Friday, November 18, 2011

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

genre: adult fiction

Charles is a soldier in the second world war, in England.  When he arrives with his fellow troops at Brideshead to set up camp, he allows himself to revel in the past - a past that has, at its core, Brideshead and its former inhabitants, the Marchmain family.  Especially, there is his school chum Sebastian, full of life and without care - when they met the Great War was over. They live a life of frivolity and halcyon freedom among the upper class of British citizenry.  It doesn't lead to happiness, however, as England's prospects change and Charles, as our introverted narrator, watches the Marchmain family of Brideshead slowly fall apart.

It's a nostalgic book.  I kept looking at the published date - 1945.  Waugh wrote it during the war and published it JUST as the war was ending.  And the war is IN the book.  It feels like Waugh is sorting through all that was beautiful and good from that in-between-period and trying to figure out how it all went wrong.  There is an interesting religious storyline also - as the Marchmain family is Roman Catholic in a land of staunch protestants, and Charles is quick to dismiss religion as a good reason for anything.  Other characters, especially Sebastian's sister Julia, think deeply and beautifully about sin and God and how all of that ties into our real lives and the consciences that we can't seem to get rid of even when we want to.  And all of this is wrapped up in the whole class issue in England - the old landowning families and the new rich and the more middle class and how that was all shifting.

Brideshead Revisited is the sort of book I'd probably prefer to read in an English class.  Clearly there are themes and motifs flying every which where and probably if I understood them better I'd want to give it five rousing stars instead of 3.5.  As it was, I did enjoy it - as sad and depressing as it tended to be - because it felt authentic, timely and relevant.  I didn't particularly like Charles but I liked how he told me his story.  Parts of it were beautiful - the sorts of quotes that you'd imagine hanging on a poster in a history classroom.  Other parts were more dull as far as the plot went, but in the end, I am glad that I now have this classic under my belt.

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