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Brideshead Revisited - Discussion

veer
14 years ago

Apparently fans of Evelyn Waugh's works were surprised by this book so different was it in its subject matter and tone; nothing like his usual style of sardonic wit and satirical humour. His habit of using his friends and acquaintances, very thinly disguised, as characters within the book didn't go down well with many old chums. In many ways it is autobiographical, and Waugh's views on the English class system and religion come through very powerfully.

Plenty to discuss here and time for others to join in along the way.

The book is made up of the 'sacred and profane memories' of Charles Ryder as he looks back, towards the end of the second World War, on the happier times he had spent at the great ancestral house of Brideshead home to the grand and wealthy Marchmain family.

The first and by far happiest of those memories is of his early days at Oxford University. The chapter is headed Et in Arcadia Ego the same words so tellingly engraved around the skull kept in Sebastian's rooms.

Before we get on to the individual characters

I would like to ask what you felt about Waugh's Oxford. Was it more to you than pretty boys, spoilt and privileged, aesthetes versus hearty sportsmen and an almost total absence of women? Did you understand all the Oxford expressions 'blues' 'eights week' 'Mercury' 'schools' 'subfusc' 'scouts' etc and references to clubs, former schools, customs etc?

Perhaps, as many of you are Americans, you found it all very quaint and unreal! Waugh certainly felt that after WW11 everything would change and Socialism would sweep away everything he thought important.

Comments (99)

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    One of the reasons I like this novel so much is the complexity of its characters and the various meanings that can be taken from the themes.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Sheri, I too have returned my copy of Brideshead to the library; I should have held on to it for longer.
    I am not a Catholic but for eight long years was schooled by RC nuns (mostly of Irish background as are most RC's in the UK) so have been a 'looker-on' at the Catholic psyche.
    Midwestm, I am sure Waugh's conversion was sincere but would take issue with the idea that his portrayal of Lady Marchmain shows her to be the holder of some ultimate 'Truth' and therefore 'Right'
    Is it the case that a person's religion is SO important to them that they are capable of alienating their husband and children? It would seem that Lady M. surrounded as she was by her priests and 'spies' would have been far better not to have married but to have taken up the life of a 'religious' and entered a convent.

    If you hunt around on 'youtube' there are quite a few interesting clips from a TV programme about the Brideshead series. Lots of 'input' from various directors/actors/RC thinkers etc. I haven't found any reference . . .yet . . . to Charles becoming a Catholic, but will go on searching. ;-)
    Clifford Longley, a leading RC journalist says that the Marchmain's were an old established Catholic family who had lived through the religious troubles of the Reformation etc but I'm sure Waugh says that it was Lady M who brought the religion into the family, that Lord M had converted to marry her and that he had had the hideous chapel built onto the house and the 'old' Marchmain's were to be found buried in the village church near the site of the original house.

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  • getchellmary_yahoo_com
    14 years ago

    I see Charles as an artist and an art historian first and foremost. Thus, his fascination with the architecture and decoration of the Marchmain Manor. I think he was in love with the aesthetism of the Roman Catholic Church as it was the opposite of what he saw as barren in his own life. It has long been said that Art was the Handmaiden of the Church in the Middle Ages. I think it was this aspect which Charles finds so attractive, as an aesthete, himself.

    I am interested in comparing and contrasting literary themes. French author Andre Gide wrote a novel, "Strait is the Gate", which also deals with the renunciation of romantic love for the call of the church, by a female character. I wonder if Waugh had read this classic....

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    I hate being advocate for Lady Marchmain since I myself disliked her character, but I really can't see her as an evil woman, and I certainly don't think Waugh meant for her to appear that way. Instead, I see her as that parent, grandparent, aunt, or any loved one who cares about you so much, but does not realize that true love can be letting go. I think many of us have a person like that in our lives, or even just experience situations where it would be better "not to tell Mom" because she wouldn't realize that you have to decide what is best for yourself sometimes, even if she may be right 90% of the time! As for Waugh's perception of her, look at the different artistic backgrounds in which he places his characters when we meet them - Sebastian's whimsical room, Julia resolutely driving a car, Nanny's comforting room, and then Lady Marchmain's almost heavenly room way up at the top of the building, painted sky blue. Most critics agree that Waugh's artistic descriptions go deeper that mere poetry. He used architecture (like the fountain at Brideshead) to reveal what was going on with the characters.

    Waugh did base his characters on real people. The Flytes come from his experience with an aristocratic family called the Lygons, so perhaps he is making in fun of some of his acquaintances.

  • sheriz6
    14 years ago

    Vee, I've taken the book out again, and found the bits of the intro that influenced my belief that Charles did become Catholic by the end of the book. The intro was written by (Sir) Frank Kermode, literary critic and professor. Bear with me, and I'll try not to make this too long :)

    First, Waugh states in his introduction that the book's theme was. "... the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters ..." The story is about Charles, making him the very center of this focus of divine grace. Even the subtitle plays into this: Brideshead Revisited: The sacred and profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder.

