Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by Evelyn Waugh
originally published 1945
Little Brown & Co, 3rd printing, 1973
Genre: English literature
Synopsis & Review: Capt Charles Ryder’s company is assigned to a new location; upon arriving at the new billet, he discovers that it is the estate of his old friend Sebastian Flyte’s family. Being at Brideshead again after so many years makes him reflect on his dealings with the Flytes: Sebastian, Julia, Lady Marchmain, Bridey, Cordelia, and Lord Marchmain.
Twenty years before, Charles had met Sebastian by chance at Oxford, and though their first meeting was a bit unpleasant, they soon became fast friends. The two spend their time in drinking and idleness, slowly growing closer. Enchanted by the glamour and beauty of Sebastian and his lifestyle, Charles becomes deeply involved with him and eventually his family. Theirs is a highly dysfunctional family, divided by their parents’ division and their own struggles with their Catholicism. In the aftermath of the Great War–which was supposed to end all wars, but instead ushered in an era of constant warfare–Charles and the Flytes also wrestle with social changes, a Götterdämmerung of the aristocracy.
While Sebastian slowly sinks into to alcoholism (dipsomania!), Charles leaves Oxford to study art. His closeness to Sebastian’s family eventually drives a wedge between them, as Sebastian’s mother Lady Marchmain seeks Charles’ help in treating Sebastian, causing Sebastian to feel betrayed, and the two part company.
Later, after his own marriage to a society girl, Charles encounters Julia, and the love he had for Sebastian re-establishes itself upon her. The two conduct and affair, even seeking divorces from their respective spouses, but when Julia’s father Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead from his long, self-imposed exile on the Continent only to die, Julia is stricken with guilt and renounces her affair with Charles for the sake of her own soul.
During World War II, when he arrives at Brideshead once more, Charles is “homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless,” but after a lifetime of agnosticism, there he finally discovers his own faith in both humanity and the divine.
It took me ages to read Brideshead Revisited. I don’t mean that it was a long read, but rather, I picked it up back in August (August!), read the first page or two of the prologue, and put it down. I just could not bring myself to read it for OVER TWO MONTHS. (Thank goodness the Multnomah County Library has a generous renewal policy.) When Dewey’s Read-a-Thon came up, and Brideshead was still languishing on my side table, I decided it ought to go in my stack. After all, if I couldn’t forced myself into it far enough to really tell how good a book it was during a Read-a-Thon, I probably never would. And you know what I discovered? Two things: The prologue is actually very, very short, and Brideshead Revisited is fantastic. Read the rest of this entry »