Friday, August 1

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

amy welborn




Note:This is another of those 540-word Liguorian pieces. Obviously, lots more could and should be said. Someday I'll do something a bit longer for OSV. For more Waugh information, see the links at the end.
Very few authors made the Modern Library's 1998 "100 Best Novels of All Time" more than twice: James Joyce, William Faulkner, Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and -- Evelyn Waugh.
Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) is usually remembered for brutally satirical novels that lay bare subjects as diverse as the shallow, rootless generation of wealthy young people drifting through English society between the two world wars (most notably in Vile Bodies); the American funeral industry, portrayed in The Loved One,; and journalism, featured in Scoop and A Handful of Dust,both featured on the "100 Best" list.
In Waugh's third title on the Modern Library list, Brideshead Revisited,all of his considerable literary gifts are on display: his satirical eye, a superb prose style, perfect dialogue. In addition, Brideshead reveals another element of Waugh's vision: his
Catholic faith, which he embraced as a convert in 1930.
Brideshead Revisited is the story of narrator Charles Ryder's long and complicated relationship with the Marchmains, and aristocratic Roman Catholic family. Their home, Brideshead, a sprawling estate built over centuries in a riot of styles, stands at the center of the tale. It symbolizes not only the diverse, conflicted family it houses, but also the family's Catholicism and their varied of ways of living it out.
While a student at Oxford, Charles meets Sebastian, the family's youngest son. Charles' intense friendship with Sebastian, an eccentric, charming, but obviously deeply pained yougn man, opens Charles' eyes to a world infinitely mroe itneresting and stimulating than anything his own family had ever offered.
Meeting Sebastian's family affects Charles even further. The time he spends at Brideshead helps him discern his vocation as an architectural artist, and his continuing exposure to the Marchmains' faith begins to challenge his closely held secular view of life.
But this faith turns out to be as complicated as the varied responses of the Marchmains to their Chruch and their God. Lad Marchmain's piety will not allow her to divorce her husband, even though Lord Marchmain never returned from the Continent after World War I, remaining in Italy, living with a mistress. Younger sister Cordelia's enthusiastic religiosity gifts her with an expansive, loving heart,unconstrained even toward her elder sister Julia, who marries a divorced man outside the Church.
Charles' increased intimacy with the Marchmains in turns affects the friendship between the two young men. There is something about his family that drives Sebastian to despair and a need to flee, from himself more than anything else. And flee Sebastian does -- into alcoholism and then to North Africa, where he spends the rest of his life.
But the intimacy Charles had with one member of the Marchmains is continued with another. Years after his initial acquaintance with the family, the married Charles begins an affair with Julia. It's in the context of this affair of Lord Marchmain's return to Brideshead to die that the crucial issues of the novel and of life itself are brought to painful climax. We may run from God with all our strength, it seems, but in the end, God patiently waits nonethless.
Amy Welborn
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