    In the intro, Kermode writes, "To call the book displaced autobiography is of course not to suggest that Ryder is a self-portrait, but Waugh would certainly have seen conversion to Catholicism, with the attendant benefits and sacrifices, as evidence of the operation of grace in both his own life and his character's."

    He later cites Lady Marchmain's comment that, "we must make a Catholic of Charles," and goes on to say, "He will succumb to grace as it operates through the Flytes ..."

    Regarding the "twitch upon the thread" or the drawing of certain characters like Julia back to the Catholic fold, Kermode writes, "The understanding that there is a genuine impediment to his marriage with Julia, and that there is such a condition as 'living in sin', is the beginning of the twitch on Ryder's thread."

    Finally, Kermode writes, "Ryder, in the final pages, can, rather surprisingly, allow himself to tell Hooper that he is 'homeless, childless, middle-aged, loveless'. Waugh never pretended that religious belief should make one happy. In his ruined world, symbolized at the end by the great house now defaced, there is no abiding city, but there is the hope of heaven signified by the lamp 'of deplorable design'."

    That intro, more than anything I read in the book itself, convinced me that it was to be understood that Charles had converted to Catholicism.

    On another subject briefly -- I mentioned the house imagery that was used in the lovemaking scene between Charles and Julia. Waugh re-wrote the scene for the 1955 edition. (The original description was of the awkward plunging boats in oceans variety.) Here's the line: "Now on the rough water there was a formality to be observed, no more. It was as though a deed of conveyance of her narrow loins had been drawn and sealed. I was making my first entry as the freeholder of a property I would enjoy and develop at leisure." (SUCH a romantic -- ugh!) Kermode's comments on this passage: "Not surprisingly, some have complained that Ryder might almost be thinking about the inheritance of Brideshead made possible by this union, treating the coition as merely part of the negotiations for that supremely desirable residence." I still think that as much as Charles desired Brideshead, he was just as enthralled with Julia, and was not using her...

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    Great points, Sheriz6! I see your POV as being very logical and interesting!

  • carolyn_ky
    14 years ago

    I have to come in on the side of Mrs. Marchmain's being a very, very controlling woman who used religion as a weapon in that war of control. I do think Charles really loved the house and envied the family who took it for granted, and I believe he converted.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Sheri, thanks for taking time to get the book out of the library again and giving us Kermode's input.
    I must tell you that I spent a couple of hours trawling through various websites last night, everything from 'Gay Community News' to 'Books Suitable for Catholics' and read reports, comments, deep thought, badly written articles from US students ad nauseam, but could find nothing re. Charles' possible conversion to RC.
    I wonder are we making too much of Charles? Perhaps we should be considering him less as a central player in the story and more of the rather dull blank canvas who conveys to us the central theme of the downfall of the bricks and mortar of the Marchmain family home but their own spiritual salvation.
    I don't even see Charles as particularly 'aesthetic'. In the Oxford section of the book he is quite the hedonist. I would give the title of aesthete to Anthony Blanche.

    Waugh told his friend Mgr Ronnie Knox (who disliked the book) that the whole theme of the book revolves round the death-bed scene of Lord Marchmain and his 'readmittance' into the Church.
    EW had been present at a similar event, had sent for a priest, much against the wishes of some of the family and witnessed a 'return to the fold'. The scene in the book led several 'High Up' Catholics to take issue with Waugh that by just blinking or making the sign of the cross would not have been sufficient to gain entry into Heaven. It might open the flood-gates to people, who had led a wild life, hoping that before death a handy priest would be there to absolve them of their sins! Much as Cordelia hoped for Sebastian in his N African monastery.

    Other info. I picked up was that Waugh was given leave from the army to write the book and he finished it in a very short time, that he had 'a deep conviction of its excellence' and that 'only 6 Americans would understand it' (they must be you RP'ers :-))
    The Gay Community News reckons that Charles and Sebastian had a full-blown homosexual relationship (based on the fact that EW had several affairs (is that the word?) with beautiful young men at Oxford . . . in fact EW was quite good-looking when young, before drink took over.

    May I ask a question of Catholics please? How is it that Julia feels she must give up Charles, because they have had a relationship 'out of wedlock' and after/before her divorce(?) yet Sebastian seems set to go to Heaven despite having 'relationships' with Charles and the dreadful Kurt? Is Julia really worried that she is on the road to Hell and must never marry again?

  • sheriz6
    14 years ago

    Vee, I think Julia believed she was making a last-ditch effort to save her soul by giving up Charles, who was not only not Catholic and divorced and living with her in sin, but also someone she truly wanted and loved. She would be turning away from sin and making a great sacrifice -- two things her religious upbringing would have encouraged her to do. Besides, she'd already broken the rules by marrying Mottram who was himself divorced and not a serious convert, so she had a lot stacked against her. After her father's death, she decided to go back to her religion, and by making the break with Charles, being truly repentant, and making confession, she becomes again a Catholic in good standing.

