Monday, September 3, 2007
Read Brideshead Revisted over the holiday. Besides the annoyance of constantly having to inform people that Evelyn Waugh was actually a man, I found the book fairly compelling. It was strange though. For an author often described as the greatest humorist, social-satirist of the twentieth century, the theme was very conservative and earnest. The story involves the relationship between Charles Ryder and the Flyte family. The Flytes are old money English aristocracy, while Charles comes from humbler origins. Charles and Sebastian Flyte meet while at Oxford and quickly become thick as thieves. Sebastian takes Charles back to Brideshead, the family manor, over holiday, and Charles is seduced by the Flyte mystique and lifestyle. Unfortunately, Sebastian falls into dissolution as an alcoholic holy fool and Charles moves on to the next Flyte. He falls in love a few years later with the distant Julia, the older sister, and they both obtain scandalous divorces to be together. Charles is an agnostic. The Flytes have always been Roman Cathloics, although lapsed, and, in the end, Julia renounces Charles as a gesture of respect to her faith. Ryder returns to Brideshead years later, during WWII as an army captain, the broken down manor serving as lodging for his company. The only thing untouched by the war years, the years of decay and despair, is the Brideshead Chapel. Charles kneels and murmurs "ancient words, newly learned" and rises a new man. Apparently, Waugh wrote this book after his conversion to Catholicism. It's a very Christian novel, without the least bit of irony or satire. Waugh means to say, I think, that the true significance of Brideshead, the attraction to agnostic Charles wasn't the wealth, the glamour, the aristocratic values, but, rather, the perpetual light burning deep in the heart of the chapel; it just took him twenty years to realize it. Interesting theme for a universally lauded novel, I thought. Not exactly what I was expecting, but c'est la vie.