Aubrey's Reviews > Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
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Sep 16, 14

bookshelves: 1001-06-12, rage-against-the-sexuality, reviewed, 2-star, 1-read-on-hand, r-2013, r-goodreads
Read from June 02 to 11, 2013


When I first started reading this book, I was puzzled, lost even in my effort to find what exactly the author was attempting. As time and pages passed, I grew horribly angry with it all, and wondered if I would be able to finish and review the story without a note of fury running through it and wrecking what analysis I could present. Now that I've finished, I find myself saddened by the entire experience. With that in mind, let me explain.

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. To put it plainly, I loathed every single one of them, the narrator most of all, who made great friends with the one person whose storyline could have redeemed the entire book. Instead of caring the slightest bit for said 'friend', he wasted countless pages on selfish pursuits of 'love' and 'art' and philosophical meanderings that were the most pitifully idiotic things I have seen in a long time. Why is he alone? Why does life pass him by? What is beauty, history, and why has he been driven from Arcadia? Because he's an emotionally stunted git who makes friends and discovers passions and finds love and doesn't care about any of it, or if he does chooses to expound on it in the most unbelievable of ways, drawing upon learning and knowledge that are nothing more than out of character information dumps formatted in purple prose more laughably ridiculous than beautiful (excessive semicolons are not to everyone's taste).

And then I thought to myself, wait. 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. Which means only one thing. This is the author that is failing miserably at delivering, and there's no wonder why.

This is the kind of book that English classes would adore, or at least the teachers would, as while the work is not so great in itself, it is the perfect springboard for discussion of all matters of issues. 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? All perfect material for discussions and essays, as there are barely any obvious overtones for the students could grasp at, a paltry amount of quotes for easy access to what teachers would consider to be "critical thinking". Chances are, this is what the author took away from the classroom, and these are the methodologies by which he chose to write his book.

It's disappointing, really, to see the effects of classroom indoctrination in something deemed a classic, which raises the question of what a "classic" really implies. 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. This book, though. It fulfills the aspects required for the average education well enough, and is worthwhile in its own way. But it could have been so much more, and the fact that it isn't is a tragedy in itself.

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've decided that I will, but not for a while, and only for the hope that he made some improvements. It's not his fault that the education concerning literature is not what it could be, and shows itself so plainly in his writing. I can only hope for improvement in the future.
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Quotes Aubrey Liked

Evelyn Waugh
“My father from long habit took a book with him to the table and then, remembering my presence, furtively dropped it under his chair.”
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh
“This was my conversion to the baroque. Here under that high and insolent dome, under those tricky ceilings; here, as I passed through those arches and broken pediments to the pillared shade beyond and sat, hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes, rejoicing in all its clustered feats of daring and invention, I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones was indeed a life-giving spring.”
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Reading Progress

06/02/2013 marked as: currently-reading
06/08/2013 page 62
19.0% "My father from long habit took a book with him to the table and then, remembering my presence, furtively dropped it under his chair."
06/11/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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Steve Sckenda So sorry that it did not resonate. Sometimes a book does its job when it makes us angry too.

Aubrey Well, it did let me know that I prefer emotionally raw narratives over those desiccated by society, which made reading it worthwhile in its own right.

message 3: by Steve (last edited Jun 11, 2013 08:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steve Sckenda Aubrey wrote: "Well, it did let me know that I prefer emotionally raw narratives over those desiccated by society, which made reading it worthwhile in its own right."

I appreciate seeing it explained like that--i.e., the preference for "emotionally raw" rather than "emotionally stunted." I'm kind of emotionally raw person in real life--sometimes it's nice for me to take a break from my own persona to read about the overly-reserved types that often show up in these novels of the British aristocracy.

message 4: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason Koivu This sounds like Of Human Bondage, but with even more contemplation and less of driving on of the plot. So, I think I'll pass. Besides your warning, for which I'm thankful, I recently started watching the Jeremy Irons miniseries version and couldn't get into it. I might have if I'd read/seen this when I was a mopey, too-introspective teen.

Aubrey Ha ha, oh dear. I loved OHB when I first read it, so now I'm a bit concerned about my reread. But I'm glad my review was useful to you nonetheless.

message 6: by Samadrita (new) - added it

Samadrita Oh dear seems like this won't go into my 'Aubrey recommends' shelf. Maybe I'll find another Waugh to read when I get to him.

Aubrey Or you could read it and convince me out of my huddle of sadness. Disliking books always leaves me gloomy.

He does have plenty of other works, though, of which I'm planning on reading 'A Handful of Dust' and 'The Loved One'. So you have plenty of options.

message 8: by Samadrita (last edited Jun 11, 2013 11:20PM) (new) - added it

Samadrita Aubrey wrote: "Or you could read it and convince me out of my huddle of sadness."

Actually that sounds like a good idea. I had my eye on 'A Handful of Dust' as well. Let's see which one I pick first.

message 9: by Ema (new) - added it

Ema Oh no, you've even lowered the rating until I was able to read your review! I've had great expectations for this novel and now I don't know what to think... But then, I might (still) be an inexperienced reader and enjoy it...

message 10: by Aubrey (last edited Jun 11, 2013 11:27PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Aubrey Ema wrote: "Oh no, you've even lowered the rating until I was able to read your review! I've had great expectations for this novel and now I don't know what to think... But then, I might (still) be an inexperi..."

