Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This is one of the classic books that I recently re-read for a Bookworms meeting. I say re- read because I’m sure I have read it at least once before, but it’s difficult to tell because I have also watched the near perfect TV version filmed at Castle Howard. I was surprised how closely this version follows the book; large chunks of dialogue is lifted straight from the novel. I suppose it reflects the leisured approach to adaptation for the screen, which can make for lengthy series (Forsyte Saga?) but exact reproduction of the book. The lovely Castle Howard is fairly local to us, and I know that if you get the right service bus you go through part of the grounds. I have not actually visited it, but certainly the landscape is beautiful.

(A quick memory from the series)

This is a book that many people think that they have read, but if you have not, it is certainly one to be put on your list.

Charles Ryder has gone to Oxford from a background as different as possible from his chance met friend, Lord Sebastian Flyte. Charles father is a preoccupied man who barely seems to notice that he has a son, but throughout the book he provides some unintentional humour. Sebastian comes from a family seemingly split by money and religion, but it is the latter factor which comes to dominate the novel. The Marchmain family inhabit beautiful, huge buildings, but seem to communicate only to dominate and in some respects, destroy.

When we discussed this book, we raised the problem in this book of the strict Catholicism which is followed by some family members, which can be destructive as much as comforting. Charles, a character who sees what is happening but seems unable to prevent or alleviate tragedy, is more than an observer but there are times when I wish he would act more decisively to save at least Sebastian. There is so much in this book, but I enjoy the Oxford section of bad behaviour and golden youth, when Charles first sees and falls in love with a house, a lifestyle and so much else. There are some memorable sections throughout the book, but I think that it is the first half with its glorious assumption of life as it has always been lived, and will always be lived, which survives. The story is so strong, the people so real, that the cracks and downfall seem so painful. Real love seems elusive, but there are so many undercurrents going on that it is difficult to categorize this book and if it can be seen as a religious book, reportage of a lifestyle, or a book of tragedy.  I believe that Waugh had mixed feelings about this book, probably his best known, but I think that it is a stunning portrayal of a time, place and people that are almost too real at times.

So, if you have a little time over these warmer (!) months, are happy to sink into a world so different from that which we (probably!) live in, and want a book which asks lots of questions about a family under pressure, this is a classic summer read.