Cecily's Reviews > Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1199525
's review
Aug 13, 14

bookshelves: classics, humour

Evocative and nostalgic tale, infused with religion and (homo)sexuality, and hence passion, betrayal and guilt.

The later part, about Charles and Celia and then Charles and Julia is more subtle, realistic and sad than the light frivolity of Oxford days.

Hollinghurst's "The Stranger's Child" has many echoes of this (review here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).


It's five years since I last read this, but a few ideas that have come back to me by discussing it elsewhere:

SEGREGATION
People were strongly segregated by class and gender in those days. Not only were the schools (at least, the sort that Charles and Sebastian attended) single-sex, so were the colleges at university. The fact that people of their background were invariably packed off to boarding school from the age of 7 or 8, not returning until the holidays, created segregation from their parents as well. And of course there weren't many scholarship boys to broaden the social mix.

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. Nudism and "health and efficiency" were popular at the time, and there was nothing inherently gay about it. Kafka was a straight man of the period who was an enthusiast.

Also, as recently as the early 1980s there was a men-only nudist club on the banks of the river in central Oxford, (in)famously frequented by dons (professors) and clergy. It may still be there, though if so, it might be mixed sex, as the colleges themselves are. If you want to Google it, it was (is?) called Parsons' Pleasure!

ALOYSIUS
Sebastian takes his teddy bear to Oxford and treats him as a living pet. Although his presence clearly signals a certain immaturity, I suspect that in Sebastian's mind it was at least as much a deliberate ploy to be seen as appealingly eccentric.

Apparently this element is based on John Betjeman taking his bear, Archibald Ormsby-Gore, to Oxford (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archibal...).

CATHOLICISM
To me, the Church is portrayed pretty negatively, yet some Catholics see it in a more positive light, and Waugh himself converted. I'm not sure whether that reflects a strength or a weakness in Waugh's writing.

Even so, how is this for biting satire, when Lady Marchmain is talking to Charles about her wealth and the perception that wealth can interfere with following Christ:

"It [being very rich] used to worry me, and I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor. The poor have always been the favourites of God and his saints, but I believe that is is one of the special achievements of Grace to sanctify the whole of life, riches included."
(Book 1, Chapter V, p. 113)

BRIDESHEAD, OXFORD AND ME
I have many fond associations with this book: I was at secondary school in Oxford (a single-sex school, where I was a boarder), so know the city well, and something of communal, single-sex living. I first read the book and also saw the excellent Granada TV adaptation at that time, and had a bit of a crush on Anthony Andrews (who played Sebastian).
26 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Brideshead Revisited.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Love the last quote... Talk about justification!


Mark Great review Cecily.

I read this decades ago so could not comment too accurately but I do remember the account of Lord Marchmain being reconciled to the Church on his death bed as being quite moving. Though maybe that was because i was a bright eyed 22 year old with hardly a cynical bone in my innocent little body.


Cecily Thanks, Mark, though I'm not sure this qualifies as a review: more of a selection of thoughts. I first read it in my teens (though even then I had some cynical bones), and I think once each decade since.


message 4: by Stephanie (last edited Nov 15, 2013 12:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephanie Sun Parsons Pleasure! Oh dear, my feed has been so dead lately I set about exploring the by-ways of Goodreads looking for some fresh stuff, and came upon this great collection of thoughts related to Brideshead.

Be careful what you wish for, as they say.


Cecily Ah, did you Google to see if Parsons' Pleasure is still a going concern, or did the very idea of it... enliven your day?!


message 6: by Stephanie (last edited Nov 15, 2013 12:28PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephanie Sun Just "folklore" now according to Wikipedia. I can imagine not only Sebastian, Anthony Blanche, and Charles there but Lord Peter Wimsey as well, especially in lieu of Bowra in below story:

"One anecdote has it that a number of dons were sunbathing nude at Parson's Pleasure when a female student floated by in a punt. All but one of the startled dons covered their genitals — Maurice Bowra placed a flannel over his head instead. When asked why he had done that, he replied haughtily, 'I don’t know about you, gentlemen, but in Oxford, I, at least, am known by my face.'"


Cecily Lovely anecdote, and you tempted me to brave Wikipedia on the subject. If it's correct, the story is folklore, but the place itself WAS real - until it closed in 1991.


Stephanie Sun Cecily wrote: "Lovely anecdote, and you tempted me to brave Wikipedia on the subject. If it's correct, the story is folklore, but the place itself WAS real - until it closed in 1991."

I believe it!


Kalliope This book is also close to my heart as is the TV series. The section that takes place in Venice can even be watched on its own.


message 10: by Lada (last edited Aug 13, 2014 11:34PM) (new)

Lada Venice atopos of coming to terms with a lot of things. Traditional topos. I have read it. I have some memories on it. Book revisited talk about myself. place about us...our attitudes. emotions. Innocence passing by. great and small


message 11: by Jasmine (new) - added it

Jasmine I like your informative review and I (eventually!) added this book to my TR-list. You mention that Hollinghurst's "The Stranger's Child" echoes this book. Would you therefore recommend to read "Brideshead Revisited" before tackling Hollinghurst's book? I am asking you because I absolutely loved Hollinghurst's "Line of Beauty"; however, while reading it, I realised that it would have been an advantage to be better acquainted with Henry Jame's literary work. Maybe here we have the same situation with Waugh's work?


Cecily Kallioe and Lada, if you enjoy the Venetian aspect, the 2008 film (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412536/) changed the plot significantly, in terms of changing the timeline and having much more time in Venice.

To my surprise, once I let go of expectations of it being close to the book, I really enjoyed it.


Cecily Jasmine wrote: "You mention that Hollinghurst's "The Stranger's Child" echoes this book. Would you therefore recommend to read "Brideshead Revisited" before tackling Hollinghurst's book?"

I don't think it's necessary to read them any particular way round. My point was more that if you do read them both, you'll probably enjoy seeing the parallels (and differences). I suppose it might make more sense to read them chronologically, given that Hollinghurst must have been influenced by Waugh, but I'm sure someone could make a case for doing the opposite!


message 14: by Kalliope (last edited Aug 14, 2014 12:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kalliope Cecily wrote: "Kallioe and Lada, if you enjoy the Venetian aspect, the 2008 film (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0412536/) changed the plot significantly, in terms of changing the timeline and having much more time ..."

Thank you, I have not seen the more modern version. Will look for it and enjoy the Venice part.


message 15: by Jasmine (new) - added it

Jasmine Good point, thank you Cecily, I think I will read Waugh's book first.


back to top