An Often Misunderstood Classic of 20th
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
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
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
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