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Brideshead Revisited


Claire
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I've just finished reading Brideshead Revisited - and I'm baffled by it, especially the ending. I did enjoy it, especially the first half set in Oxford and parts of it were very funny, (Charles Ryders father I enjoyed in particular) but it was all very strange.

 

Having read some Graham Greene recently and been equally puzzled by it, in place, I wonder if part of my confusion lies in struggling to get inside such a Catholic mindset, again.

 

I might post something more when I'm feeling a bit more coherent, but in the mean time I'd be fascinated to see what anyone else thought of it. Do enlighten me!

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I've never really 'got' this book - it's massively self-indulgent tripe, as far as I can see. I'm being harsh because I've read and loved pretty much every other book by Evelyn Waugh - his early stuff, in particular, is absolutely amazing. Scoop and Vile Bodies are really savage and funny books.

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Thanks Artegal - glad someone else has read it, I was starting to feel lonely!Sounds like Brideshead was very different to his other books then. I'll keep an eye out for one of the others then.

 

Can I just take a moment to confess that for years and years, I thought Brideshead Revisited must have been the sequel to something :rolleyes:

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Can I just take a moment to confess that for years and years, I thought Brideshead Revisited must have been the sequel to something :rolleyes:

Like "The Madness of King George III"? :D

 

I've read Brideshead twice, and found it better at the second attempt. I saw the TV version before reading it, and found that confusing.

At some future occasion I'll post my thoughts about the book.

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Glad you enjoyed "Brideshead", Claire. I think Artegall's being a smidge harsh. Its certainly different from much of the Waugh I've read, but not in a bad way. The humour is not as broad and savage as, say "A Handful of Dust" or "Scoop".

 

What baffled you about it?

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  • 2 years later...
  • 4 weeks later...

I found the preface very helpful in the edition I read.

It explained that at the time the book was written the world seemed to be on the brink of cataclysmic change. The memories his return to Brideshead evoked in Charles Ryder were of an era, and a class-ridden society, that was expected to be wiped out more thoroughly than was actually to be the case.

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I read the book after seeing the TV adaptation. Couldn't help conjuring up images of Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews et al as I read - which I actually found quite helpful. I thought Waugh's prose was absolutely fantastic but very much a period piece; haven't come across any contemporary literature with that kind of lush prose.

 

As for the theme; I thought it was about guilt and manipulation:the way the mother's manipulation of her kids extended well beyond her lifetime, Julia's guilt about Rex and her affair with Charles,the father's death bed conversion and even Charles apparent conversion at the end of the book. I'm not a Catholic so apologies if I offend anyone of that faith but it seemed to me to be making a fairly explicit link between guilt, manipulation and the Catholic Church.

 

Having said that, I'm sure I read somewhere that Waugh himself had converted to Catholicism pretty late in life too.

 

There should be a movie version out very soon. Hard to imagine cramming all of that storyline into two hours or so but apparently they've focused on Charles and Julia's relationship and played down the earlier 'thing' with Sebastian (relationship/just good friends - it seems like the jury will be out on that one forever!). Can't say I'm looking forward to it as the TV production was so faithful to the book (obviously helped by the fact that it's about 12 hours longer than a movie!)

 

The only other Waugh book I've read is 'Scoop', which I found completely different and not half as enjoyable (even though the storyline was a lot more 'straightforward').

 

Apparently Evelyn Waugh's estate have just appointed a new, very ruthless agent who's demanding an awful lot more money from publishers (and, presumably, film companies) for the rights to his works. It will be interesting to see how that pans out.

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This is my RL book group's next read - and we've been invited to the Cheltenham Literature Festival to discuss it, which is really exciting. I'm a bit worried because one of our group absolutely loves it, but it took her 3 reads to achieve that - taking in loathing and indifference on the way.

 

The only other Waugh I've read are 'The Loved One' and 'Heat and Dust' (a long, long, long time ago.) Last night we all agreed that Waugh is one of those authors who is always on your 'to read' list, but you never really want to actually read him. I don't know whether others feel that way...?

 

I was surprised (and ashamed) to find out that the 'real' Brideshead (Madresfield Court) is less than 10 miles away from where I live! You can visit in the summer when the owners are away, so I'm going to give them a call to book a trip before I get stuck in to the book.

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I think this is one of those books that's very much of its time. Imagine trying to teach this to kids - many of them would probably have a great time poking fun at poor Sebastian's teddy bear. I can see how may people wouldn't 'get' this book.

