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. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them
One of those books that have been lying around for ages (and where you have a vague recollection of an unwatched mini-series from 30 years ago…..).
First published in 1945, this book is split into 3 sections – the first being Charles Ryder, in the army, returning to Brideshead to use it as local army headquarters. He first visited Brideshead when he was at Oxford and met up with the younger Flyte son Sebastian. This takes us into a reminiscence of Charles’s interaction with the Flyte family. Sebastian comes first, and he and Charles have some form of love affair. There is some debate as to whether it was just a romantic love affair (as some young men are wont to do – think it would be called a “bromance” nowadays) or something more sexual (unlikely to be more explicit considering time it was written). Julia is Sebastian’s younger sister, an unavailable female version of Sebastian as well as their rather strongly Catholic mother. Their father lives in Italy with his mistress, unable to get a divorce because his wife wont grant it.
Sebastian only really appears in the first third of the book, and the relationship between Charles and the Flyte family falls apart through Sebastian’s excessive drinking. Sebastian disappears onto the continent somewhere and is barely heard of again until the end, and only then by third hand.
The second section of the book details Charles’s relationship with Julia, where the two meet again several years later and end up living together for several years – both having married and on track to get divorces as a result. They plan to get married once both divorces come through, but over the subsequent years whilst waiting on the divorces, several large events come about. Julia’s brother Brideshead, decides to get married to a hideous widow with 2 children, and now that Julia’s mother has died, Julia’s father decides to return to Brideshead in order to die.
The last, short section of the book returns Charles to Brideshead as part of the army who have taken residence in the empty home.
There are large swathes of narrative, with page long paragraphs, especially at the beginning, which would have turned me off the book had it gone on for much longer. There is also some conflict between the very Catholic Flyte family and the rather atheist Charles, which brings conflict throughout the book.