Brideshead Revisited (1945) -Evelyn Waugh

download-1Brideshead Revisited:  I read this book when I was about twelve, I fell in love with the 1980s TV show starring Jeremy Irons and recently revisited for my degree. It is a novel about the exploration of Catholicism; loyalty of faith, love, youth and the catastrophe of war. Its full titles reads: Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane memories of Charles Ryder and represents the contrasts between faith and atheism through the eyes of its protagonist. Waugh writes about a time before the second word war; he romanticises England and reveals the deterioration brought on by time throughout three parts of the novel: book one: ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’, ‘Book two: Brideshead Deserted’ and book three: ‘A Twitch Upon the Thread’.

Waugh himself, was involved in the Second World War and in his introduction, describes how he was ‘fortunately’ taken ill after incurring an injury whilst parachuting. He had fallen out of love with the army and this period gave him time to write the novel and therefore reflect on times before the war. He says that the book is ‘infused which a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendors of the recent past…’

The novel opens with a prologue, depicting the protagonist, Charles Ryder and his battalion coming across an estate called Brideshead. This estate is incredibly significant to Charles as it was the place that caused such a mementoes impact on his life during his student years at Oxford. Thus, we are lead into ‘Book one: Et in Arcadia Ego’.

I found an article online that explains that ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ is the title of two paintings by Nicholas Pouissin which was painted during the 1600s. Arcadia was depicted as an ‘urban paradise’.  The phrase can be translated as, ’And I too am in Arcadia’ (where ’I’ is the personification of death) – which can further mean- Death too lives in paradise – or it can be translated as ’I also used to live in Arcadia’ (where ’I’ refers to the person in the tomb) which can be further translated as – I also used to live in paradise. Either way, the words may be taken to imply that ‘in the midst of life we are in death’.These translations can be applied to Brideshead Revisited as Charles did indeed see Brideshead as his own sort of earthly paradise. He recalls: ‘I, at any rate, believed myself very near heaven, during those languid days at Brideshead.’ It gives the book an ominous feel; Waugh is telling us that Charles’ paradise will soon come to an end. It perhaps also reveals the pessimism of religion and the skepticism of faith.

We are invited into the intense relationship between Charles, Sebastian and the Flyte family. Charlie meets Sebastian at University in Oxford one night, after Sebastian leans into Charles’ bottom floor dorm window and is sick. Charles first describes Sebastian as being: ‘the most conspicuous man of his year by reason of his beauty, which was arresting, and his eccentricities of behavior, which seemed to know no bounds.’ The pair become obsessed – no, infatuated with each other- and although they are never physically involved with each other, it is clear that there is something deeper than just friendship going on.

From here on, Charle’s becomes part of Sebastian’s family and the novel moves through a time that is petering on the outbreak of war. There is no point me spoiling all the enchanting and momentous events that happen to Charles in this book, but I think the most important part is perhaps the final section which is aptly named ‘A twitch upon a thread.’ It is apt, as it portrays the hold that God holds over the Flyte Family. The most significant phrase, perhaps comes from Sebastian’s little sister Cordelia…

I wonder if you remember the story Mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk – I mean the bad evening. Father Brown said something like ‘I caught him’ (the thief) ‘with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.'”

She is suggesting that no matter how far a person (a catholic, in this case) wanders, they will be forever tied to the fishing line of their religion, in which God can pull them back, with just a simple twitch upon the thread.

 

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