 

I can't say I loved it. The prose was very beautiful - there was a particularly striking passage about Julia's jewelled hair that will always stay with me, but I found it a very episodic book: it didn't seem to flow very well, I thought.

 

I was also dissatisfied with the theme - identified by Waugh in the preface as 'the operation of divine grace' on this particular group of people. I've said before that religion and I don't agree, and I'm sure many people will call this cynical, but for me it wasn't so much about grace as coercion. I really agreed with Charles when he called it all rubbish.

 

There's a lot to think about with this book, but I'm not going to go into all of it here. I just wanted to note that I think Waugh was being very clever in the middle part of the book when:

 

Charles returned from America and kept talking about his wife in that indifferent way. I really disliked him at that point and wondered why he couldn't get over his apathy. I thought, surely your life isn't so bad that you've allowed your malaise to infect your marriage. I also thought that he had had the affair, but when he explained things to Julia, I suddenly understood why he acted the way he did and referred to Celia so coldly. It taught me not to assume I knew everything.

I'm glad I read it, and would read more of Waugh's novels, but the religious stuff and the oddly episodic nature of it (I felt I wanted to know more about Sebastian, for instance) was a letdown for me.

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I got to know Waugh at a fairly young age; "Scoop" was on my Eng Lit syllabus at school, and I remember reading "Decline and Fall" fairly shortly afterwards. Both were among the most enjoyable things I had to read for school.

 

"Brideshead" isn't my favourite of his by any stretch. Waugh really excelled as a wit and satirist for me, so I much prefer his early work before, like so many comic writers, he decided he wanted to be taken seriously and was never quite as good again. There's flashes of his early genius in later work like the underrated "The Loved One", but on the other hand I struggled with and eventually abandoned "The Sword of Honour" trilogy. Like Graham Greene, the Catholicism just gets in the way.

 

I have a couple of Waugh left to go, notably "The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold" and I found a travel book called "Waugh in Abyssinia" at the NFT book market not so long ago. Having read "Black Mischief" a few years ago, a work now neglected for its horrible racism to modern eyes, this is one of those books I approach with some trepidation.

 

The prose was very beautiful - there was a particularly striking passage about Julia's jewelled hair that will always stay with me, but I found it a very episodic book: it didn't seem to flow very well, I thought.

 

Waugh never made any secret of the fact that his primary focus was on the prose and everything else was, to him, secondary in the construction of a novel, so this is perhaps not surprising.

 

we've been invited to the Cheltenham Literature Festival to discuss it, which is really exciting.

 

I had a good time on my trip to Cheltenham last year and I wouldn't rule out a return visit. Maybe see you there!

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I have the book on top of my TBR pile and it's been there for many years. I have avoided reading it because I was so impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the TV adaptation so much I don't want to spoil my recollections of it.

 

I fell in love with Jeremy Irons during that production ... lol lol lol and still feel that he is special.

 

I have a couple of questions for anyone who is inclined to answer.

 

In the novel is Charles as 'clumsy' when he first goes home with Sebastian? I remember feeling that until Sebastian began his drug fueled antics Charles didn't know what to do with his hands ... so to speak.

 

Is Sebastian's mother (name?) as disconnected from her children and life in general as she is in the TV production. I am not Catholic but I think I get her devotion to G-d (family members intermarriages) and I don't think it's over the top in her case. But as I remember my impression of her ... she is not only a woman of her class she is cold and self-interested.

 

Does the book open with Charles literally returning to Brideshead and the novel progresses as his memories? I found that a clever devise. It worked for me on TV.

 

So many of you have referred to how Waugh seems to frame his novel in Catholic beliefs I wonder how you feel that squares with the sins of the characters: infidelity, drug abuse, lies, stealing, child abuse, homosexuality, and more.

 

I didn't feel any sense of watching a Catholic screed but maybe I missed it mooning over Jeremy Irons. lol lol lol

 

Were Sebastion and Charles lovers? It is implied in the TV production but never clearly shown. Later when Charles emerges as a husband I was really surprised.

 

If they were lovers ... is the reader/viewer supposed to think about the notion of 'buggering' in all boys schools? I hope that was not an insulting way to say that.

