The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels, "Brideshead Revisited" looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.
I have very mixed feelings about Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. On one hand, the writing, especially in the beginning, is too dense and flowery which makes it hard to get into and the characters have few redeeming qualities. However, the writing is also beautiful at moments and the characters grow on me so that I begin to care about what happens to them.
Brideshead Revisited is about Charles Ryder's reflections on his youth (college years). His memoir starts because his military unit is stationed at the former house of his college friend, Sebastian Marchmain. In his first year at Oxford, Charles meets Sebastian, an unusual fellow who carries around a teddy bear called Aloysius. Sebastian's family represents the rich and luxurious life of the slowly decaying privileged class in England.
Sebastian does not like his family or feeling like anyone is trying to control him, so as Charles becomes more familiar with his family, Sebastian turns to alcohol to give him relief. Charles and Sebastian's relation at Oxford starts at an extreme high. Although it's never directly stated, their relationship has a very homosexual feeling to it. While reading about it, I felt really uncomfortable because I didn't know if it they were actually gay or if I was just reading too much into. I really wish that Waugh had been a little more direct about what they were to each other. I think there's strong evidence for Charles being homosexual since he had an affair with Julie, Sebastian's sister, and his main attraction to her seems to be that she bears a strong physical resemblance to Sebastian.
Another big theme in Brideshead Revisited was the role of religion, particularly Catholicism. The Marchmain family is steeped in Catholicism, which may be what led to Sebastians alcoholism. He may have had strong feelings of guilt if he did have homosexual tendencies. Their religion affects all the members of the Marchmain family at some point during the book, even though many confess to being agnostic or atheist earlier.
There were some beautifully written parts of the book and I grew to care about some of the characters. However, I thought a lot of them seemed shallow and I wanted to know more about them and what they were thinking, rather than just seeing their actions, so that I could relate to them and like them more. This is the first book by Waugh that I have read, I'm not sure if I will read more or not.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars