel. His wide apart eyes, always ready to be startled under raised eyebrows, the curved sensual lips, the hyacinthine locks of hair, I had seen in marble and bronze at Naples Other Oxford contemporaries have spoken of him in a harsher vein: A bitter little man A social climber.

After two years, Waugh voluntarily left Oxford without a degree, and, like Paul Pennyfeather of Decline and Fall, took a job in a school for backward boys. Later, he worked for sixteen days on Lord Beaverbrooks Daily Express. His ambition was to be a painter, but a stint at art school left him dissatisfied with his talent. At this time, he has said, he was a pagan and wanted to be a man of the world a well-rounded English gentleman in the eighteenth-century tradition. He joined in the whirl of Michael Arlens Mayfair. He gadded among savages and people of fashion and politicians and crazy generals because I enjoyed them. But he was a worldling who could relish all this and still find it wanting. In 1930, after instruction from the celebrated Father DArcy, Waugh entered the Catholic Church.

A few months earlier, his marriage to the Honorable Evelyn Gardner had ended in divorce. In 1937, he married again. His second wife was a Catholic: Laura, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel The Honorable Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert, second son of the Earl of Carnarvon.

For nine years, Waugh had traveled often and widely, by preference to wild places. The best parts of the four travel books written during this period were later reprinted in When the Going Was Good, and they are still lively reading. One is periodically reminded, however, that Waughs touch is surer and more sparkling when he is using these same materials in his comic novels.

At the outbreak of the war, Waugh joined the Royal Marines, and later, as a Commando, took part in a succession of desperate actions in which he became famous for his phenomenal courage. Years earlier, when Waugh had taken up foxhunting, his recklessness had awed even veterans.

Waugh is now settled at Piers Court in a secluded part of Gloucestershire, from which he occasionally makes sorties to his London clubs. I live in a shabby stone house, he wrote in Life, in which nothing is under a hundred years old except the plumbing, and that does not work. I collect old books in an inexpensive, desultory way. [His major avocation is the study of theology.] I have a fast emptying cellar of wine and gardens fast reverting to jungle. I have numerous children [three girls and two boys] whom I see once a day for ten, I hope, awe-inspiring minutes.

A few years back Randolph Churchill said of Waugh: He grows more old-fashioned every day. He seeks to live in an oasis. Waugh himself has affirmed with pride that he is two hundred years behind the times, and that there is no political party in existence which he finds sufficiently (in the strictly literal sense of the word) reactionary. He has refused to learn to drive a car. He writes with a pen which has to be continually dipped in the inkwell. And he prefers to communicate even with his neighbors by written message rather than resort to the telephone. A literary friend of Waughs once delivered a summation which neatly reflects the tenor of the anecdotes about him. As nearly as I recall, it went: Oh, I adore Evelyn. Hes so frightfully witty and so fearfully rude. Terribly conceited, of course and, poor sweet, rather ridiculous. But such a good writer!


COMPLETE rejection of the modern world is the source from which springs the best and the worst in Evelyn Waughs writings. The artist who repudiates the realities of his time must of necessity either work in the ironic key, as Waugh did in his earlier novels which transmute repudiation into blandly destructive laughter; or, if dissatisfied with a negative criticism, he must offer alternatives to the status quo which can be taken seriously. But when Waugh abandons the detached stance, when he seriously articulates his opinions and attitudes, the results are often distressing, and sometimes disastrous.

His fierce nostalgia for medievalism represents (as he himself recognizes) a yearning for an irretrievably lost cause; and as social criticism, it is therefore merely frivolous or petulant. Moreover in the Catholic content of his novels to date, there has been little accent on religious experience such and a really shocking absence of that human compassion which is so much a part of the Catholic spirit. (What ounce of compassion Waugh can muster is reserved for the few who meet with his approval.) In fact, the Catholicism of Waughs fiction it is not, of course, his faith which is under discussion, but his expression of it is inextricably bound up with worship of the ancient. British nobility, so laden with contempt for lesser breeds without the law, that the Church is made to appear a particularly exclusive club rather than a broad spiritual force.

At his best that is, when he remains detached Waugh is the finest comic artist to emerge since the late 1920s. His style is swift, exact, almost unfailingly felicitous. His inventions are entrancing; his timing inspired; his matter-of-fact approach to the incongruous produces a perverse humor that is immensely effective. Even that ancient comic device the use of suggestive names is boldly put to work by Waugh with the happiest results. Mr. Outrage, the leader of His Majestys Opposition; Mrs. Melrose Ape, the phony evangelist; Lord Copper, the press tycoon; Lady Circumference, Captain Grimes, Viola Chasm, Ambrose Silk their names bespeak their nature.

Behind the extravagant facade of Waughs burlesques, manners and social types are observed with a dazzling accuracy. The Bright Young People are illuminated with a glow which spotlights the fantastic but they are profoundly dans le vrai. The Ministry of Information passages in Put Out More Flags are, of course, a parody; but I can vouch from firsthand experience that the parody is solidly founded in truth. In countless scenes throughout Waughs farces, a lapidary phrase or incident brings home with terrible directness the tragic quality in the lives of his frivolous, gaily cockeyed, or unscrupulous characters. Waughs cosmos is, in the literal sense, funny as hell.

Like Eliot, Waugh looked out on the world around him and saw it as a wasteland. His temperament and special gifts led him to transfigure the wasteland into a circus, within whose tent we are treated to a riotous harlequinade. But every so often the flap of the tent is blown open; a vista of the wilderness intrudes; and the antics of the clowns suddenly appear, as poor Agatha Runcible would say, too spirit-crushing.

This core of tragic awareness gives to Waughs comic vision the dimension of serious art. The paradox, in fact, is that when Waugh is being comic, he makes luminous the failures of his age, confronts us vividly with the desolating realities; and when he is being serious, he is liable to become trashy. For without the restraints of the ironic stance, his critical viewpoint reveals itself as bigoted and rancorous; his snobbery emerges as obsessive and disgusting; and his archaism involves him in all kinds of silliness.


WAUGHS first novel, Decline and Fall (1928), depicts a world in which villainy has the innocence of mans primeval state before The Fall. The story opens on the night of the annual orgy of Oxfords most aristocratic dining club: A shriller note could now be heard from Sir Alastairs rooms; any who have heard that sound will shrink from the recollection of it; it is the sound of the English country families baying for broken glass.

