Friday, January 18, 2019

A Note On Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited


Reading BR was like watching something big and awful happen but from a considerable distance: historical (WW I), cultural (decline of English upper class country life and religion), and sensibility.  The British inexpressiveness leaves me lukewarm.  The falling in love of Charles and Julia and the subsequent messing up of families seemed absurdly bland to me.  My most intense reaction was hysterical laughter at two comic set pieces, which have already fled my mind.  The book made me realize what a pure product of my time I am, and was happy to be so, until recently (and the shock was pre-Trump). Philip Roth remains my bard.  


I have quite different reactions. Nothing cracked me up though some parts were amusing. I didn’t really note inexpressiveness as much for some characters, most evidently Charles and Julia too, a certain stiff-upper-lippedness a kind of stoicism as reflected in their way of speaking that btw contrasts with Anthony Blanche’s talk, talk, talk, lisps and all, the unhinged yak yak yak too of the gang of student aesthetes, with Mottram and his ilk’s absurd talking, oddly enough, with Cordelia’s long narrative about finding Simon and with the chatter of others too including even Nanny Hawkins and the vast assortment of minor characters whose verbal tics are the windows of their souls or often enough their soullessness. 

I was swept up in Julia and Charles love affair and became emotionally invested in it, dreading the inevitability of their break up and feeling the depths of Julia’s recovery of her Catholicism. 

So moving did I find that for me it put the whole novel into a frame of reference in the broad movement from the “gay” sensibility of the Oxford student aesthetes to the reverence Julia comes to and in which she joins Cordelia.  With respect to that reverence, Charles becomes the stoical outsider looking in even as he too is moved to pray. 

All this is set within what leads up to WW11, as lightly sketched in save of course for the novel’s bookends prologue and epilogue, and the war as such, which the two logues bring home to us. 

In looking back on the sweep of the novel from the final standpoint of that most deep reverence and the war itself, the vast and abundant fictional world Waugh creates is, as I had said, magnificent.

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