A Book Review: Brideshead Revisited
Other than the fact that there had been a pretty recent movie with the same title, I knew very little of Brideshead Revisited. It came highly recommended by my boss who even let me borrow her copy of the novel by Evelyn Waugh. Perhaps the most shocking thing I learned before even opening the novel: Evelyn Waugh was a man, not a woman.
The story follows the life of Charles Ryder – or I should say, the highlights of Ryder’s life, as this novel is not necessarily one that flows seamlessly through time. The highlights all consist of his interaction with a fading aristocratic family, The Flytes.
The Good: The writing is really well done, and I really enjoyed Waugh’s prose. He has a voice all his own that I found engaging only a few pages in. It is an older style, not a contemporary voice at all, which is fitting with the time frame of the novel.
The characters also felt extremely real to me, as many are incredibly flawed and selfish. This points to Waugh’s talent at crafting them. Even though the characters often say strange things to each other, things that I am assuming are meant to be symbolic in some way, it still seems to be entirely believable. These situations are often when characters are drunk or in heated moments, but it creates some of the many poignant scenes – the scenes I felt where I was closet to discovering what Waugh was actually saying/commenting on through these characters.
There was also a large emphasis on the belief/practice of Catholicism and what it means to the characters who believe it. Religion is not always something that I am happy to see discussed in novels, but Waugh makes it interesting and vital to the characters identity in a way that again impressed me. It was also great to have Ryder represent a total indifference and perhaps even disdain for the religion, although he seemingly changes his tune after.
The Bad: I am not going to lie: I am not totally sure I understood what Waugh was trying to say. Novelists generally have a large overall point – a comment on society, a type of critique of man. I am sure Waugh has one, but it has eluded me. I have some ideas of course, but none feel right. Maybe that was the type of ambiguity he was going for. The most predominant theme seems to be the waning of the aristocratic class and the ideas associated with it. Although not the point of the novel, I think it is incredibly interesting that the last name of this enchanting family is “Flyte”, which could easily be linked to “Flight”. Whether intentional or not, flight seems to be a huge theme and a part of each character’s story. Everyone in the family is continually running away, flying away, in flight. Whatever you choose. The father is constantly running from the mother, Sebastian is either running from his family or from booze, and Julia runs from whatever could possibly make her happy. This flight seems to be inevitable for all of the Flytes. Even Brideshead (the character, not the house that the title refers to) and Cordelia seem to fly from others’ expectations of them, although in two entirely different ways. The thing that is most interesting, though, is that it is when this flight, this running away is over that the Flytes seem to perish. The end of the flight is what kills them.
Theories aside, I also found some points of the novel jarring. About half way through, we are suddenly propelled in to the future without much warning, and it is entirely disorienting. A lot of details about Ryder’s life is sort of left out for you to connect the dots.
The Verdict: Not everyone is going to enjoy this. If you are a reader who likes “a point” this may not be the best. Although, you may have better luck than me in finding just what Waugh’s point is. I ultimately like the novel and think it’s worth the read for anyone who enjoys the classics.
Written by Rachel B.
Rachel is a co-creator and writer at Definitely Not for the Birds (DNFB). She recently graduated with a degree in English. Presently, she writes, reads, and then reads and writes some more, with a giant and ever-present mug of green tea in her hand. Follow Rachel @rrbindl and DNFB @not4birds