Paul Pennyfeather, a colorless young man reading for Holy Orders, is debagged by the rowdies and then expelled by the authorities for indecent exposure. Presently he is taken up by an immensely wealth young widow, whose fortune comes from a far-flung chain of bordellos; and when the police get on her track. Paul goes to prison for white slavery, and the lady marries a Cabinet Minister. The fun is incessant and the comic portraiture is pure delight, especially the hugely disreputable schoolmaster, Captain Grimes, and the inventive butler-crook Philbrick in his plushier moments Sir Solomon Philbrick, tycoon. Decline and Fall is an unqualified success.

Vile Bodies (1930) is almost as good. The combination of calamitous happenings and gay insouciance is marvelously sustained as the story follows the Bright Young People in their giddy dance through the condemned playground. But the farce, now, has grimmer overtones; and the climax finds Adam on historys greatest battlefield, clutching a bomb for the dissemination of leprosy.

Waughs next novel had its origin in the crazy enchantment of a visit to Addis Ababa for the coronation of Haile Selassie. The Abyssinia of the early thirties with its ancient Christianity and its enduring barbarism; its strivings to be modern, frustrated by picturesque ignorance and limitless inefficiency; its motley foreign colony, authentic savages, and wily promoters, big and small provided Waugh with materials ideally suited to his talents, and he worked them into what some critics consider the most amusing of his novels, Black Mischief (1932).

A Handful of Dust (1934), the most somber of the comic novels, is memorable for its horrifying ending: the hero finds himself trapped in the recesses of the Amazonian jungle, condemned to spend the rest of his life reading Dickens to a cunning madman. In the next two books, Waughs violent prejudices show their hand. His biography of the Catholic martyr, Edmund Campion in many respects a distinguished performance is marred by a partisanship which flagrantly distorts Elizabethan history. Waugh in Abyssinia (1936) the product of an assignment as a war correspondent is simply a piece of Fascist propaganda. Strangely enough, the Ethiopian setting is again fictionally handled in Scoop (1937) with the same detached zest as in Black Mischief. There is perhaps no more uproarious burlesque of the workings of the press.

Put Out More Flags (1942), a novel about phony war period, reintroduces Waughs finest pirate-hero, Basil Seal, more ingeniously iniquitous than ever. His use of three loathsome evacuee children as a source of blackmail is just one of several episodes in the book which are Waugh at his best. The story ends with Basils volunteering for the Commandos there was a new spirit abroad. The war apparently aroused in Waugh high hopes that victory would open the way to return to Britains former greatness. His deep and bitter disillusionment at its actual outcome probably explains, at least in part, the marked difference in temper between his pre-war and his post-war fiction.

Brideshead Revisited (1945) is a romantic evocation of vanished splendors, which brings into dismal relief the aridity of the present. In the first part, in which the narrator reverts to his youth at Oxford, Waughs artistic sense seldom falters. Ryders discovery of a magic world of freedom and intoxicating pleasures through his friendship with Sebastian, the younger son of a noble and wealthy Catholic family, and the accompanying contrast between the dryness of Ryders home life and the charm of the Marchmains these passages are among the most memorable that Waugh has written. But, in the second part Ryders unhappy marriage and love affair with Sebastians sister; Sebastians descent into alcoholism; Lord Marchmains irregular and resplendent life in Venice, and his death in his ancestral home those failings of Waughs which were discussed earlier run riot. And, as they take command, the characterization grows unreal, the atmosphere becomes sententious, the style turns overripe.

Charles Ryder is shaken out of his ill-mannered anti-Catholicism when the dying Lord Marchmain, who has lived outside the Church, makes a sign indicating his consent to receiving the final sacrament. But Ryder has been portrayed as so insensitive to religion and so sensitive to the prestige of great families that one is left, as Edmund Wilson has observed, with an uneasy feeling that it was not the sign that made Ryder kneel beside the deathbed, but the vision of this Catholic familys greatness conjured up in Lord Marchmains earlier monologue: We were barons since Agincourt; the larger honors came with the Georges (and so on).

The Loved One (1948) is one of Waughs most savagely amusing books. As a lampoon on the mortuary practices of Southern California, it is a coruscating tour de force. When, however, the satire reaches out to other aspects of American folkways, it is sometimes either hackneyed or crudely exaggerated. The trouble is that Waugh can no longer maintain the same innocence of observation as in the pre-war farces. The clat of his performance in The Loved One is slightly marred by traces of spite, and smudges of acid snob-distaste for all things American. There is no such thing as an American, he wrote in an explanatory note about the book. They are all exiles, uprooted, transplanted and doomed to sterility.

Men at Arms (1952), the first volume of an unfinished trilogy about military life during World War II, describes Guy Crouchbacks period of training for a commission in the Halberdiers. Crouchback is a lonely, frustrated man, revolted by the modern age, and the regiment with its proud traditions, its esprit de corps, its rituals, its severe discipline and taxing duties restores to him a vitalizing sense of dignity and purpose. The novel is written throughout in a much lower key than Brideshead Revisited. Its major characterizations are impressive; and though neither dramatic nor particularly moving, it is a very polished and readable work. Its great weakness is that Waugh treats with respectful admiration materials tinged with the ludicrous, which call for the saving grace of irony.

Waughs latest book, Tactical Exercise (Little, Brown, $3.75), is a collection of short fiction which more or less spans his writing career and is very varied in range. It is probably better entertainment than any of the other books of its kind that have just come off the presses; but there is not much in it that is near to the top of Waughs form.

One item is unquestionably unique: an edifying melodrama, entitled The Curse of the Race Horse, which Waugh composed when he was seven; the spelling, which foreshadows Waughs genius for bold improvision, is utterly delectable. Excursion Into Reality gives the movies the treatment Waugh gave the press in Scoop. Love Among the Ruins is Waughs nightmarish vision of the brave new world; but his total incompetence as a sociologist makes this fantasy a nursery effort compared with those of Huxley and Orwell. The most interesting item in this volume, Work Suspended, consists of the two chapters of a novel which Waugh abandoned in 1941, and which has certain intriguing affinities with the book that took its place: Brideshead Revisited.

Now fifty-one, Evelyn Waugh has published twenty-two books. Considering the high quality of his artistry, it is a remarkable output. He has himself defined, with a characteristic touch of belligerence, the direction in which he plans to move: In my future books there will be two things to make them unpopular: a preoccupation with style and the attempt to represent man more fully, which, to me, means only one thing, man in his relation to God. It sounds as though, from, now on, the serious side of Waugh will fully take command.

