I read Brideshead Revisited for the first time when I was about 11, a decade or so after the TV series had appeared. I still remember the circumstances in which I encountered it, lying on my bed one summer afternoon. I didn’t understand everything in it, either the language or the situations described, but it made me feel transported, as if I had travelled to a new world that I had previously only dimly perceived the existence of. Like Charles, I thrilled to the description of prelapsarian Oxford; delighted in the straight-faced tomfoolery of Mr Ryder; enjoyed the farce of the worst tutor in literature, Mr Samgrass; and, above all, revelled in the vividly evoked sense of another, richer world. While my peers lost themselves in science fiction and fantasy novels, I, precocious little prig that I was, took my escapism from Evelyn Waugh.
The greatness of Brideshead is discernible in the intensely personal reactions it evokes. Edmund Wilson’s drivel is easily dismissible. He had no sensibility for appreciating something like Brideshead.
I read it during the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college. It was on a list of books we were encouraged to read in preparation for the course in the modern novel I had signed up for. I had read Decline and Fall and thought it hilarious, so I started with Brideshead thinking it would be a lark.But after reading it for about 45 minutes I looked up and said out loud to myself (there being no one else around), “I think this is the saddest book I have ever read.” That did not keep me from reading on. I finished it the next day. Perhaps you have to be Catholic to really get it. Because its insight into what it means to be a Catholic is extraordinary.