Saturday, April 22, 2006

Book Report: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Regular readers of my book reports will have noticed that I often complain about the endings of books. An otherwise fine book can lose a star or two in my rating system with a bad ending. I am happy to be reminded that not all books are like that. The ending of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh converted me from being mildly negative about the book to being an enthusiastic supporter.

About a fourth of the books I "read," are actually Books-on-Tape, to which I listen as I drive around and out of town. Commercial radio has become unlistenable with long blocs of time taken up by back-to-back commercials and public radio, with the exception of "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross is so earnestly boring. Not all Book-on-Tape readers are created equally, but a really-good reader can free one's imagination to create a unique literary experience better than either visually reading a book or watching a movie of the story. Brideshead was read by Jeremy Irons, the British actor who played the narrator, Charles Ryder, in the Masterpiece Theater version of the story. Irons is the perfect reader for this book (as he was for another of my favorite Books on Tape, , by Vladimir Nabokov. (This is interesting. Blogspot will not allow me to print the name of that book, which is a classic, but the name of which has become associated with ia. I can type the name, but when I try to save or publish the post, it removes the name, leaving a space. Aren't you glad that the internet can be programmed to save your virtue like that? With all the real ography on the internet, to have to spell Nabokov's masterpiece, L*lita, seems a bit much. Oh, it removed the word p*d*philia from my post as well, leaving only ia. Oh, and p*rn*graphy is now gone as well. Sigh. With all the hardc*re (that's a f*rbidden word too, as is f*rbidden)stuff on the internet and I can't tell you about Jeremy Irons's Books on Tape. I thought I'd never say this, but "Thank God for spam. It has taught me how to evade the electronic censors.)

To revisit Brideshead Revisited, after I had read the first quarter of the book, I was telling myself, "Waugh sure knows his way around words, but who cares about the sighings of the British upper class?" I have an aversion to the fictional depictions of a class of people whose biggest decision of the day is how to dress for dinner, and this book seemed like a nostalgic longing for a day when the sun never set on the British Empire and the natives never had it so good.

But people change in this book, and not only people, but the whole tone of the book changes as its characters change. Charles has an intense relationship, probably homosexual, although Waugh is not explicit about it, as a young man, with Sebastian, a scion of an aristocratic family. Sebastian gradually lets alcohol take over his life and drops from view, but in the meantime Charles takes up with one of the daughters of the family, Julia, while both Charles and Julia are married to other people. Neither Charles nor Julia are religious, but towards the end of the book, Julia becomes a believer and feels she has to break off her relationship with Charles, who after witnessing a d*ath bed (now d*ath has become a f*rbidden word. What is wrong with this program?) miracle when the head of the family, Lord Marchmain dies, also becomes religious.

Commenters who know about more literary things than me, such as this Wikkipedia entry, say that the book reflects Waugh's own conversion to Catholicism. Wikkipedia quotes Waugh as stating, that the novel, "deals with what is theologically termed, 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself." I think that obervation of what the book is about is true, (I guess Waugh ought to know) although I don't think I would have come up with it on my own because the religion in the book is handled very subtly. This is not a book that your Sunday School teacher will ask you to read; not to say she shouldn't.

Although I don't put much stock in such lists, Brideshead is on Time Magazine's list last year of the top 100 English language novels from 1923 to the present. Sometime, I will make my own list, and I think Brideshead will make my list as well, which is Exhibit A for my argument on why all books should be finished, even if one doesn't like the beginning. I gave the book four stars.


The Decider said...

Fuck. Censorship is a pain in the butt.

Amishlaw said...

Hmmm, why did the program allow this vulgar comment? Maybe the problem is in my Mozilla Firefox.

rdl said...

Another one for my list, i guess. I can't believe you're having such a problem with the censor thing - i for one have never encountered it.