However laudable Waughs objectives, I find it impossible to discount the evidence that he has chosen a course which runs counter to his special gifts as an artist. From the comic standpoint, Waughs less amiable traits are actually an asset. Arrogance, snobbery, and contentiousness when they work hand in hand with irony are a corrosive solvent to satire. The religious writer requires at least four qualities of which Waugh has so far displayed only one. Faith he has; but little compassion and no humility and in his entire work there is not a single truly convincing trace of love.

Copyright 1954 by Charles Rolo. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1954; Evelyn Waugh: The Best and The Worst - 10.54; Volume cxciv, No. 4; page 80-84.

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"The key mistake of his [Evelyn Waughs] critics and biographers would be to assume that his..."

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The key mistake of his [Evelyn Waughs] critics and biographers would be to assume that his later poseas the old buffer, the crusty colonelrevealed his true self rather than originating as a comic impersonation of the type

- Paula Byrne, Mad World

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Hell Was Other People

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Date: April 16, 1995, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
Byline: By Hugh Kenner;

EVELYN WAUGH A Biography. By Selina Hastings. Illustrated. 724 pp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. $40.

OF Evelyn Waughs paternal grandfather (known in home circles as the Brute) it is related that once, when a wasp settled on his wifes forehead, he with cold deliberation leant forward and crushed it with the head of his cane, causing it to sting her. Selina Hastings recounts this on the first page of Evelyn Waugh: A Biography, to hint at demons a-gibber in his family tree. His reputation, she affirms calmly, rests on two premises: that he was one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century, and that as a man he was a monster. Her calm is the structural secret of a long and remarkable book.

By stylist she does not mean an assembler of sonorous mannerisms; she is referring to Waughs gift for unspectacular accuracy, goings-on however incredible recounted as if for the police. Here is a glimpse Waugh reported from Paris: He was a man of middle age and, to judge by his bowler hat and frock coat, of the official class, and his umbrella had caught alight. I do not know how this can have happened. I passed him in a taxicab, and saw him in the center of a small crowd, grasping it still by the handle and holding it at arms length so that the flames should not scorch him.

As for monster, well, here is Evelyn Waugh, father of six, telling Lady Diana Cooper about life with the six:

I abhor their company because I can only regard children as defective adults, hate their physical ineptitude, find their jokes flat and monotonous . I do not see them until luncheon, as I have my breakfast alone in the library, and they are in fact well trained to avoid my part of the house; but I am aware of them from the moment I wake. Luncheon is very painful.

And thats a very mild specimen. Waugh also had a way of apprising people he had known for 20 minutes as to what cretins they were, or exploding in the face of someone he had known for years, then falling silent for the rest of the evening.

Reflect, though, that Waugh, the second of two sons, had enjoyed no sort of relationship with his own father, whose hopes and attentions were fixed on the elder brother, Alec, a fellow who grew up pretty much into his fathers sort of vacuous literariness.

As for Alec and Evelyns father, he was the Arthur Waugh whose frenetic response to a 1915 anthology has earned him a modest place in literary history. A poem like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock elicited a review with words like anarchy and red ruin. It even prompted Arthur to invoke the practice in ancient Greece of exhibiting a drunken slave so that the young might ponder a bad example. Such a poem as Prufrock, Arthur Waugh memorably said, resembled that slave.

As for The Waste Land of 1922, well, Arthurs response can be guessed. Evelyns reaction was memorable. In 1934, at the age of 31, he published his first major novel, A Handful of Dust, still potent now, six decades later. Its title comes from The Waste Land (I will show you fear in a handful of dust). Four lines of The Waste Land are cited on its title page; moreover, its inventory of an Unreal Citys effects includes a fortuneteller arranging her cards (Eliots Madame Sosostris), a woman whose nerves are bad tonight, yes, bad, a death by water, a quest over stony ground and loose red pebbles, finally a Tiresias named Todd, who will permit Tony Last to live so long as Last will read aloud to him, day after day in the jungle, the novels of Dickens.

Waugh understood better than many of Eliots exegetes what Eliot meant by his sheafs of quotations: that when educated quoters had recourse to them they would become dead-end bits of desperation, slogans mouthed out of no vision of how to press forward. There is, alas, no indication that Eliot and Waugh ever met. Waugh, as Ms. Hastings does not spell out, took Eliot seriously enough to derive from him the framework of an irreplaceable novel. (In part, he was up to something he was happy to know his father would not comprehend. He was, indeed, driven by devils.)

That beautiful clear prose, and all those tantrums. One cannot venture to explain them; but they go very far back. Born in 1903 to a father who didnt care for him, Waugh was shipped off to school in the English way, only to find school disrupted by World War I. And the postwar Oxford his Brideshead Revisited celebrates seems to have been largely a pederastic sink. Ms. Hastings has many lurid pages.

With every major writer there is room for at least three biographies: the memoir written by a personal friend; the academic biography; and thirdly a more general account, she writes. Acknowledging that previous biographies of Waugh written by Christopher Skyes and Martin Stannard fill the first two categories, respectively, Ms. Hastings, who also has written a biography of Nancy Mitford, declares that her book intends to give as close an impression as possible of what it was like to know Evelyn Waugh.

Sunken low, Waugh seems to have willed himself to die after Mass on Easter Sunday, 1966. The Second Vatican Councils messing-up of the liturgy was a factor in his despair. And so he died, behind a locked door in the downstairs lavatory, where his obese body was found on the floor. Not a pretty death, but the kind of death Waugh had imagined in novels, and had recounted as precisely as Selina Hastings has recounted his.

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"Betjeman, far from being a man of the people, was a climber and a bit of a snob, who preferred the..."

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Betjeman, far from being a man of the people, was a climber and a bit of a snob, who preferred the company of the clever and the well-born. In this respect he resembled his friend and contemporary Evelyn Waugh, with whom he had a good deal else in common, apparently including Betjemans wife, whom Waugh claimed to have slept with in the process of converting her to Roman Catholicism.

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"I remember as a young man reading Brideshead Revisited and thinking: Christ, I cant be..."

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I remember as a young man reading Brideshead Revisited and thinking: Christ, I cant be a writer because its full of descriptions of trees and flowers, and I dont know the names of any.


Allan Ahlberg

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Fr. John C. McCloskey with Dr. Thomas Howard talk about "Brideshead Revisited" (1/31/2001 )

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Fr. John C. McCloskey with Dr. Thomas Howard talk about "Brideshead Revisited" (1/31/2001 ):

EWTN: Global Catholic Networks Libraries.

You can either listen on-line or download the mp3 file.

