Title: Brideshead Revisited
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Publication date: 1945
Charles Ryder befriends the flamboyant Sebastian Flyte at Oxford University, and is soon drawn into his world. The idiosyncratic and aristocratic Marchmain family, their country house Brideshead and their Catholic religion all become intertwined with Charles’s own life, which will never be the same again.
Where did I get hold of the book?
For a change I got this one from the local public library. I now have a small studio space at our pop-up community arts centre, where I do some of my writing, and as this is in town, the public library is just a short stroll away.
- Find the book in a library near you (worldwide).
- Support local independent bookshops by buying the book from Hive (UK).
What did I learn from it?
I learned that we can have an impression of a book without reading it, which isn’t necessarily borne out once the content has been consumed.
Before I picked up Brideshead Revisited, I was very familiar with what I thought was its basic essence. Friends of mine had watched the TV series during my schooldays in the ’80s, and I was aware that there was a flamboyant, upper-class character called Sebastian with a teddy bear by the name of Aloysius. I also recalled that reminiscences of halcyon days at Oxford University featured heavily. That was about all I knew, and as I’d been to Oxford myself, I thought it would make a pleasant, nostalgic read.
How wrong I was. While Oxford and Sebastian do play a prominent role in the first part of the book, this is merely an introduction to this dreamy, privileged, moneyed world. Later chapters see Sebastian flee abroad in an alcoholic haze, while Charles becomes a painter, gets married and travels South America. His relations with the Marchmains are by turns close, distant and then close again. There are deaths, infidelities and disappointments, and a significant part in this ongoing drama is played by the Marchmains’ Catholic faith and its exigencies.
The book was therefore not quite as I expected, but in a good way – it was so much more. And I now know not to make any assumptions about the content of ‘well-known’ books in the future!
How did it make me see the world differently?
Despite what I’ve just said, I can’t pretend that the ‘Oxford’ content wasn’t a favourite part of the novel for me. I found myself avidly working out which colleges they lived at, which streets they walked down, which tea shops and pubs they frequented… all of this holds so many memories for me, it would have been impossible not to take myself back in time.
And this reminiscence did cause me to think a little more about my life now, and how it differs from the life I had then. Like Charles in the prologue and epilogue to the book, I am now about (well, a little more than) twenty years on from my time as a student, and the need to be a grown-up, earn a living and contribute usefully to society has overtaken the leisurely days when my time was more my own. Don’t get me wrong: I did work hard, but there was still a much greater freedom from schedule and the opportunity to explore life and its many different options.
Compare that to now, and daily routine is to a large extent determined by the requirements of employers followed by a simple desire to collapse in an exhausted heap at the end of the day. And yet I know I have the chance to do something about this, to re-create my days more in line with the freedoms I enjoyed of old. My freelance work does not take up all of my time, and it genuinely is up to me to choose how I spend the rest of it.
For a long while I’ve felt obliged to do things that the world deems ‘useful’, to make the most of the time I have and not waste it on frivolities. But a feeling is growing in me, which I think started with my last entry, Rebecca, and which now seems even stronger. Throughout my life I have done, and continue to do, a lot of work that is useful and helpful to others. I still have a drive to do more – but I also know that I need to give myself a break from time to time. Not only do I need to focus on the solitary activities that I naturally most enjoy, I also need to let myself laze in the sunshine now and then and do nothing.
The life of the idle rich isn’t open to me, and I don’t think it would be particularly satisfying if it was – but I can at least allow myself a few pleasures while the opportunities are available.
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
In addition to the more general intention expressed in the above paragraphs, I now have something very specific to make plans for. The Book Diaries, Volume 1: A Trip Through Time (a collection of last year’s posts, with additional material) is scheduled to be published in October, and I need to give some thought to how I’m going to spread the word.
In Brideshead Revisited, Charles returns from South America with a large collection of paintings that he then shows in an exhibition. So I’ve been inspired to look at alternative ways of promoting my book: not just by posting information across the web but by looking at, for example, what events I could put on to create interest and get people involved. An exhibition? A talk? Something interactive? The possibilities are only limited by my imagination.
For the first time since starting this blog and deciding to create a book from it, I feel that the finished work is in sight. I now have something to aim for. I truly believe that the insights I’ve gained over the past year – and the as-yet-unpublished account of how easy (or otherwise) it was to make the promised changes – could help open up new pathways in others’ lives, and I need to go full steam ahead to get this message out there.
Bearing in mind the above lesson in being solitary and doing things my own way, this means that whatever I choose to do is likely to be extremely non-traditional. I’ll be interested to see what I come up with…
A musical interlude
The song I’ve picked for this post is, technically, the opposite sentiment of that experienced by many of the characters in the novel. The Marchmains all, to a greater or lesser degree, respect their Catholic faith, with some of them returning to it even after they appear to have lapsed. It is one of the main themes of the story.
However, there is enough sin and guilt and angst for me to consider Losing My Religion by REM to be not entirely inappropriate as this week’s video choice. Enjoy.