1) This book is the twisted story of a homosexual affair, which I was truly not expecting it to be. But what surprised me is that it all takes place within a thick pall of implied and overt homosexuality. And the best character in the whole book is a Quentin Crisp-style flaming queer called Anthony Blanche who says things like "Good evening Mulcaster, old sponge and toady, are you lurking amongst the hobbledehoys? b) Nor in the book is there any trace of disapproval anywhere, from anyone, that homosexuality is wrong. 2) This book appears to think its point is a religious one. 4) This book presents us with one of my least favourite types of characters, the doomed agonised male with whom we are supposed to agonise along with and swoon over and indeed love. She had more of a story going by page 100 I think, although that was a slowly crawling overfed turtle of a book too.
Our narrator, a non-Catholic officer based on the home front in World War II Britain, revisits a mansion he first visited as a young man and reflects back on his close relationship with a Catholic family.
He tried to keep his life with Charles and his Catholic family separate. Perhaps Sebastian realizes his Catholic guilt will also kill his relationship with Charles. Slowly, Sebastian becomes a virulently self-destructive drunk, as the family communicates to Charles that they dont mind their childish relationship, but that it is a phase that will need to pass. Charles also comes to understand the strength that the orthodox religion has on the family as he watches Sebastian slowly drink himself to death. However, there is such a sense of denigration from that first romance of Sebastians and Charles, and it runs through the entire novel and even into Charles and Julias romance. The mother, Lady Marchmain Flyte, is very pious separated from her philandering husband (who lives with his mistress in Italy), but refusing to divorce the man for her Catholic beliefs. I sense author Waughs latent homosexuality, and there is a strong sense of his gross envy of the travels and money and wondrous things and parties and balls of the upper class like his narrator Charles does. And there is a palpable sense of guilt and shame that the Catholicism brings on there doesnt seem to be much mercy in Waughs God. Everything just slowly gets worse and sicker and more depressed. Even though Charles comes to respect the spiritual belief and even attend to it some, I am still struck by the decay, the corrosion, the purification of the beautiful house Brideshead and of its family, the Flytes. As a gay man and being from a Catholic family (although the Flytes are wealthy and we are white trash), I love this book, even as it frustrates me.
"Brideshead Revisited" is almost the opposite of Waugh's "Vile Bodies"/"Bright Young Things" in that it starts off as a tragedy, or at least pretty damn close to E. He does completely nothing to stop the decay around him which culminates, just as in "Vile Bodies", in WW2.
This story had a great deal of potential in it, oblique mentions of heartrending stories of religious guilt and tortured shame and individual souls beating themselves bloody on the walls of an uncaring sociocultural framework, and it is largely this potential that kept me going through pages of insipidly flat characters running around, trampling on everyone without the slightest attempt to understand their desires or care about the ones of others. It isn't just the narrator that suffers from this, but the entire cast of characters, the whole story even, a whole flat mess of caricatured nonsense that is trying to convey a message in the most contrived of methods. Best of all, the flat characters that drown their passions in meaningless prattle, the obvious distinctions between when the author is droning out plot and when he is attempting to convey themes and meaning, the constant hints at powerful emotions of religious suffering, cultural decay, and sexual deviancy? I've read many that are certainly worthy of the title in my mind, novels that pushed and pulled at my sensibilities, opened my mind to gorgeous forms of prose and powerful emotional themes, changed my worldview countless times while managing to achieve the simple goals of making me laugh, cry, feel for characters that I will never truly know but find them as fascinatingly complex nonetheless, regardless of whether they inspire love or hatred. Back when I was still feeling angry with the story, I considered not reading the rest of the author's works that I have added.
I sometimes have problems writing about the books I really like, and I loved this novel. I was familiar with the plot having seen the 2008 movie, but I didn't expect to love the book as much as I did or to get so completely immersed in the story. I was caught up in each person I felt Charles' yearning, I understood Sebastian's angst, I admired Julia's sass, and I pitied Lady Marchmain's self-righteousness. If you like audio books, I highly recommend seeking out that version.
Not only were the schools (at least, the sort that Charles and Sebastian attended) single-sex, so were the colleges at university. HOMOSEXUALITY When I first read the book as a naive teenager, I thought the book was somewhat ambiguous about Charles and Sebastian's relationship. As an adult, I have no doubt that it was sexual, but that although Sebastian is gay, Charles is towards the straight end of bisexual: his attraction, nay obsession, is more with the Marchmain family than any individual member of it. Naked male friends sunbathing may seem very gay nowadays, but was less so for Charles and Sebastian in Oxford. ALOYSIUS Sebastian takes his teddy bear to Oxford and treats him as a living pet.
Just as Charles Ryder is seduced by the aristocratic Marchmain family in Brideshead Revisited, I was seduced by Evelyn Waughs gorgeous prose, elegy to lost youth and dreams, and the glamorous between the wars setting. The pacing is strange, but its hinted at in the subtitle: The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. I find it fascinating that Waugh converted to Catholicism later in life. Theres this passage: Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence.
It follows here: The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. If a reader compares where the characters start and where they finish, one sees that the authors personal views have clearly dictated how the story should end. Conversely, one can argue that the author has drawn the story in such a way that one can find reasons other than those purely theological to explain the characters choices. In my view, homosexuality is dealt with even better than religion. A reader is given food for thought and a peephole into another way of being. Readers have no difficulty determining the respective characters sexual preferences. I can look at the plot-line and say the author pushes his own views a bit too far, but despite this, the passage from start to finish, with its mix of serious and funny, was always enjoyable, and I was never bored. The relationship between the two central characters, Sebastian and Charles, by the way they meet at Oxford, is what drew me the most; unfortunately, this thread peters out halfway through. My enjoyment of the writing, the humor and the clever satire and my need to find out how the book would conclude cannot be denied. He makes Waughs humor funnier.
Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. Waugh would derive parts of A Handful of Dust from this unhappy time. After the Second World War he published what is for many his masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited, in which his Catholicism took centre stage. Evelyn Waugh, considered by many to be the greatest satirical novelist of his day, died on 10 April 1966 at the age of 62.