    As for poor Sebastian, I think perhaps his sins here are considered less because of his alcoholism and general weakness as a person. Julia is strong and knows what she should do, therefore she must do it. By the end of the book Sebastian isn't capable of much of anything and is, IMO at least, more of an innocent child than a rational adult.

    I wonder are we making too much of Charles? Perhaps we should be considering him less as a central player in the story and more of the rather dull blank canvas who conveys to us the central theme of the downfall of the bricks and mortar of the Marchmain family home but their own spiritual salvation.

    An excellent point, Vee!

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    I am finding all of these points of view very interesting. Much food for thought, here. I still see Lady Marchmain as the classic "toxic" individual. I also see Charles as a blank slate, a Pilgrim, a seeker, not necessarily as Waugh himself, thinly desguised.

    Vee, let us know what your further research on Waugh reveals.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Thank you Sheri! As soon as I had pressed 'submit' I realised I could have worked out the marriage/divorce thing myself.
    As I understand it (and please put me right if I am wrong) within the RC church divorce is not forbidden, although frowned upon, but re-marriage after divorce is not allowed.
    The only way round the problem would be annulment of the marriage, which is difficult for ordinary people to obtain.
    For a modern eg. just look at the trouble the P of W had when he wanted to marry Mrs P-B, and that was just the C of E, not nearly as strict as the RC's.
    Whatever her motives in returning to her Faith, I cannot find Julia to be a person for whom I have much sympathy; just too spoilt.
    As for Lady Marchmain being 'toxic' (love that word!) She reminds me in so many ways of many of the nuns who treated me much as Lady M treats Charles. "We must make a Catholic of Charles" In my case from the age of ten, it was pointed out that only I could save my own soul (by becoming a Catholic). It did not have a good affect on one so young and if an older, wiser Charles had felt as I did during those conversations (little talks) he, like me, would have run in the opposite direction.

    Re Sebastian, I feel Waugh had just run out of steam with him by the middle of the book and really didn't know what to do with him. He had turned him into a full-blown drunk, with an uncertain temper, his looks/beauty fading. What next? Send him abroad . . where so many young Englishmen, in similar situations, could quietly disappear.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    14 years ago

    Humm... I guess I just didn't see Lady M. as quite the evil character most did. She was the biggest force in the family; the sun which others revolved around. She was controling, but not evil. Of course she would want to convert every non-believer, especially if she cared about them. She only wanted the best for those around her.
    I also think Lady M. used religion as a crutch, just like Sebastian used alcohol. She had always been devout, but I think life experiences had made her turn even more to religion and God. Her husband left her, her family was broken, and her children were turning out badly. Religion was her one 'sure thing' in life. But, in the end, both her religious zeal and Sebastians drinking hurt and destroyed.

    I am glad that point about Charles lusting over Brideshead (the estate) was brought up. That idea did flutter across my mind during that part where he stayed there with Julia. I didn't really want to belive it, but after he left his wife and kids anything that shabby seemed possible.
    CMK

  • Chris_in_the_Valley
    14 years ago

    For those interested, Slate had a
    Discussion of Brideshead... last year. Religion enters the audio at about 28 minutes.

    Troy Patterson suggests, at about 40 minutes that Charles Ryder fell in love with the Baroque when he fell in love with Brideshead. Interesting because, coming as I do from a long line of Protestants, I see the Baroque as an exceedingly vulgar response of the Catholic Church to the aesthetic sensibilities of the Reformation. So it fits perfectly, in my world view, as a first step in Charles' conversion.

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    While I don't agree that the Baroque period was especially vulgar (hey, I like Bach!)I do think that Charles' artistic growth is a sign of what is going on inside. Note the ugly screen he threw out at the end of his first year at Oxford.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    chris, is there a text version of the discussion? Some of us cannot get the audio version.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Have just listened to the 'Slate' piece. Mary it goes on for an hour and would need a great deal of editing/correction to make it 'readable' imo.
    One interesting point the 'panel' made was that they felt Charles to be an artist of only mediocre ability; good at architectural painting but little else. Just something else that could be added to the list of negative things about his life by 1944, along with failed husband, lover, father, friend etc.
    Also on the religious angle (unless I missed it) they used the word 'Christian' but I don't think they said 'Catholic'.

    mwm, interesting you should mention the screen that Charles had in his rooms pre knowing Sebastian. I had just been looking-up Roger Fry (the painter of the screen). He was on the edge of the Bloomsbury group and considered to be one of the 'modernist' aesthetes of his day and a friend of Waugh's father. Waugh disliked all the things the B group represented, Left-Wing intellectualism, modernism, aesthetics etc so probably took great pleasure in having Ryder sling out the screen. In fact he probably gave Charles the screen just so he could throw it out!

