Books Read in 2014 4 – Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

Reading Challenges : TBR Challenge2014tbrbutton

Genre: Classics, Family Drama

Narrative Style: First person narrator – Mostly told in flashback, framed by the present day in the prologue and epilogue.

Synposis: Charles Ryder falls in love with the beautiful Sebastian Flyte in his first year at university. He then comes to be fascinated by both his house and his family, eventually becoming involved with his beautiful but distant sister, Julia. photo (21)

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 1944

Length of time on TBR pile: I have only had a physical copy of this book on my shelf for two years but it has been on the list of things that I feel I should have read by now and which I keep in my head since I finished university. 

I was vaguely aware of the story of this novel. I was too young in the eighties to see the BBC production of it although I did have a very clear image of Sebastian and his teddy bear. I thought I might find it a bit irritating, for a couple of reasons. It was about posh people and that always rubs me up the wrong way and I have a history of not liking books that are considered classics. (Just ask my father in law who thinks I am insane because I don’t like Tess of the D’urbervilles or Middlemarch.) However, in this case I was pleased to be proved wrong.

The early chapters, documenting Charles’ life at university are the most vivid and, in my opinion, contain the best prose. Sebastian is a fabulous character and I was as fascinated as Charles. In fact, I found his absence in the later chapters a little depressing and I longed for whatever news could be found of him, even though it was clearly never going to be good news. It may also be that the university experience was something I could relate to whereas the later chapters were further outside of my realm of experience.

This is a beautifully written novel, with sumptuous description and vivid emotion. In fact, this is much more a novel of feelings than events. Charles is an outsider and Brideshead and even when he is about to marry Julia, remains so. In this, he is the perfect narrator, charting for the reader, the tragedies of the family without really becoming involved with them.

There is a longing for times past in this novel. Not just from Charles who longs for something that the family, with their faith and their societal position, represent for him but on the part of Waugh too. This novel was published in 1945 and it must have seemed as though the world had fallen apart in the aftermath of the war. The need for a calmer, simpler time must have felt immense. Even the structure points towards this, with the prologue and epilogue set in the present of 1945 but the rest of the novel in the Arcadian past of the 1920s and 30s.

I found the ending a little disappointing because I felt sorry for Charles and I didn’t want it to be over. But there really wasn’t any more story to be told.

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One thought on “Books Read in 2014 4 – Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

  1. “The early chapters, documenting Charles’ life at university are the most vivid and, in my opinion, contain the best prose. Sebastian is a fabulous character and I was as fascinated as Charles. In fact, I found his absence in the later chapters a little depressing and I longed for whatever news could be found of him, even though it was clearly never going to be good news.”

    I agree with you, and I think you’re spot-on with the analysis of this. I have argued (and others have pointed this out as well) that these early chapters are intentionally more seductive and exciting, because they reveal the most truth about Charles, first of all, and because Charles’s life post-Sebastian is (consciously or not for Charles) one of perpetual longing and slight depression. He misses Sebastian, so we’re made to miss him, too – and those early chapters, with the lush, romantic prose and the vivid descriptions of their life, help us to feel what Charles must be feeling. Of course, the later “gray” prose and descriptions also correlate with the wartime atmosphere.

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