Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A strange piece ...

... Brideshead Revisited Revisited.

I suppose it would be a flaw in Waugh's novel if you had to be Catholic to "get" it. But I really don't think that's case. I do think you have to avoid being obtuse. I don't know how old Troy Patterson is, but consider this passage that he quotes:

The languor of Youth—how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrevocably, lost! .... [L]anguor—the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the mind sequestered and self-regarding, the sun standing still in the heavens and the earth throbbing to our own pulse—that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it. Perhaps in the mansions of Limbo the heroes enjoy some such compensation for their loss of the Beatific Vision; perhaps the Beatific Vision itself has some remote kinship with this lowly experience; I, at any rate, believed myself very near heaven, during those languid days at Brideshead.

The sad fact is that, around age 39, that is how one actually tends to feel about one's lost youth, especially if it was a rather footloose and carefree one. The melancholy sentimentality, the self-pity are all authentic. Of course, life goes on, one moves on, and one is embarrassed to have felt that way, however briefly. But that is how one did feel, and Waugh has captured it perfectly in all its self-indulgent grandiloquence. I might add that I read the book when I was in college and found it unsettling precisely because I felt sure I would face just such a moment sometime in my own future. As indeed I did.
I have just ordered a copy of the book. I am so tired of reading stuff about it that I think misses its point that I have decided to re-read it after all these years and see what I think and feel now.


  1. I have been having similar thoughts about re-reading Brideshead. My problem is simply that I don't think it's as good as Waugh's other novels; I think he sacrifices his real gifts--an eye for the absurd and an unparalleled ability to viciously deflate any pretension or self-deception--to seriousness (and, if my dozen-years-old memory is accurate, sentimentality).

    But as Waugh is one of my favorites, I feel I owe him another try at this book that meant so much to him. Maybe I'll find it's different, or I am.

  2. Anonymous3:15 PM

    I'm also planning to re-read the novel.

    Yes, its serious and even sentimental to a point, but the novel also contains bits of absurdity and his sharp satire still pierces.

    I didn't laugh out loud while reading Brideshead, as I have while reading Waugh's other books, like Scoop and Black Mischief, but I believed I smiled and may have chuckled to myself a few times.

    I believe it is a great novel, and it was a great miniseries. I'd like to see the miniseries again as well.

    I read about a train trip that Waugh took, where a man sat next to him with one of his more amusing books, like Scoop.

    Waugh later told friends that it was sheer torture watching the man turn page after page and not laugh. Not once.

    I can picture Waugh's stern face keenly watching this man read his book for hours and not laughing at all.

    I laughed when I read about this story.

    Paul Davis

  3. I'm not sure that taken out of the context of being told it is a great novel one would judge it as such today. It is awfully sentimental, awfully.

  4. Anonymous10:04 AM

    I've NEVER read it but this past weekend I picked up a copy. Yes, I fell victim to all the buzz and I have a feeling I do that more often than I'd care to admit, but I have to see what all the fuss is about. I DO get the feeling I should have read it as a much younger fella though, if only to see if/how my feelings about it have changed.