Brideshead Revisited

200px-BRIDESHEADBrideshead Revisited
by Evelyn Waugh
1944 / 432 pages
read by Jeremy Irons 11h. 33m.
rating:  8

How did I ever miss (or avoid) this?  I not only missed the book but I missed all the movies and mini-series and whatever else was out there.  And at this point it sits in paperback format on the tbr shelf and in audio format in the iPod.  Finally,  it got selected (via my nomination) for the 20th century group so I have to read it.

Opening in the Prologue I’m distinctly not impressed – I generally dislike war books and it opens during WWII in an English military unit about to change locations.  Ho-hum and dreary.   Charles Ryder is introduced as a Captain who is not happy in the service.  The troops are camped near Brideshead, an estate and Charles has his memories of Brideshead during the “halcyon days.”

Chapter 1 actually starts in on Charles’ memories of Brideshead – 1923 and then a back-story to Oxford days.  Charles  meets Sebastian  at Oxford,  Sebastian is used to introduce the whole ambiance of the book with its homeographic themes.  Then there is some back-story on Charles’ father.

The book never does get very interesting – it’s about how the rich were sophisticated regarding drinking,  smoking and sex, even homosexual sex,  although Catholicism was still the order of the day in some families.   This all takes place in England about 1923 and 1941 or so but Charles is looking back on it from the standpoint of 1943,  WWII,  when he is about to see the “castle” again.

The Marchmains are good friends of Charles Ryder, the protagonist.  Sebastian is a drunk,  but it was he who introduced Charles to the family.  Nobody can keep him sober.  His good friend is Anthony Blanche,  a “flaming” homosexual.   Julia is Sebastian’s sister as is the much younger Cordelia.   Sebastian’s mother is the serious Catholic as a result of her husband’s leaving her.    The Marchmains welcome  Charles as almost part of the family.  There are homosexual undertones in the relationship between Charles and Sebastian but it’s never overt – and many critics disclaim that reading.

Times change,  people,  ideas,  society deteriorate really,  over the years with divorce and alcoholism and “running away,”   but in the telling Charles grows nostalgic.

I suppose the theme is basically  the strictures of Catholicism but the blessings of it too.  How people rebel from it but also return to it or convert to it – there’s a binding and comfort within it – others convert for love.

And there’s no small amount of nostalgia for the days of the aristocrats and their castles and rules and money and so on.  Finally there are distinct tones of homosexuality between Sebastian and Charles – it’s never explicit.  I suppose this book might be worth studying but I don’ t feel like it – it’s not interesting enough in itself.   (I understand the sets and costumes were gorgeous in the movie.)

Jeremy Irons does a magnificent job.


NY Times 

Penguin (publishers)  

includes a list of the characters

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