Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh

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An Often Misunderstood Classic of 20th Century Literature *****

Like most great novels, BRIDESHEAD REVISITED is about a great many things--not the least of which is the decline of English aristocracy. But at center, Evelyn Waugh's greatest novel (and one of his few non-satirical works) is about religious faith, and how that faith continues to operate in the lives of even those who seem to reject it, and how that faith supports even those who falter badly in it.

The story is complex. It is told in the first person by narrator Charles Ryder, who develops a close and possibly homoerotic relationship with aristocrat Sebastian Flyte while the two are students at Oxford. Seduced by the glamour of Flyte's way of life and the beauty of his ancestral home at Brideshead, Ryder becomes deeply involved with Flyte's family as well--a Roman Catholic family in which the various members either use their religion to manipulate others or actively rebel against it. With the passage of time, Sebastian's drinking expands into alcoholism--which appears to be fueled by his guilt at rejecting the church, a rejection which may be based on his own uncertain sexuality. Ryder consequently transfers his affections to Sebastian's sister Julia--but again religion influences their relationship: Julia has made an unfortunate marriage, and although she is willing to engage in an affair with Ryder, she may not be willing to divorce her husband, an act that will cast her completely outside the bounds of her faith.

The characters involved in the story are often extremely charming, but they are not necessarily admirable, and the passage of time in the novel nibbles away at their charm in such a way as to expose their flaws; even the narrator, Charles Ryder, gradually emerges as a somewhat second-rate person of dubious integrity. Even so, there remains a strange element of hope in the novel, a sense of God's grace and mercy even in the face of deliberate affront. Poetically written with considerable beauty and a sense of lost innocence that haunts the reader, BRIDESHEAD REVISITED is a too-often misinterpreted and misunderstood book that demands a thoughtful reading to get down into the marrow of its thematic bones. Powerful, beautiful, memorable--a book to read and enjoy again and again. Strongly recommended.


Gary F. Taylor "GFT"



Genius turns to mush ***

The first two thirds of this novel are almost unmatched in Post-War British Literature: witty, insightful, acidly satirical, and, in their own way, powerful. The sense of character and place is especially vivid, and personal and social tensions are brilliantly entwined.

The last third is marred by a love interest that is anemic and thoroughly unconvincing. Here the characters and imagery lapse into caricature. Julia's climactic sacrifice is ludicrous, as is a long (and infamous) stream of purple prose.

Waugh sought to dramatize the tension between the Sacred and the Profane. But if the Sacred is upheld by a trinity of nostalgia, sentimentality, and reflexive Catholic guilt, lord help us all. Ryder's "epiphany" is as much a shallow pantomime as his faux-naturalist paintings.

The scene in which the "hero" and his aristocratic friends brutalize striking workers for a lark, is one of the most repulsive in all literature.










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