 

To anyone or anyones who take the time to answer MANY MANY THANK YOUS

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#15 Today, 07:35 PM

GERBAM

Senior Member Join Date: Jul 2007

Posts: 221

 

Brideshead Re-revisited

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

I have the book on top of my TBR pile and it's been there for many years. I have avoided reading it because I was so impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the TV adaptation so much I don't want to spoil my recollections of it.

 

I fell in love with Jeremy Irons during that production ... lol lol lol and still feel that he is special.

 

I have a couple of questions for anyone who is inclined to answer.

 

In the novel is Charles as 'clumsy' when he first goes home with Sebastian? I remember feeling that until Sebastian began his drug fueled antics Charles didn't know what to do with his hands ... so to speak.

 

Is Sebastian's mother (name?) as disconnected from her children and life in general as she is in the TV production. I am not Catholic but I think I get her devotion to G-d (family members intermarriages) and I don't think it's over the top in her case. But as I remember my impression of her ... she is not only a woman of her class she is cold and self-interested.

 

Does the book open with Charles literally returning to Brideshead and the novel progresses as his memories? I found that a clever devise. It worked for me on TV.

 

So many of you have referred to how Waugh seems to frame his novel in Catholic beliefs I wonder how you feel that squares with the sins of the characters: infidelity, drug abuse, lies, stealing, child abuse, homosexuality, and more.

 

I didn't feel any sense of watching a Catholic screed but maybe I missed it mooning over Jeremy Irons. lol lol lol

 

Were Sebastion and Charles lovers? It is implied in the TV production but never clearly shown. Later when Charles emerges as a husband I was really surprised.

 

If they were lovers ... is the reader/viewer supposed to think about the notion of 'buggering' in all boys schools? I hope that was not an insulting way to say that.

 

To anyone or anyones who take the time to answer MANY MANY THANK YOUS

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#15 Today, 07:35 PM

GERBAM

Senior Member Join Date: Jul 2007

Posts: 221

 

Brideshead Re-revisited

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

I have the book on top of my TBR pile and it's been there for many years. I have avoided reading it because I was so impressed and thoroughly enjoyed the TV adaptation so much I don't want to spoil my recollections of it.

 

I fell in love with Jeremy Irons during that production ... lol lol lol and still feel that he is special.

 

I have a couple of questions for anyone who is inclined to answer.

 

In the novel is Charles as 'clumsy' when he first goes home with Sebastian? I remember feeling that until Sebastian began his drug fueled antics Charles didn't know what to do with his hands ... so to speak.

 

Is Sebastian's mother (name?) as disconnected from her children and life in general as she is in the TV production. I am not Catholic but I think I get her devotion to G-d (family members intermarriages) and I don't think it's over the top in her case. But as I remember my impression of her ... she is not only a woman of her class she is cold and self-interested.

 

Does the book open with Charles literally returning to Brideshead and the novel progresses as his memories? I found that a clever devise. It worked for me on TV.

 

So many of you have referred to how Waugh seems to frame his novel in Catholic beliefs I wonder how you feel that squares with the sins of the characters: infidelity, drug abuse, lies, stealing, child abuse, homosexuality, and more.

 

I didn't feel any sense of watching a Catholic screed but maybe I missed it mooning over Jeremy Irons. lol lol lol

 

Were Sebastion and Charles lovers? It is implied in the TV production but never clearly shown. Later when Charles emerges as a husband I was really surprised.

 

If they were lovers ... is the reader/viewer supposed to think about the notion of 'buggering' in all boys schools? I hope that was not an insulting way to say that.

 

To anyone or anyones who take the time to answer MANY MANY THANK YOUS

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Sebastian never did drugs! He was an alcoholic.

Charles and Sebastian lovers? Maybe, although Charles says he becomes obsessed and connected with the whole family and of course the house. They do do things which suggest this.

Yeah, the book opens with Charles leading his troops.

Poor Charles, Catholicism won in the end. Sebastian was looked after by some benevolent monks and Julia left him because of it. there's a bit in which rex is trying to convert which is quite funny and cordelia's telling him all these lies about catholicism (if you write a person's name on the back of a pound note they get sent to hell, etc.)

In pretty much all literature, boys' schools have lots of 'buggering', as you phrase it.

 

:)

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Sebastian never did drugs! He was an alcoholic.

Charles and Sebastian lovers? Maybe, although Charles says he becomes obsessed and connected with the whole family and of course the house. They do do things which suggest this.

Yeah, the book opens with Charles leading his troops.