    Chris, are you saying that Charles was initially led towards RC'ism (assuming he was) by the flamboyance of Baroque architecture? And btw for true 'vulgarity' just look at rococo!

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, yes, I think the Bloomsbury crowd were the "hippies" and "liberals" of their day. Some of their behavior must have shocked their contemporaries. It would make sense that Waugh detested them.

    I was an art history major at University, and the Baroque is not my favorite period, although I find some of it rather majestic. I completely agree about the extremities of rococo....

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    I recently borrowed a talk on Brideshead Revisited/Evelyn augh by Dr. David Allen White, lit teacher at the US Naval Academy. I've only gotten up to Waugh's early years and apparently one of his aspirations out of Oxford was to be an artist. He wrote several artistic criticisms. I thought this was interesting in comparing him to Charles.

  • ajpa
    14 years ago

    I just saw the recent movie version of this (the one with Emma Thompson). While they certainly took great liberties with the plot, I think the performances were very fine. The actor who plays Sebastian, in particular, steals the show. His Sebastian is very vulnerable and lost; I just want to give him a big hug and feed him cookies. :)

  • ginny12
    14 years ago

    This is a most interesting discussion. Two comments.

    I must defend the Baroque, which I love passionately. Bernini! Caravaggio! Can one say more? Indeed yes, but not here.

    And secondly. I have the greatest respect for my fellow RPers, whose thoughts and comments on so many subjects have been of such great interest and pleasure to me. But I do detect a thread of anti-RCism, low-key but definitely there. And from people I have come to admire so much. Could we not avoid that unfortunately persistent bias here?

  • Chris_in_the_Valley
    14 years ago

    Sorry to disappear from the discussion; been on the road and access has been intermittent.

    With regard to the Baroque movement, Woodnymph, help me out here. As I understand it, the Roman Catholic Church made a conscious decision to encourage art with a more visceral appeal. A way of reaching out in a more emotional way to congregants. An art style intended to bring people to the church sounds designed just for Charles, doesn't it? But I may be wrong. Art history is not my area.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Chris, you make an interesting point about the High Baroque style of church architecture. I realise that Woodnymph/Mary knows far more than me about the subject but, when you consider that the early Renaissance architectural movt. was based on the design of pagan temples it must have taken a good while for the conservative Church authorities to come round to accepting it . . . and then jump in with both feet.
    I took the opportunity to delve into my old College 'Art History' Bible Gombrich's 'History of Art'.
    He says the R C Church had discovered the power of art (during the Baroque period) to impress and overwhelm with displays of gold, precious stones and stucco. Architects such as della Porta, Borromini, decorators Bernini, Tiepolo, Guardi etc really went to town in this period. The effect of the whole would, they hoped, lead to fervid exultation and mystic transport, or at least, sweep you off your feet.
    I would think that as an Englishman in upbringing and temperament Charles would have found this High Baroque to be in terrible taste. Certainly he would have said "Wow" when he entered Brideshead (the house) as we understand Waugh based it on Castle Howard built in that style, but more a "Wow isn't this over-the-top" rather than "I feel the presence of God here" . . . of the chapel built in a similar style.
    Of course I come from a cold Northern country where Gothic architecture is considered the 'thing' with its simple beauty of line. If I were Italian or maybe Mexican I might feel differently. ;-)

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    chris, I completely agree with your assessment of the Baroque purpose and style. And like Ginny, I adore both Caravaggio and Bernini -- the latter created sculpture that is awesome. The Wren Cathedral in London is an example of English Baroque and I found it majestic in its Italianate style. Not all the Baroque was "over the top." True, the movement took some inspiration from the Greek and Roman, but added its own distinctive flourish and took it much further. But most of art history builds upon past cultures and earlier movements, so this is nothing new or controversial. Usually the Rococco and Manneristic style is considered to mark the decline, as it was "pushing the envelope".

    So I think the style would have appealed to Charles, as I see him as an aesthete. His boyhood had been stark, and missing a certain richness, so he would have been ripe for all that the Marchmains and their setting represented. On the other hand, I still do not believe we are meant to think that he became a devout Catholic, at the end. Had he converted wholeheartedly, would he have so neglected his children?

    2 cents.

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    I do see Charles as an aesthete early in the story...just look at the crowd he hangs with at Oxford, but I believe he changes as he grows spiritually. His own artistic efforts obviously reflect his personal status as we see when he comes back from South America.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    midwesternm and mary/woodnymph, I think the expression aesthete must have a slightly different meaning in the US. In the UK it would not/is not used as a term that just describes someone as being artistic or a lover of art but someone who is excessively affected with an exaggerated love of the subject. Maybe you have seen the G & S operetta 'Patience' which is a take-off of the greenery-yellery aesthetic work of the poets and Pre-Raphaelites of the late 1800's. Waugh was always very rude about aesthetes as you can see in his descriptions of Anthony Blanche . . . and Anthony Blanches is very rude about Charles' efforts at painting in a new style when he undertakes the S American trip.
    Sorry, but I still don't see him as growing spiritually as the story continues.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, thanks for "leading" this thread. It has been most interesting....

