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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
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Dec 18, 08

Read in December, 2008

** spoiler alert ** The plot of this novel has rather unexpected twists and turns. Certainly none of the reviews I found inside and on the back cover quite prepared me for the direction the story took. On the surface, it is about the relationship of the protagonist, Charles Ryder, an artist, with the Flytes, an aristocratic family who owns a vast estate called Brideshead. Ryder is first friends with the family's younger son, Sebastian, whom he met at Oxford. Later in the story, Ryder falls in love with Sebastian's sister, Julia. Contrary to what the synopsis may lead you to believe, this is not merely a story about an age passing away, it is about religion, in particular Catholicism, and its impact on the lives of both believers and non-believers. Sebastian finds his mother's religious piety so oppressive that he turns to alcohol and ends up in ruins somewhere in Tunisia. This is by far the most tragic part of the story, and the most tragic reflection of what misplaced religious devotion can drive people to. I certainly was not prepared, however, for the ending, which, to me, as a Christian myself (Protestant, not Catholic), I find quite uplifting. The ending is something of a rarity in literature, and I can definitely see why some critics hated it when the book first came out. Religion is certainly a dirty word today. But personally, I think Waugh is not being didactic at all--after all, Sebastian's tale provides enough of a balancing counter-perspective. One of my problems with the story is that I don't feel Ryder as the main character is sympathetic enough. Indeed, he comes across as more and more of a jerk as the story goes on, although I can understand his motivations seeing as he is an agnostic in the midst of a religion that he completely believes is all "bosh". This is mainly what stops me from calling this a great book. But still the dialog is very heartfelt. and especially the scene with Lord Marchmain at the deathbed receiving the final sacrament, it's moving without being overwrought. The book is full of memorable characters. Sebastian should be one of literature's great tragic heroes of all time.
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