Poor Charles, Catholicism won in the end. Sebastian was looked after by some benevolent monks and Julia left him because of it. there's a bit in which rex is trying to convert which is quite funny and cordelia's telling him all these lies about catholicism (if you write a person's name on the back of a pound note they get sent to hell, etc.)

In pretty much all literature, boys' schools have lots of 'buggering', as you phrase it.

 

:)

 

kelby_lake

THANK YOU for your kindness and sharing. I really appreciate you taking the time. :)

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  • 2 months later...

I've just finished this book, and I've enjoyed reading the thread.

 

I never saw the 80s adpatation, but it was the days of 3 or 4 channel telly, so I sort of soaked it up without realising, and a certain amount was familiar - the Charles / Sebastian Oxford stuff, anyway.

 

I liked the quality of the writing a lot - lush, beautiful sentences that rolled off the page. That would encourage me to look out more Waugh - the only other book of his that I've read is The Loved One.

 

I was really surprised by how Sebastian drifted out of the action, and how his family seemed fairly unbothered by his problems. I half-expected Charles to find him living in Brideshead when he arrived back during the war, looked after by Nanny Hawkins, but it wasn't to be!

 

As someone else said, Charles' wife came as a bit of a surprise - and his attitude to her. I thought the whole thing marked his arrival in aristocratic circles - his absence from family life, not having seen his daughter, his acceptance of her adultery.

 

I found the treatment of Catholicism fascinating. I'm a scottish, working class Catholic of Irish extraction, and I think that's something quite different to an aristocratic english one. There was an exoticism to their catholicism that I didn't recognise. But I found the last section very moving, where Lord Marchmain was resisting being given the last rites, and I very much recognised the reactions of the family members - all lapsed to various degrees, except Bridey, yet all with this gut reaction that he should receive the last rites. I was quite shocked at the effect all this had on Julia, though!

 

I couldn't believe that she would reject Charles like that in order to return to the church - I could see why, but Charles felt like the person she should be with, and I thought that was truly tragic.

 

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A great read and a fine adaptation with Jeremy Irons and that haunting trumpet. Why do it again? As for the book, beautifully written as someone has said, and it presents intriguing questions: Where does Waugh stand in relation to Ryder, the narrator? How far does he share his hero's nostalgia for Brideshead, for the doomed youth Flyte and his own youth? To a large degree I'd say. Yet Waugh stands outside him (after all Ryder is agnostic, Waugh a Catholic convert). As he said in a letter to Nancy Mitford, 'Ryder is thick' or somesuch. Some years ago, when re-reading Brideshead for my Books of the Century article in The Daily Mail, I read a hostile review of the book, where the reviewer slammed Waugh as an effete snob. Well, maybe so, but it's still a marvellous read.

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I went to see the film, and to be honest it was about as good as I expected, e.g, awful. But I'll try not to rant for too long about that!

 

I can definitely see how this book could be hard to read. I sort of flew through the first bits, then gave up for a bit mid-way through the boat section, then took it up again and flew through it again. I read it a few years ago now, and I hadn't actually seen all of the television series, but I think it's safe to say that I was inspired to read the book by the television series (and my sister was starting at Oxford, so there was sort of Oxford cravings in there as well). Despite taking a while to read it, I did really, really enjoy the book, and I want to read more Waugh as a result. I think it's full of complexities that I probably didn't understand the half of when I read it, but that's kind of a good thing as far as I'm concerned, it will make me go back and read the book again, and again. It's full of interesting characters, and in some ways, I actually find Sebastian the least interesting of these. Much as I love him, I can understand why he drifts out of the story, he's more of a creation for the purpose of the novel, without meaning to sound disrespectful, I sort of see him as a driving force, rather than a character who can really develop. He's stuck in his way of being, and can't really see a way out. And I think in a way it's symbolic that he drifts out. He drifts out of our and Ryder's knowledge because he stays at that point in his life, he can't seem to move on, or help himself. Everyone around him does move on in some way, for better or worse, and so he naturally gets left behind. I find all the characters intriguing, and I love that to a certain degree we are left to make our own theories and ideas about them; they're open to interpretation. And how you see them, or how your view of them developes, links in with your view of life at the time. There's something in each of them that appeals to me, and I'd really like to go back and read it again (especially having seen both the TV series and the film since I reacd it), and see how my views of them have changed.

 

That was a very long post, sorry!

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