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    It is unfortunate if you don't see Charles' spiritual growth...since it is supposed to be the central theme of the book (according to Waugh, not to myself.) I believe that the opening lines of the book (I can't remember them exactly) sum up the author's intended point. There is something about Charles looking back from the top of a hill and the mists clearing. Waugh is having Charles look back at his life up to that point in retrospect and see the meaning of all the events. (Don't we all turn around at a certain point and say,"Ahhh...that's what was happening!"?)This is a book that I certainly didn't understand after my first read and without some explanations from others. Some see it as merely a narrative of youth, a delightful portrait of the post WWI era in England...others seem to think it was Waugh merely mixing his autobiography with some delightful pokes at his acquaintances...and then there is Waugh's own explanation in a letter he wrote to a friend that he was writing, "a book about God." I believe he did accomplish his book about God as well as telling the story of his own conversion in a very well portrayed background of England during the roaring twenties.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Just some random thoughts: the book is inscribed "To Laura." Vee, do you or anyone else know who "Laura" was?

    The first part is entitled "Et in Arcadia Ego." I looked up this latin phrase, which is a kind of Memento Mori. It comes from a painting by French artist Poussin. Loosely translated, it means: "Despite Paradise, I, Death, am here." I find it appropriate in terms of some of the themes of this novel. It could refer to the death of Lord Marchmain, or to the death of Charles' various loves, or to Sebastian's pitiful life, or the death of the old way of life, wherein the "Hoopers" of the world predominate.

    I also found in the book at the beginning:

    "Author's note: I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they."

    I take this rather enigmatic phrase to mean that we are not to read into the novel's characters Waugh himself. I do not believe Charles represents Waugh. In contrast, I still find far too cynical as portrayed to have been converted to devout Catholicism, despite his having felt a distinctive "twitch upon the thread."

    For whatever it's worth, I went back and re-read parts of the ending pages and have read the book at least 3 times, as it is one of my favorites.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Mary, sorry not to have responded sooner.

    'Laura' was Laura Herbert who became the second Mrs Waugh. He divorced his first wife after a short marriage then sought and obtained an annulment from the RC Church (don't know on what grounds he obtained it) so he could remarry as his wife was also a Catholic.
    I think you will find that Poussin borrowed the phrase Et in Arcadia Ego from Virgil's Eclogues. We find it written on the skull in Sebastian's rooms early in the story as though death/corruption is already waiting in the 'Paradise' that was Oxford.

    Below in an old BBC interview with a world-weary Waugh.

    Here is a link that might be useful: 1960 interview with Waugh

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Vee, thanks for the additional insights. I did not realized the quote went all the way back to Virgil, and I had quite forgotten the skull in Sebastian's rooms.

    I note with interest, that Waugh was considered a leading "satirical" author.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Mary, Waugh was one of the leading satirical authors of his day and that is why his 'fans' didn't take to Brideshead; it didn't fit the mould.
    Go immediately to the library and take out Scoop, A Handful of Dust and The Loved One to get a true flavour of his work. Full of black humour . . . though I don't know if Americans really appreciate it!

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    Charles' very cynicism and seeming reluctant conversion are the very reasons that he is so like Waugh. When Evelyn converted, he said his decision was based soley on the intellectual superiority of the Church as a religious and an historical institution. He felt absolutely no emotion or religious "high" in entering his new faith and this is translated into Charles' attitude in Brideshead.

  • charlesryder
    14 years ago

    I do hope that this discussion is not yet over. After seeing the BBC film series, I felt an urgent need to discuss this story with those who may have been as affected by it as I.

    I was born in the Orthodox Church, but went to a Jesuit university and was therefore able to explore freely and almost indulgently the tenants of the Catholic faith and its various communities. That aside, I would like to pose a question, which has been addressed here at times, yet I feel the need for a more adequate, satisfying answer.

    Why was Sebastien so unhappy? I can understand his use of alcohol as a self-destructive means to "escape" (x) and I acknowledge his need to be needed or useful. There is also the attachment to his childhood and to the beauty of innocence. He had no occupation, no recognizable interests other than Charles. He wished for Charles to be his own and was reluctant to "share" Charles with his family. And then there's the notion of that separate world he was trying to create apart from his mother and from Brideshead. But I still wonder: what were his dreams, his ambitions, his deeper desires? Did he have a monk's vocation after all? What was so stringently lacking in his life? And could it have been fixed, or was it his destiny to suffer in the way that he did and thus achieve holiness (as Cordelia had mentioned)?

