Title: Brideshead Revisited
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Release Date: June 23, 2008
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the back cover:
This is 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 Marchmain family 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 his spiritual and social distance from them.
I decided to read Brideshead Revisited for three reasons: first, I needed a book for the Classics Challenge. Second, when I found out I would be going to Oxford this summer, I wanted to read as many books as I could about it. I heard from multiple people that this was the seminal book set at Oxford. And finally, I’ve been wanting to watch the recent Brideshead Revisited movie, and I generally like reading the book before watching the movie. So, with those three compelling reasons in mind, I set out on the journey that was Brideshead Revisited.
I really liked Charles Ryder at the beginning of the book, though as Brideshead Revisited progresses, his integrity and character declines. Strangely enough, this didn’t really affect my level of esteem for Charles, though. I could understand why he was seduced by Sebastian’s family. It was interesting to watch him become more and more involved in their family; eventually his fate becomes intertwined with theirs.
The most interesting part of Brideshead Revisited was the social commentary. It is a portrait of excess and wealth, but also of the decline of the aristocracy in Britain. Charles witnesses these changes in society and is affected by them through Julia and the rest of the Flyte clan, whom are very complex. It might take another close reading of the book to really get at the heart of each of them. Evelyn Waugh wrote such deep and intricate characters; this book is worth reading for them, if nothing else.
The heart of this book is really the discussion of faith and religion. Waugh focuses on the meaning of religion to a person, even if they have turned their back on it. There is a measure of Catholic guilt present in the novel as well, exemplified by Sebastian. All in all, it’s a very interesting discussion.
I enjoyed Brideshead Revisited and its depiction of the University of Oxford. If you’re looking for a deep, rich and entertaining classic read, I definitely recommend this novel.