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kylarose: With Oxford University in the background, students...

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With Oxford University in the background, students punt along the Cherwell c. 1924

This image reminds me of Brideshead Revisited, of Charles and Sebastians languid summer days at Brideshead. It also makes me feel strangely emotional to see the world that is more often seen in faded black and white in full colour, making the world seem actually real, not a dream place recreated in film.

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Mad World by Paula Byrne

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Evelyn Waughs fans will find much to admire in this account of the troubled family who inspired Brideshead Revisited, says Selina Hastings

One of the first to see a copy of Evelyn Waughs Brideshead Revisited was his old friend Nancy Mitford. A great English classic in my humble opinion, she told him, a view now shared by millions of readers worldwide. Since its publication in 1945, a vast amount has been written about the novel and about the striking similarities between two families, the fictional Flytes and the real-life Lygons. The parallels seem almost infinite between Lord Beauchamp and Lord Marchmain, Hugh Lygon and Sebastian, and the two great houses, magnificent Brideshead and Madresfield, the Lygons moated manor house in Worcestershire.

Paula Byrne is the latest to explore the people and the story that inspired the book and she does so with acuity and panache. Her stated aim is to portray Waugh through his friendship with the Lygons, and in the process reveal some substantial new information about the high-society scandal that in 1931 electrified the country. The very grand Lord Beauchamp, Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, Lord Steward of the Household, Lord President of the Council, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and father of seven children, was outed as a practising homosexual and forced into exile abroad by his crazy brother-in-law, Bendor, Duke of Westminster. (Dear Bugger-in-Law, You got what you deserved, wrote Westminster, triumphantly, after Beauchamps disgrace.) Lady Beauchamp, horrified, fled the house never to return, leaving Madresfield, fully staffed, at the disposal of five of the children, with only a governess to keep an eye on them. And it was here one evening, shortly after their fathers departure, that Evelyn Waugh arrived for the first time to stay.

Evelyn had been at Oxford with Hugh Lygon, the middle son, with whom, according to one not wholly reliable source, he had conducted an affair. Certainly, he had been bewitched by gentle, charming Hughie, many of whose characteristics girlish beauty, floppy blond locks, the ubiquitous teddy bear famously reappear in the portrayal of Sebastian, with whom Charles Ryder is so infatuated in the novel. Yet for all his charm, Hughie was rather a dull dog, and hopelessly alcoholic, and it was with Hughs sisters that Waugh formed a far more fruitful friendship, especially with Lady Mary and Lady Dorothy, or Maimie and Coote as they were more informally known. His letters to the girls comic, tender, playfully obscene are some of the most delightful he ever wrote.

Byrne understands very well the powerful enchantment that Madresfield, or Mad as the girls called it, cast over Waugh. The beauty of the place, the limit-less freedom, the traditions of centuries juxtaposed with childish high spirits and silliness, all proved irresistible to the penniless young man from Golders Green. Byrne entertainingly summarises his career up to this point the childhood, the schooldays, the melancholia and debauchery of Oxford, the schoolmastering and the first published works and layers in with this the story of the Lygons, of Lord Beauchamps early life, and of those of his wife and children. Inevitably, the grander family suffers by comparison; they are none of them half so fascinating as Waugh and it is only when the novelist walks on that the stage properly lights up. Byrne shows remarkable perception in her interpretation not only of Waughs relationship with the Lygons, but of theirs with each other. The girls in particular remained fiercely loyal to their father, taking turns to accompany him on his eternal circuit of grand hotels, in Paris and Venice, in New York and in Australia, where in happier times he had presided as governor of New South Wales.

Most poignant is the story of Maimie, one of the most beautiful debutantes of her generation, once even considered as a future royal bride, who ended up drunk, lonely and fat after a miserable marriage to a penniless Russian prince. It is Waughs friendship with Maimie that leads Byrne to one of her most interesting insights. Discussing Waughs failure in depicting the sexual relationship between Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte, she says: The irony is that the relationship between Charles and Julia would have been more successfully portrayed if it had been closer to that in real life between Evelyn and Maimie: a deep friendship, not a love affair. But Waughs hand was forced [by] the structure of the novel.

Essentially, what Mad World provides is a lively introduction to Waugh and to Brideshead, and to the rarefied social world in which much of the novel is set. To this is added a small amount of new material, to which, understandably, much emphasis is given. There is, too, a good deal of trumpeting of the superiority of the authors critical sensibilities to those of her predecessors, many a blithe dismissal of those poor old dinosaurs, authors of biographical doorstoppers, which nobody wants to read nowadays.

As one of those dinosaurs, I have to concede that Byrne has a point: such big books are currently out of fashion, although I am delighted to see this has not prevented her from making copious use of their contents. Of her own discoveries, two are particularly intriguing: the information that Waugh was confirmed in Rome in 1932, and the physical details of what Lord Beauchamp actually did with all those handsome footmen behind the green baize door.

Much as I admire Mad World, I do have some reservations: source notes, disgracefully, are almost non-existent and the index is virtually useless. The authors assertion that No

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TV: Brideshead Regurgitated

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Is the cult of Brideshead among Cantabridgians harmless fun, or does it conceal a regressive social agenda? Daniel Janes investigates

Its cold, somewhat clinical and nowhere near as compelling as other eighties serials such as Jewel in the Crown and Edge of Darkness. However, it is the 1981 Granada adaptation of Evelyn Waughs Brideshead Revisited that has most embedded itself into the public mind. Nowhere is this more evident than at Cambridge. Though set in the City of Dreaming Spires rather than the City of Perspiring Dreams, Bridesheads serene lawns and stately courts have come to represent Oxbridge as a whole, or at least a quaint, elitist image of it.

This identification is so strong that the show is considered mandatory viewing for Oxbridge students. Brideshead DVD sessions - accompanied by liberal amounts of port, to turn the affectation of social exclusiveness up to eleven - are a fixture of JCRs. This mania is particularly common among wide-eyed first-years, still riveted by the novelty value of Oxbridge traditions, before Captain Tripos flogs them into anxious submission.

The cult of Brideshead is so ridiculously deeply inculcated that even people who havent seen or read it can see themselves living it, said third-year historian James Frecknall. Myself, for instance.

Despite the pervasiveness of the trend, an appraisal of student opinion suggests that, for many Cantabridgians, the TV serial can be something of an endurance test due to its excessively languid pacing.

Third-year historian Doug Johnson confesses that he has never managed to make it even through the first episode without falling asleep. To second-year lawyer Emma Brookes, the show is paint-dryingly tedious at times.