    Your thoughts will be much appreciated.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    That is a very valid question, in my opinion. I think Sebastian never wanted to grow up. I recall the tender scene with his Nanny whom he seemed to love more than anyone else, apart from Charles. Also, in reflecting on the carefree times with Charles, their drinking sprees, their playfulness and, yes, their carelessness. I don't think Sebastian wanted to take on adult responsibilies, but would have preferred to stay in the innocence of childhood forever. Whereas, for Charles, the transition to adulthood was quite painful, but he made the effort.

    Too, there is the element of the overbearing personnage of Lady Marchmain, and her expectations for her sons. Sebastian was rebelling against this, by his behavior.

    Interesting what you wrote about his "achieving holiness" later on. It reminds me of a passage in the bible which I cannot quote exactly, but something to the effect that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must become like a little child.

  • charlesryder
    14 years ago

    Yes, there is that, Matthew 18:1-4 [At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.]

    My interpretation of this passage has varied and is still very much a mystery to me. How does one humble himself as a child?

    I think, in a sense, yes, Sebastian was a child, in that he was unashamedly himself. One gets the impression that Charles lived securely within himself and rarely removed the veil for others to see who he was. Whereas Sebastian was innocently or naively transparent. I never had the sense that Sebastian was hiding something, except when he himself did not see clearly his own self, his own demons, and was forced to hide behind this confusion.

    Perhaps it was because Sebastian had not found a place of rest and security -- a home essentially, for his spirit -- that he was so eager to escape his reality. Charles had it within himself and within his relentless curiosity; Lady Marchmain had it within the Church, the walls of her home, and the position in her family; Cordelia and Bridey had it within the theological and ritualistic pillars of the Church; Julia had it in Rex and her social inclinations; and Lord Marchmain probably had it in his triumphant escape and adulterous relationship. But poor Sebastian hadn't found it: he was so decidedly charming and liked by those around him that he was unable to see the need to become something other than what he already was. I am starting to think that it was this lack of motivation or incentive to become something greater than what one already is that fed his desolation and inanition. But I am certain there is more to it.

  • ginny12
    14 years ago

    I believe the Biblical quote is from the account where the disciples were trying to shoo away the children clustering around Jesus. He stopped the disciples and said these often-quoted words, "Suffer [Allow] the little children to come unto me and forbid them not; of such is the kingdom of heaven."

    I think it refers to innocence, lack of guile, purity, joy, trust--all the positive things we associate with childhood. Was Sebastian clinging to such a vision of life for his adulthood and unable to achieve it?

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    Good question. I tend to see Sebastian as a sort of charming Peter Pan character, the boy who refused to grow up, disdained to leave the shelter of childhood. But to see him as "Holy"? Isn't that a bit of a stretch? Do you see Sebastian as pathetic, or as a martyr?

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    We have mentioned here that many of the characters from this book were heavily based on people from Waugh's own life.
    Could it be that Sebastian (who seems to have been an amalgam of a couple of beautiful young men close to EW) has the self-destructive tendencies that one or other of these men may have had? I am only speculating here, I have no knowledge of what happened to these people once they moved out of EW's circle. Maybe EW didn't have a 'back story' (as we would say now) for Sebastian. We are given almost no information about his childhood as to why his character, or lack of it, developed as it did. And Bridey is just as odd. He cannot make his mind up as to what he wants to do with his life before he inherits the title and had talked about becoming a priest etc. His only hobby is collecting match boxes, probably the most pointless thing Waugh could think up for him.
    As far as the influence of Lady Marchmain goes I'm sure Sebastian realised he would never live up to the high ideals of her brothers, his uncles, about whom the book was being written.
    Unlikely as it seems to us it was not uncommon for young men from well-born/aristocratic families to spend more time with and become fonder of their Nannies rather than their Mothers. Think of Churchill. He was devoted to his Nanny and wrote regularly to her from school. Of course, in is case his Mother was a terrible 'goer' and he probably saw little of her when he was a child.
    Ginny, I wonder if Sebastian had much 'childhood' as we know it today. He would have grown up in the Nursery, on the top story of the house and only had contact with his parents for an hour after afternoon tea each afternoon . . .when they were in the country. Lessons from a governess, or his own Mother, would have ended when he was seven and was sent to prep School to be followed at 12-13 by Public School; in his case Eton College. It was a harsh system and I don't suppose his teddy bear would have lasted five minutes.

  • Chris_in_the_Valley
    14 years ago

    Sebastian didn't have any role models for being an adult male, did he? His father was absent, and all the other men left in the life of Brideshead were Lady Marchmain's castrati.

