Thursday, November 13, 2014

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Once a year The Gables Book Club reads a piece of classic literature. For this year's offing, Brideshead Revisited was chosen. Originally published in 1945, it has also been the subject of at least two film/tv iterations. I enjoy revisiting the classic literature that I may have missed or that I read as an adolescent and did not appreciate. Evelyn Waugh's novel of the adult life of Charles Ryder as he struggles to find himself and his place in the world. From a beginning prologue to the body of the book and then the epilogue, the reader wrestles with Ryder and Waugh for truths to be told.

The reader first meets Ryder as he is pulling up one camp during WWII and traveling to another outpost in England. Upon arrival, he knows the estate and the sight of Brideshead catapults him into a memoir of his time spent their as a youth. Charles was raised by his father in London after his mother died. His father seems indifferent and almost eccentric, spending very little time with Charles. Charles goes off to Oxford University where he meets Sebastian Flyte, the son of the Lord Marchmain who owns the palatial estate. They become best of friends and more importantly, drinking buddies. During the summer term, Charles spends time at Brideshead and meets the other members of the family: Lord Bridey, Julia, and Cordelia, the siblings of Sebastian and his mother Lady Marchmain.

The story that ensues details his relationships, his beliefs, and his life's journey from Oxford to his revisiting Brideshead in 1944. As with many classic pieces of literature the themes on which the author focuses are well delineated and presented. Brideshead Revisited has no dearth of such themes. With Evelyn Waugh, the reader must remember his roots as a satirist as the exploration of those themes ensues. Noteworthy are his treatments of alcoholism and the acceptance of it by the aristocracy in Post WWI England and a heavy handed examination of the Roman Catholic dogma and church. Each member of the Flyte family exhibits a different commitment to his or her faith and as such embodies Waughs struggle with his own beliefs.

Another characteristic that stands out in classic literature is the richeness of the language. I don't know if we as readers in 2012 are less intelligent or lazier than those in 1945, but to read a novel that is so infused with beautiful language is so refreshing. Page after page the reader is treated to a feast of words that flow with richness that is a characteristic of the past. 

Brideshead Revisited is worthy of a read or a re-read. It's provocative, probing, and profound.

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