The pacing is incredibly slow, commented third-year, Engling Angus Ledingham. I cant imagine it being terribly successful if it was made now. In terms of period dramas and classic novel adaptations, Andrew Davies beat it hands down with both Pride and Prejudice and Bleak House. I sometimes wonder if the nostalgia is as much for that style of television as for the period it represents.

Certainly, few would fault certain technical aspects of the serial. Among female students, Jeremy Irons droning narration is a particular draw, though to others it is agonising or unintentionally funny. Praise abounded for Geoffrey Burgons elegiac theme tune, Peter Phillips meticulous art direction and several of the performances, chiefly Nickolas Graces viciously camp Anthony Blanche and John Gielguds scene-stealing turn as Charles Ryders father, Edward.

For most, the cult of Brideshead is simply an innocuous way of recreating the fustier, amusingly outmoded aspects of the Oxbridge experience. However, for a section of conservatively-minded students, Brideshead Revisited is not just an escapist fantasy; it is an endorsement of the values of the Carlton Club. The Oxford of Brideshead is a socially exclusive world, untouched by the unwashed masses, access schemes and mixed-sex colleges. It is a world where tradition reigns supreme, where Stanley Baldwin is Prime Minister in perpetuity, where social problems evaporate amid pedantic discussions of the odes of Pindar. A world which, to many rightists, is sadly lost (though it is never as lost as they seem to think).

This conservative fetishisation of Brideshead was highlighted by Christopher Hitchens in his book Blood, Class and Empire. When the show first premiered on PBS, it was introduced by William F. Buckley, a giant of the modern conservative movement. Benjamin Hart, former director of the Heritage Foundation, even pilfered whole sections of the book for speeches endorsing traditional educational values. Reaganites admitted that it was primarily the TV show, not the book that had engaged them. The conservatives thraldom to the series reflects what Hitchens described as a revival of a right-wing politics based on the defensive class-consciousness of the well-off, reflected in the writings of Tom Wolfe. What is striking is about the popular image of Brideshead is that it is as if only the first four episodes of the TV series exist. Sebastian is celebrated as carefree and vital, ignoring the inconvenient fact that he becomes a depressed alcoholic hanger-on in a Moroccan monastery. The huge role played in the plot by Catholicism is also overlooked. As third-year historian Laura Marshall points out, it is all about Catholic guilt, and Evelyn Waugh just cant do Catholic guilt as well as Graham Greene.

True, some of the storys themes may have wider resonance. For Emma Brookes, Brideshead is in part a story about loneliness and just wanting to belong, a second stab at childhood, themes that young people at a volatile time in their lives might relate to. However, as Angus Ledingham suggests, there may be a more straightforward explanation for the series popularity: Or maybe its just the unbearable toffs making prats of themselves.

Daniel Janes

@: mini-series, bubbles


From Grimes to Brideshead: the early novels of Evelyn Waugh, by Robert Reginald Garnett

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The War and Brideshead Revisited: I Do Not Want Any More Experiences


Wine is the symbol and sacrament of the worlds good things, of which Rex Mottram is ignorant and of which Ryder is unfairly deprived by the war. Even Waugh later had reservations about Brides-beads epicurean lust, writing to Graham Greene, for example, in 1950: Talking of re-reading, I re-read Brideshead and was appalled. I can find many excusesthat it was the product Consule Bracken of spam, Nissen huts, black-outbut it wont do for peacetime. And later he told an interviewer:

It is very much a child of its time. Had it not been written when it was, at a very bad time in the war when there was nothing to eat, it would have been a different book. The fact that it is rich in evocative descriptionin gluttonous writingis a direct result of the privations and austerity of the times.

The diaries give a slightly less harrowing impression of Waughs privations; certainly as he wrote Bridesbead he was seldom without wine, once having some of his private stock of claret fetched from Piers Court; noting later, during Lent, that he drank a great deal of good wine which is getting scarcer daily but still procurable by those who take the trouble; treating his old Oxford friends John Sutro and Harold Acton to a fine dinnergulls eggs, consomme, partridge, haddock on toast, Perrier Jouet 28, nearly a bottle a head, liqueur brandy, Partaga cigarsan unusual feast for these times; another time drinking champagne at

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Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of an Artist, by Frederick J. Stopp

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Women play a peculiar and interesting role in the works of Mr Waugh. His male figures are not notably successful in their relations with the opposite sex - there are many love affairs and many married couples, but never a successful love affair leading to a stable marriage. His most successful women, artistically, are those who, for good or evil, carry the principle of their vitality uninvaded within themselves - Margot Metroland, Brenda Last, Julia Stitch, Barbara Sothill. Angela Lyne is a mask, Aimee Thanatogenos a symbol, Virginia Crouchback a tart all highly desirable qualifications for a successful and sharp delineation. Celia Ryder, the sister of Boy Mulcaster, is one of these. I was glad when I found Celia was unfaithful, said Charles. I felt it was all right for me to dislike her. So it was, artistically, since Ryders dislike is the key to the authors success in depicting her, one of the long line of vapid and predatory females descending from Brenda Last and Lucy Sim-monds. Women who are being fulfilled in their biological functions receive short shrift from Mr Waugh: Celia Ryder sea-sick is Lucy Simmonds in child-birth. I brought her the flowers from the sitting-room; they completed the atmosphere of a maternity ward which she had managed to create in the cabin. Mrs Clark is being so sweet; she was always quick to get the servants names.

The world of Mr Waughs novels is essentially a male world; women gain admittance through being boyish, gamine and intelligent, or feminine, disreputable and disliked. The romantic heroine, compelling the ideal love of the male, the She of the popular novelist and the psychologists, is mercifully absent. Only in the figure of Julia has she almost gained admittance, a figure from the vasty deeps of the unconscious without benefit of critical reason or humour, without the release of tension which comes from the occasional side-step into the world of whimsy, with hardly a touch of the eccentric oddity required by Charless aesthetic mentor Blanche. It is not her charm alone which is the source of her weakness. The treatment of Julia in the first books, with the story of her debutante year, her thoughts of marriage, and her delightful fantasy of the kind of man who would do, is still, in spite of the fairy story touch, wholly suitable. It is not, entirely, that she is a Marchmain one of the family against which Anthony uttered his comprehensive warning. Sebastian is charming, and not a little odd, and his oddity increases and becomes more poignant when he is relegated to the wings and the safe aesthetic distance of Anthonys account of the present and Cordelias fantasy of the future. He is, if not morally blameless, at least right by Bridesheads mad certainty of decision. Lady Marchmain is both charming and odd, saintly and yet a femme fatale - they never escape once shes had her teeth in them, reports Anthony Blanche; the discrepancy between neurosis and piety is ours to welcome, not to reconcile or explain. Charming and odd, charming and infuriating, charming and beastly, charming and disgraceful, all these combinations could plausibly be saved from Blanches condemnation - but not just creamy English charm, playing tigers.