  • midwesternmommy
    14 years ago

    I very much agree that Sebastian did not want to grow up. He clings to all things childlike. He even names his hunting horse Tinkerbell! Also, I do believe you've hit the nail on the Head, Chris, when you point out he had no male role models. Indeed, who is a male role model in this book? Just look at Charles' father. Even Anthony Blanche has no real father. I believe Sebastian wished to remain in the simple and uncomplicated world of his childhood, where religion was still at the stage of pleasant stories and comforting hymns. When he gets and tries to enter adulthood with no real guidance, the hard realities of knowing the truth and having to live by it drives him to alcoholism. Charles, who has no such qualms of conscience, is powerless to understand or help his friend's problem.

  • charlesryder
    14 years ago

    Yes, but why did he not want to grow up? A man like him: beautiful, charming, social, extremely wealthy, with a prestigious degree, et cetera -- a man with enormous potential! -- why would he not be ready and excited to embrace the world, to conquer the world, to relish in every moment? (Clearly something was missing, but WHAT?) And if he had no male role models within his family, what would prevent him from finding or seeking another elsewhere? As mentioned, neither Charles nor Anthony benefited from such a father, but they seemed to get along all right.

  • woodnymph2_gw
    14 years ago

    What was also missing from Sebastian's life was a loving, warm mother figure. I still maintain that Lady Marchmain was a toxic influence upon her children. Perhaps Sebastian was the most sensitive of the lot. Given her extreme control issues and expectations for her sons, I think it logical that Sebastian would rebel and cling to memories of happier childhood days with Nanny. He simply did not want to take on adult responsibilities in any way, shape, or form. This is not that unusual when a child is overly-coerced, IMO.

  • veer
    Original Author
    14 years ago

    Perhaps we are using rather too many late 20th century American thought-processes here.
    Among the Upper Classes in England at the time about which the book was written father figures even mother figures played little part in the raising of children . . . that is why boarding schools had been invented!
    As woodnymph/Mary says Sebastian had the devoted care of a nanny as a small child, then it was out into the big cruel world of school masters, bullies, bad food, cold dormitories and lots of healthy sports.
    Other young people survived the experience and developed the necesary 'stiff upper lip' and went on to Serve the Empire, so maybe it was a basic defect in Sebastian's character that made him as he was.
    As the story progresses what happens to the other characters, but NOT to Sebastian? They find partners/mates. OK some, Julia and Rex, Charles and Celia, Julia and Charles are not successful, but they go through the ritual. Even Bridie finds the widow. I don't know if you would count Sebastian's horrible German 'friend', Kurt, as a partner/soul mate (it could never have been said when the book was written) but he seemed only there for the money and has disappeared by the last part of the book.
    A few posts back someone asks what was 'lacking' in Sebastian's life. Put it the other way and ask 'what did he have too much of?' and the answer may be money.
    Charles has to earn and works as an artist. Bridie has to run the estate in the absence of his father. Sebastian, as the younger son, gets off very lightly; nothing is required of him, money is there for the taking . . .even when in Africa an allowance is made available to him. If his father had been at home and a stronger character, he would most probably have had him shipped out to the Colonies .. . perhaps to join the ex-pat drunks of Happy Valley Kenya, where he would sink or swim; no doubt in a pool of booze.

  • Ron Price
    9 years ago

    REVISITING BRIDESHEAD

    Revisiting Brideshead was televised last night.1 I had seen this 11 part series on television back in the 1980s or early 1990s after it first came out in 1981. I had not read the novel, Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by English writer Evelyn Waugh which was first published in 1945. In 2015 I had the pleasure of seeing the 2008 film version.2 I wrote about the TV series and the film after I had retired from my 50 year life-experience as a student and in paid employment, 1949-1999, and after I had seen the series a second time in Australia.

    The Flyte family who lived at Brideshead symbolises the English nobility, and Waugh's marvelously melancholy elegy brings that nobility to life. One reads in the book that Brideshead has "the atmosphere of a better age." Viewers, millions, enjoy the opulent and aristocratic edge, the glitter and gloss, the grandeur and the glamour of this wealthy family estate, and of a time in our history now quickly dying-out, if not long gone. In this one house, as one reviewer put it, is a fading, a dying, empire; or is it just sublime real estate. For many, in the millennial and generation Z, I can just about hear them clicking on the remote and uttering a now familiar word, a word especially familiar to people like me who retired after more than 30 years in classrooms: borrrring!

    There's room for more than one Brideshead in this far less glamorous day and age, though, room at least for the baby-boomers and for the silent generation among the viewing public, with the glitter and gloss of society now often tarnished beyond repair in our complex 21st century.-Ron Price with thanks to 1ABC2, 11:55-12:45, 19 & 20/9/’11, and 2ABCTV, 8/2/'15, 10:05-11:30 pm.

