Monday, November 9, 2015

Classics Club 16: Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited opens with Charles Ryder, a middle -aged officer in the British Army, establishing himself and his unit in a large country estate that has been requisitioned. for their use. As it turns out Ryder has quite a connection with this house and the majority of the novel recollects his experiences at the house and with the family that own it.

Following his memorable first encounter with flamboyant Sebastian Flyte at Oxford university Ryder is introduced to all the members of the dysfunctional Flyte family (family patriarch Lord Marchmain is separated from his wife and their aristocratic home of Brideshead. He lives overseas with his mistress; however his wife's Catholic beliefs mean a divorce is out of the question). Sebastian's  alcohol problems eventually cause him to drift away from his family and out of Ryder's life. Some 10 years later Ryder, unhappily married, meets up with Sebastian's sister Julia and the pair later become engaged.

I did enjoy certain  aspects of the novel. The writing contained some lovely lush and detailed descriptions, especially of  the  food and architecture. I also enjoyed the understated humour in many scenes such as when Ryder's father tried to convince him that he needed to live within his means. I appreciated the commentary on religion, especially the role that differences of opinion over the Roman Catholic faith played in the lives of the characters and how such differences led to several key events in the plot.Most notable was the debate over whether or not Lord Marchmain should see a priest in his last days and how this ultimately led to a turning point for Charles and Julia's relationship.

Overall, though I did not enjoy it., The major sticking point for me was the characters whom I found to be vapid, self-centered  and shallow with barely one redeeming feature between the lot of them. As a result I couldn't bring myself to care about them or their fate. While the novel was meant to be a nostalgic look at a lifestyle of days gone by I just wanted to shout "good riddance". If the Flytes were representative of that aristocratic lifestyle then British society is surely better for its demise.

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