The moment of Charless captivation to Julias creamy charm comes quite early. It comes with the fantasy of Julia as a heroine of a fairy story turning over in her hands the magic ring; she had only to stroke it with her finger-tips and whisper the charmed word, for the earth to open at her feet and belch forth her titanic servant, the fawning monster - Rex Mottram. Now it was not unusual in Mr Waughs earlier works for the heroine - if such a term is appropriate to throw in her lot with the successful, coarse, extravert male; Margot Beste-Chetwynde marries Lord Metroland and Nina goes off with Ginger. But there is very good reason why the hero should relinquish her and return to his College or to his loneliness; we are not concerned with the inner history of the female psyche after its association with the shallow man of affairs. Here, however, the heroine of the fairy story, when Charles meets her after ten years on the liner from New York, has, through contact with the world of Rex Mottram, become waif-like, her beauty has acquired an added air of sadness, this haunting, magical sadness which spoke straight to the heart.

To Charles heart, in fact. Or to the authors heart? We have here the difficulty, common in first-person narratives, of assessing whether the author is writing in person or in character. The critics had no doubt that the dinner in Paris where Charles, lost in the magical world of Marchmain, indulges himself at Rexs expense in a meal which might have been taken out of a restaurant brochure, was Mr Waugh speaking in person, as an epicure, and said so caustically. There is certainly a streak of maudlin sentimentality about Charles, brought out and emphasized as, with the progress of their affair, Julia again recedes into a mysterious distance, and becomes, in her tight little gold tunic and evening gown, ever less tangible as an inhabitant of a real world. The peak of their inner estrangement, barely concealed by the accepted habit of past possession, and the summit of tension between the two, is the brutal reminder which Brides-head delivers of her irregular status, her passionate revolt against the very presence of her lover, and their momentary reconciliation. The lush passages increase and are spun out beyond the requirements of a disciplined style: I saw her to bed; the blue lids fell over her eyes; her pale lips moved on the pillow; but whether to wish me good-night or to murmur a prayer a jingle of the nursery that came to her now in the twilight world between sorrow and sleep: some ancient pious rhyme that had come down to Nanny Hawkins from centuries of bedtime whispering, through all the changes of language, from the days of pack-horses on the Pilgrims Way - I did not know. We are back in the world of Chesterton, but without his philosophical stringency. A way into the Church for Charles, this Tudor romanticism of pack horses on the Pilgrims Way? Perhaps, but not the way of many others, and only one part of that of Mr Waugh. A quotation from Mr Waughs review of Mr Greenes The Unquiet American comes appositely to hand: Fowler is base. So base that it is a disagreeable experience to be forced into intimacy with him, to have to hear the story from his lips and see it through his eyes. Substitute Ryder is sentimental for Fowler is base, and the parallel, for passages such as this one, is exact. The review continues: This can hardly be called an artistic fault, for it is part of the artists plain intention, but I think it is a lapse in taste. Mr Waughs artistic intention is, regrettably, not so plain.

It is not surprising that the passage considered above is followed by two full pages of the political-conversation pastiche which we have learnt to expect whenever Rex and his associates are introduced. Effective, this contrast of two worlds, but technically just out of focus, just emancipating itself from artistic tact. 1 I wonder which is the more horrible, says Charles to Julia, Celias Art and Fashion or Rexs Politics and Money. Artistically, there is no doubt; Celia is perfectly delineated, but Rex suffers by too obvious contrast with the creamy charm of Sebastian and Julia. Well sketched in the early stages, Rex handling troublesome policemen, giving Julia a tortoise studded with diamonds, Rex swallowing religious instruction like a double brandy, is excellent. But the jangling and brash conversation of his political set, though effective, gives rise by reaction to Charless dinner at Maillards - soup of oseilk, a sole quite simply cooked in a white wine sauce, a caneton a la presse, a lemon souffle - and the haunting, magical charm of Julias later moods. Julias hysterical outburst against her burden of sin - no way back; the gates barred; all the saints and angels posted along the walls - is magnificent. But Charless own sentimental reaction surely justifies Anthonys warning not to fall a victim to the Marchmains and their charm.

@: anthony blanche, boy mulcaster, bubbles, celia, charles, julia, motifs, rex, waugh


Martin Amis observes that Evelyn Waughs Brideshead...

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Martin Amis observes that Evelyn Waughs Brideshead Revisited squarely identifies egalitarianism as its foe. It bemoans the decline of the English nobility: in this sense it becomes a meditation on the state of England.

The deep foundations of the country-house novel
The renewed interest in this genre might seem anachronistic, but there are good reasons for its perennial fascination

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Moral Imagination & the Catholic Faith in Evelyn Waughs Modern Novel [Brideshead Redisited], by Thomas Howard

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The late Russell Kirk spoke often of the moral imagination. By it he referred to that whole backdrop, or set of underpinnings, that corroborates for us mortals the fixities of the moral law. We are not angels: hence we do not encounter Reality directly. We are protected (from heaven and damnation, says Eliot) by the merciful arch, or filter, we might say, of the temporal and spatial, which bring with them the forms and colors that address our imaginations.

When we use this phrase, moral imagination, we do not mean that the moral world exists only in the realm of fancy. Rather we refer to the vision of good and evil that we find in works of fiction. It is a vision that not only suffuses these works, but also presides over the terms of these fictions, nay, that determines the very stuff and texture of them.

Take, for example, the fourteenth-century Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman: here we have, in an allegory to be sure, not merely the picture of a personality, or of a whole world, but, beyond these, the vision of what constitutes goodness and badness. Or take Gawain: the trouble in that poem is that Gawain has sinned (not that he is out of touch with his feelings, or that he has been victimized). There is a moral litmus test brought to bear on his behavior. In The Faerie Queene, all the thick woods and grottoes and hags and perils are to be understood in moral, and not merely psychological, or linguistic, terms. In Measure for Measure, the thing that has them all apoplectic in Vienna is the matter of sin and its punishment. We playgoers may enjoy the leisure and luxury of beholding fascinating personalities at workIsabella and Angelo and Lucio and Claudiobut the nub of the drama is a moral matter.