    1981 was a bad year in the UK

    with 2 & ½ million out of work

    and a list of bad news to fill all

    those English heads to the top.1

    There was nothing like this bit

    of escapism from the real world

    into a nostalgic, a romanticized

    past, homoerotic suggestiveness,

    Evelyn Waugh’s WW2 vision.2

    I’ll let all you readers find out

    what it all meant to Waugh, to

    his critics & to modern viewers

    whose views are available for us

    to see on that new source of info:

    the internet, the world-wide-web.3

    1 See Wikipedia for all the bad news in 1981.

    2 Waugh wrote in the preface to the 1959 edition of the book that he was appalled by his book, and that he found rereading it distasteful. I was only 15 at the time, and had read none of Waugh. I lived in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, had just joined the Baha’i Faith, and was in love with sport and at least 3 girls. The plot of the book was set in 1943-1944, in the months when I was in utero.

    3 I was particularly interested in Waugh’s defence of Catholicism, his critique of secular humanism, and his emphasis on the many forms of conversion that take place in peoples’ lives.

    Ron Price

    20/9/'11 to 12/2/'15.

    -------------------------------------------------------------

    BRIDESHEAD REVISITED

    Part 1:

    In the six months between December 1943 and June 1944 the novel Brideshead Revisited was written in England. In those same months I existed in utero on the other side of the Atlantic in Canada. When Evelyn Waugh, the author of this novel, wrote his preface to a revised edition of the book in 1959, and Fr. Ronald Knox published his biography of Waugh in that same year---I was 15 and had just joined the Baha’i Faith, and was in the middle of my adolescent baseball and ice-hockey careers. By my 20s my sport-playing days had ended, although I have remained a Baha’i all my life.

    Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism in his late 20s and remained a Catholic although, as Martin Stannard the author of a two-volume biography of Waugh noted, “he struggled against the dryness of his soul”1 In the end, this is a common experience for believers of all Faiths and non-believers of all philosophies alike, especially in our troubled-age. Stannard saw Waugh as “the greatest novelist of his generation.”2

    Part 2:

    Waugh saw this novel, Brideshead Revisited, as his magnum opus but, on reading it later in life, he found what he called its "rhetorical and ornamental language.....distasteful."3 Readers with the interest in this film and this novel should surf-about on Wikipedia and other internet sources for all sorts of bits-and-pieces of information and analysis.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Martin Stannard, "Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh(1903–66),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition, 2007; 2Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903-1939, and Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939-1966, W.W. Norton & Co., NY., 1987 & 1992, resp., V.2, p.492; and3 Wikipedia.

    Part 3:

    Without Christianity you saw

    civilization doomed or, as you

    put it in your conversion: “it islike stepping out of a Looking-Glass world, where everythingis an absurd caricature, into thereal world God made, and thenbegins the delicious process ofexploring it limitlessly.”1..Thisis perhaps the most succinct &sufficient description of processin the act of conversions that everwere written in that 20th century.Waugh's own conversion from the"absurd caricature" of what mightbe called ultra-modernity to thatreal world of Catholic orthodoxywas greeted with astonishment bythe literary world and it caused asensation in the media. Do thosewho have watched Brideshead inthese last 30 years know of this?I did not until today and, wantingto know something about how thistelevision series and film came intoexistence in those last twenty-fiveyears: 1981 to 2007, I learned thatthere was much to learn with a littleresearch and reading, and not evenreading E. Waugh's book at all.......Part 4:

    “Today we can see it on all sides as the active negation of all that Western culture has stood for. Civilization - and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe - has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity and, without, it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state. It is no longer possible to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests."

    Waugh concluded the above press statement on his conversion by saying that he saw Catholicism as the "most complete and vital form" of Christianity. The article from which the above is taken was written by Joseph Pearce and it appeared in Lay Witness a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968.

    Ron Price

    14/7/'11 to 12/2/'15.

  • vee_new
    9 years ago

    Ron, it's never too late to join the party! Are you asking how/why the TV series and the much later film came to be made?

    I would personally avoid Wikipedia unless checking for the most basic information; it is not known for its reliability.


  • woodnymph2_gw
    9 years ago

    I found the original film for TV far, far superior to the one made much later. There is no substitute for Jeremy Irons, in my opinion.


  • Ron Price
    9 years ago

    I'm just reflecting on the film/movie/TV series/book.-Ron Price

  • cacocobird
    9 years ago

    I saw the TV version of Brideshead when it first came out, and then read the book. I agree with some of you that the first half was more pleasant. Toward the end, it got sad and hard to deal with. I did enjoy both the book and the TV series.

    Acorn has the entire TV series on its website. Now I am in the mood to watch it again.


  • Ron Price
    9 years ago

    After watching Brideshead I took an interest in the writer, Evelyn Waugh. Hence my post.-Ron

  • sherwood38
    8 years ago

    Mary I agree with you about the original Brideshead Revisited with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. I thought the second version of the show was a poor redo and not nearly as well done.

    Pat