Charles Ryder, a lonely student at Oxford, is captivated by the outrageous and decadent Sebastian Flyte. Invited to Brideshead, Sebastian’s magnificent family home. Charles welcomes the attentions of its eccentric artistic inhabitants of Marchmains, becoming infatuated with them and the life of privilege they inhabit – with Sebastian’s remote sister, Julia (Although Charles infatuation for Julia did not show up until well till three quarters of the book). But, as duty and desire, faith and happiness come into conflict, and the Marchmains struggle to find their place in a changing world, Charles eventually comes to recognise his spiritual and social distance from them.
The one advice I would give to anyone who try to finish a book is never finished a book in 3 years. This is what happened to me for Brideshead Revisited. Maybe I can’t bear to read about the alcoholic Sebastian, or maybe the writing bores me; as a result I couldn’t differentiate the four Marchmain siblings – Brideshead, Sebastian, Julia, and Cordelia, except for Sebastian and were often confused. I wasn’t sure if the author was a he or a she, judging by the first name. It is all a bit disorientated, I only ever picked up this book because it seems like one of those famous books (It’s BBC big read and made into a movie too) that I should probably have read, and most of the time it’s very little chance to go wrong with a Penguin Classic.
Charles is quite an enigmatic first narrator. He seems neutral and empathetic to the Marchmains but as the story unravels Charles becomes more and more unreliable. Is he what he seems to be? Is he a social climber? Does he ever thinks he would one day inherit Brideshead? Did he plot his way up to get Julia’s affection? He seems to care and doesn’t care for Sebastian. We wonder if he cares out of guilty or duty, whether the Marchmains have influenced and changed his views about many things so much so that he longed to be a part of it.
But as I drove away and turned back in the car to take what promised to be my last view of the house, I felt that I was leaving part of myself behind, and that wherever I went afterwards I should feel the lack of it, and search for it hopelessly, as ghost are said to do, frequenting the spots where they buried material treasures without which they cannot pay their way to the nether world… I had left behind me – what? Youth? Adolescence? Romance?…’I have left behind illusion,’ I said to myself. ‘Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions – with the aid of my five senses.’ I have since learned that there is no such world, but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.
The one thing that Charles doesn’t buy or wish to be a part of it is the Marchmains’ piousness towards the Catholic Church. While Charles is an atheist (something he insists repeatedly to those around him throughout the novel) the Marchmain family is Catholic and this heavily influences their relationships, as well as his experience with each of them. Waugh uses the four Marchmain siblings – Brideshead, Sebastian, Julia, and Cordelia – to demonstrate four unique views on religion, as well as the ends to which that view may lead.
All of Charles narrations eventually came to light as at the end of the novel, and why he was key to Marchmains family. A novel that is a good metaphor of what is happening to the affluent in England. 1920’s affluent, lived in huge mansion, served up by an army of servants and butlers, fell into grace as a result of war, the passing of the Patriarch and family fortunes declined, while the rich kids lost their ways, either married off to a rouge or wasted in a foreign country with little financial help…. all these make for a tragic read.
I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.
I am sure the book would appeal to many but it doesn’t quite appeal to me as it should.
Perhaps I have ceased to be a romantic nor a sentimentalist as I used to be. Not even a glass of wine would bring it back, I’m afraid.
Publisher: Penguin 2008; Length: 352 pages; Setting: England Source: Own copy. Finished reading on: 26th Sept 2019, Thursday (10 years after acquiring it in June 2009)
About the writer:
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh (28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966) was an English writer of novels, biographies, and travel books; he was also a prolific journalist and book reviewer. His most famous works include the early satires Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), the novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), and the Second World War trilogy Sword of Honour (1952–61). He is recognised as one of the great prose stylists of the English language in the 20th century.
Waugh was the son of a publisher, educated at Lancing College and then at Hertford College, Oxford. He worked briefly as a schoolmaster before he became a full-time writer. As a young man, he acquired many fashionable and aristocratic friends and developed a taste for country house society. He travelled extensively in the 1930s, often as a special newspaper correspondent; he reported from Abyssinia at the time of the 1935 Italian invasion. He served in the British armed forces throughout the Second World War, first in the Royal Marines and then in the Royal Horse Guards. He was a perceptive writer who used the experiences and the wide range of people whom he encountered in his works of fiction, generally to humorous effect. Waugh’s detachment was such that he fictionalised his own mental breakdown which occurred in the early 1950s.
Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930 after his first marriage failed. His traditionalist stance led him to strongly oppose all attempts to reform the Church, and the changes by the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) greatly disturbed his sensibilities, especially the introduction of the vernacular Mass. That blow to his religious traditionalism, his dislike for the welfare state culture of the postwar world, and the decline of his health all darkened his final years, but he continued to write. He displayed to the world a mask of indifference, but he was capable of great kindness to those whom he considered his friends. After his death in 1966, he acquired a following of new readers through the film and television versions of his works, such as the television serial Brideshead Revisited (1981).