The Waning of Moral Imagination

It is not without significance that we often reach for Renaissance and pre-Renaissance fiction when we speak of the moral imagination. By the time we get to Fielding, and then Jane Austen, Trollope, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf, we are not sure that moral is altogether the apt word. To be sure, all of these authors undergird their stories, in some sense, with a world of moral suppositions. Trollope, for example, shows how all the dramatic currents and countercurrents flow over a bed, so to speak, of moral assumptions. The sanctity of marriage is there, for example, and truthfulness, and generosity, and fidelity to ones duties, and benevolence: it is all there. But the main thing that engages our attention in Barset, or among the Pallisers, is not a rock-bottom question about goodness and evil; Trollope has not set out primarily to extol morality or religious truth.

Walker Percy makes this distinction, speaking of fiction:

Let me define the sort of novelist I have in mind. . . . He is . . . a writer who has an explicit and ultimate concern with the nature of man and the nature of reality. . . . One might apply to the novelist such adjectives as philosophical, metaphysical, prophetic, eschatological, and even religious.. . . Such a class might include writers as diverse as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Camus, Sartre, Faulkner, Flannery OConnor. Sartre, one might object, is an atheist. He is, but his atheism is religious in the sense intended here: that the novelist betrays a passionate conviction about mans nature, the world, and mans obligation in the world. By the same token, I would exclude much of the English novelwithout prejudice: I am quite willing to believe that Jane Austen and Samuel Richardson are better novelists than Sartre and OConnor. The 19th century Russian novelists were haunted by God; many of the French existentialists are haunted by his absence. The English novelist is not much interested one way or another. The English novel traditionally takes place in a society as every one sees it and takes it for granted. If there are vicars and churches prominent in the society, there will be vicars and churches in the novel. If not, not. So much for vicars and churches. ( The Message in the Bottle. New York. 1982. p. 103).

Waugh Steals a March

It is not to be urged that Evelyn Waugh should be thought the equal of Tolstoy, or even of Jane Austen. Nevertheless, his fiction raises piquant questions, if we are speaking of the moral imagination and twentieth-century English language fictionparticularly Brideshead Revisited. But his Sword of Honor trilogy also would certainly raise similar questions, most notably in the figure of the protagonists father, old Gervase Crouchback. We would need to undertake a wide canvass in order to discover another character in recent fiction who exhibits in such stark colors the quality that we can only call holiness. We, jades that we moderns are, find ourselves hailed, against all plausibility, with holinessthat is the only word for itin the figure of Gervase Crouchback. And it is done, mirabile dictu, without the faintest whiff of sentimentality.

But in Brideshead Revisited, Waugh has done the almost unthinkable. He has given us (jades, if the accusation is not too fierce) a full-blown acclamation of Catholic piety, vision, morals, and dogma, but in terms that steal a march past merely modern sensibilities, and in fact virtually swamp those sensibilities.

It might be put this way: we are a skeptical epoch. Waughs book is full of skepticism: indeed, the narrator is a card-carrying skeptic. Charles Ryder, the protagonist, is a thoroughly modern man. We might congratulate ourselves on being a somewhat cynical epochand the book is redolent of cynicism. Again, we are an unbelieving era, and the whole drama in Brideshead is seen through the lens of unbelief. Yet again, we are most certainly a highly self-conscious eraand the narrator in Brideshead is agonizingly self-conscious, almost paralytically so. (In the BBC television series, Jeremy Irons, in depicting Charles Ryder, displayed incredible dramatic prowess by making the reticent, self-conscious, laconic Charles a figure who seizes and holds our attention, and affection even.)

Oddly, Brideshead would seem able to take its place entirely comfortably on the shelf of modern fiction (as opposed to other fiction which has religious overtones, like that of Tolkien or Williams or Chesterton, for whom categories like fantasy, and metaphysical thriller have to be invoked). And yet Brideshead takes us all the way in to the world of Christian belief, piety, and dogma.

Upstaging & Disarming

How does Waugh do it? My hunch is that he does it by bravado. It is bravado that is Waughs trump card. Knowing that he is writing in a highly blas

@: bubbles, let me explain them to you, religion


Brideshead Revisited revisited, by A.N. Wilson

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12:01AM GMT 03 Mar 2008

It is a long time since I read Brideshead Revisited. I found myself hooked from page one. It felt like coming upon some delicious, unexpected selection of treats left over in a gluttons larder.

After the p

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The Villain of the Piece

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The Villain of the Piece :

Fr Dwight is not a fan of Lay Marchmain, but I think he make the point well: Lord M abandoning his family was a gross dereliction of duty that damaged them all. A single mother must play the role of mother and father. Lady M has to do Lord Ms job too, and that jaundices our view of her.

@: bubbles, links, lord marchmain, religion


Read the novel; dont see the film, by Eric Hester

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Read the novel; dont see the film, by Eric Hester:

As well as being a Catholic headmaster for twenty-four years, Eric Hester was also a chief examiner in English Literature. This article is as lightly altered version of one published in a Catholic periodical a few years ago. Eric Hester writes that the new film version of Brideshead Revisited has not yet been released in England but he is disturbed by that he has read of it: The film version seems to have abandoned the main theme of the book, the operation of divine grace. At the end of the novel the central character has clearly become a Catholic and the novel ends optimistically. The film, apparently, has Ryder rejecting the Catholic faith. In the novel, the relationship between Charles Ryder and Sebastian is not a homosexual one but one of an intense friendship between two young men, not uncommon in those times in England and not unheard of even today; the film makes the relationship an explicitly homosexual one. I urge people not to see the new film but to read the book, which is arguably the greatest Catholic novel in English.

@: 2008, bubbles, films, links, religion


"Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited shows that the novelists can be unpleasant too, with the..."

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Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited shows that the novelists can be unpleasant too, with the rudeness of a schoolboy. His opening chapters are brilliantly puerile, with Sebastian Flyte and his friend Charles Ryder as snobbish undergraduates at Oxford in the golden 1920s. But for me the story descends to concern with Sebastians failure as a son in a wealthy Roman Catholic family and as a man, the breakdown of his character in alcoholism, decay, ultimate damnation.

It is the same problem that so gready disturbed E. M. Forster the inability of Englands sons to grow up. Forster called it the undeveloped heart. The Times Literary Supplement calls it a traditional English malady. Cyril Connolly called it a Theory of Permanent Adolescence. In America we call it the Peter Pan I wont grow up, I wont grow up or Little Boy Blue syndrome, of those who remain schoolboys for life.