I'm truly sorry about that. I'm a horrible fiddler of ratings/reviews after they're published, which is a result of a bad mix of impatience and indecisiveness on my part. Also, there are multitudes of positive reviews out there by people who have been at this reading/reviewing business for far longer than I, and in addition I admit to large amounts of personal bias. Like I said to Samadrita, outside viewpoints are much appreciated and encouraged.

message 11: by Ema (new) - added it

Ema Don't be sorry, Aubrey! Despite the positive reviews, I'll also take your opinion into account. I haven't read anything by Evelyn Waugh yet, so I might start with A Handful of Dust instead of this one.

message 12: by Stephen (new)

Stephen P I find it really difficult to write a negative review. With the, Woman Upstairs, I gave it 1 star then ran. Well, ran and hid. I think the trick is to unleash one's disappointment and anger yet give specific reasons why it failed. You did this. It worked.

Aubrey Thanks, Stephen. It helps that I spend a good deal of time analyzing myself whenever I'm angry, in an effort to calm myself down with reasonable insight. Comes with having a horrible temper that often leads to broken things if I'm not very careful.

message 14: by Tej (new) - added it

Tej ha! I haven't read him at all and your 2 stars (2.5) to a book eulogized as I see most of 4's and 5's obviously rather intrigued :))! After reading your review, found a funny passage in wikipedia page, where Waugh writes to Graham Greene,

in 1950 he wrote to Graham Greene saying "I re-read Brideshead Revisited and was appalled".


"It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster — the period of soya beans and Basic English — and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful."


message 15: by Jonfaith (new)

Jonfaith I tend to agree with your assessment. Twice I attempted to scale such and twice I turned back,largely from apathy.

I do appreciate the citation supplied by Tej above.

message 16: by Kalliope (last edited Jun 12, 2013 05:25AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kalliope Very interesting approach... I read it a while ago and liked it a great deal, but I wonder if I would feel the same now. In general I like his generation of writers. My impression is that they wrote naturally, not too self-conscious.

message 17: by Madeleine (new) - added it

Madeleine 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 at themes and meaning

Oooof, that sounds like uninvitingly like Ayn Rand.

You did a wonderful job of expressing the specifics of your displeasure with this. Negative reviews are such beasts to write but you handled it perfectly.

Cecily When you are considering which other Waugh to read, bear in mind, they are quite varied. I think A Handful of Dust is a brilliant work, but it contains a particularly nasty and self-involved character, so may not be the best choice, and Vile Bodies has a cast of Brideshead-like characters.

On the other hand, Decline and Fall is, in some ways, like a comic caricature of Brideshead, and the The Sword of Honour Trilogy is also more humorous than Brideshead.

message 19: by Aubrey (last edited Jun 12, 2013 12:36PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Aubrey @Tej: Ha ha, well that's encouraging. Although, consensus on writing dictates that if the author doesn't hate their work a little bit, they're doing it wrong. So...still funny, though, so thanks for going through the trouble of finding and posting that.

@Jonfaith: Thank you, I'm glad it agreed with you.

@Kalliope: Yes, the 'naturally' bit came across loud and clear, and unfortunately I was not in agreement with most of it. Oh well. As I said in the review, I'm hoping for better results next time.

@Madeleine: Not nearly as bad as Ayn Rand. I think. I hope. It's been a while since I read her Atlas Shrugged, so what do I know.

And thank you. Negative reviews are painful, but they're good practice for arguing points without resorting to illogical methodologies. I'm glad that came across.

@Cecily: Thank you for the advice. I'll be sure to take it into consideration when I return to Waugh.

message 20: by Mala (new)

Mala Aubrey, BR is supposedly Waugh's best work & if that left you unimpressed,chances are his other works wouldn't cut much ice either...
Good thing is,there is no dearth of other interesting writers & other interesting books!

message 21: by Cecily (last edited Jun 14, 2013 02:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Mala wrote: "Aubrey, BR is supposedly Waugh's best work..."

I think it's undeniably his best known, but I don't think it's his best, and I suspect I'm not the only one to think that.

Here's a very old (1972!) article from The Atlantic, discussing the relative merits of Waugh's works. It rates Brideshead bottom of the pile:

And an even older one from the same source, that also gives useful comparisons:

message 22: by Mala (last edited Jun 14, 2013 02:55AM) (new)

Mala This book invites love & hate ( read: ridicule) in equal measure- therefore,just to be on the safe side,I used 'supposedly' :-)

And thanks for the links,Cecily.

Aubrey @Mala: Yes, well, I do own another one of his, so I might as well get to it eventually. Until then, as you have duly pointed out, I will be occupying myself with other writers who deserve my attention.

@Cecily: I also thank you for the links. They will be useful when I'm deciding what of his I should read next.

message 24: by Eric (new)

Eric Not a fan of Waugh then, eh? I remember you looking for stuff of his that library sale last fall. Well, Decline and Fall is really funny and not too long, so there's that.

Aubrey's hoping for better results next time.

message 26: by Amy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Amy You put into word what I could not. This is exactly how I felt about this book!!! Thank you!!!

message 27: by Aubrey (last edited Jul 05, 2013 12:56PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Aubrey You're welcome, Amy. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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