Sebastian clings to his nanny and his teddy bear, a lost child disposed of by Waugh.

- The third and only way: reflections on staying alive
by Helen Smith Bevington

@: bubbles, sebastian, waugh


From The seven basic plots: why we tell stories, by Christopher Booker

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The social Voyage and Return

We have so far looked at Voyage and Return stories almost entirely in terms of those where the hero or heroine makes some kind of physical journey into an unfamiliar world.

There are other, less obvious versions of this plot where the journey is of a rather different kind: as where, for instance, it takes its central figure into an unfamiliar social milieu. An author particularly drawn to this type of plot was Evelyn Waugh, several of whose best-known novels are shaped by the Voyage and Return theme. A fairly conventional example, not dissimilar to those we have already looked at in that it involves a physical journey into another country, is Scoop (1938) (which also has a Rags to Riches element, in showing how its obscure little hero, a shy writer of nature notes, finally pulls off an amazing journalistic scoop and becomes a national hero).

Waughs first novel, Decline and Fall (1928), however, was an example of what may be called a purely social* Voyage and Return story. Paul Pennyfeather, a dull, ordinary undergraduate, suddenly finds himself ejected from his cosy, humdrum existence when he is helplessly caught up in the consequences of an upper-class brawl and sent down from Oxford. He first finds himself among the semi-grotesques of the seedy private school of Llanabba, and is then swept up into the even stranger and more exotic world of Margot Best-Chetwynde, a fabulously rich upper-class *older woman* who somewhat implausibly decides she wants to marry him. Like Alice or the Time Traveller or many other central figures in Voyage and Return stories, Pennyfeather is caught up in events largely beyond his control - a bewildering dream which eventually turns to nightmare when he is convicted of having, quite unwittingly, been an agent in Mrs Best-Chetwyndes international white slave* ring. He is sent to prison, whence he is rescued by his now ex-fiancee to undergo an operation which gives him a new identity. He ends up returning to Oxford under a different name, to sink back into exactly the kind of dull, anonymous student existence from which he had been plucked at the start of the story.

In some ways a similar, though much more developed version of this story came twenty years later in Waughs Brideshead Revisited (1945). Again a fairly ordinary middle-class Oxford undergraduate, Charles Ryder, finds himself abruptly plucked out of his humdrum routine into an exotic upper-class world, this time that of Lord Sebastian Flyte and his familys great house Brideshead. Ryders initial exhilaration at being introduced to this romantic other-world is gradually overshadowed as Sebastian slides into incurable alcoholism; only to be revived by a second dream stage when Charles embarks on a love-affair with Sebastians sister Julia. This in turn becomes shadowed as Julias father, the Earl Marchmain, dies, and Julia refuses to go ahead with her planned marriage to Charles. Thus rejected, the hero leaves the faery world of Brideshead forever - until, in totally different circumstances, he unexpectedly finds himself back at the house as an army officer in World War Two, and recalls his Voyage and Return experience in a prolonged flashback.

Such a remembrance of times past, prompted by the activation of memory and conveyed through some kind of flashback, is not unfamiliar as the framework for a Voyage and Return story. The analogy between a journey into the past and one into another country is even made explicit in the opening lines of L. R Hartleys The Go-Between (1953): the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

@: bubbles


From A history of homosexuality in Europe: Berlin, London, Paris, 1919-1939, volume I & II, by Florence Tamagne

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And so, Oxford in the 1920s became a myth, the symbol of the triumph of homosexuality in England. Alumni -turned writers sought to describe the happiness of their youth; examples include Christopher Isherwoods Liens and Shadows, Stephen Splenders World within World and, especially, Evelyn Waugh with Brideshead Revisited the book that most successfully disseminated the mythical image of Oxford as a homosexual paradise. Waugh captures the very essence of Oxford, the romantic passions (between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte). the unrestrained aestheticism and flamboyant homosexuality (Anthony Blanche) and the nostalgia for adolescence (embodied by Aloysius. the teddy bear that Sebastian refuses to leave). Beyond the idyllic picture of a place that a whole generation would struggle to regain, he offers us a life like description of homosexual life in those years. Love comes first and foremost, and the rivalry between the athletes and aesthetes is reported with humor. but homosexual pride in particular is displayed for all to sec with panache, irony and lubricity.

The character of Anthony Blanche, facetious and extravagant, allows Evelyn Waugh to describe with a great flourish the cult of homosexuality that suffused the Roaring Twenties:

At the age of fifteen, lo win a bet, [Anthony Blanche) allowed himself to be dressed as a girl and taken to the big gaming table at the Jockey Club in Buenos Aires; he bad occasion to dine with Proust and Gide, and knew Cocteau and Diaghilev well. Firbank sent him his novels, embellished with enthusiastic dedications; he caused three inextinguishable vendettas in Capri, practiced magic at Ceplialonie; got into thugs and underwent detoxication in California, and was cured of an OEdipal complex in Vienna

This passage touches all the literary and society landmarks of the homosexual world in the inter war period. Homosexuality, for the elite, was more than a sexual proclivity; it was a style, a way of life.

In a scene where he is confronted by the athletes, Anthony Blanche shows his total lack of inhibition, his lack of complexes, and his natural affirmation of his homosexuality and ends up defeating his adversaries:

- He was approached by a horde of some 20 young people of the worst kind, and what do you think they were chanting? Anthony, we want Anthony Blanche, in a kind of litany. Have you ever seen anyone declare himself so. in public?...My very dear fellows. I said to them, you resemble a band of very undisciplined lackeys Then one of them, a rather pretty bit, honestly, accused me of sins against nature. My dear, I said to him, it may lie that I am an invert, but 1 am not insatiable, even so. Come back and see me some day when you are alone.

The character of Anthony Blanche embodies the cult of homosexuality; confronted by a hostile or disconcerted society, the invert no longer bides his true nature. Once more, the contrast with the neighboring countries is great. In France, for example, there was no establishment that could entertain the myth that homosexuality was intellectually superior, the way Oxford and Cambridge did. Of course, there are some personal accounts reporting on homosexual experiences in the universities, but they are individual cases which one cannot equate with a widespread social phenomenon. Daniel Guerin describes drinking with a good looking neighbor who was a fellow student at the Saint Cyr Military Academy and the rough housing, pillow fights and wrestling that verged on more, and the arousal that resulted.

@: anthony blanche, bubbles, fairies, oxford


Brideashead revisited