The Death of the Gentleman and Brideshead Unvisited

The latest issue of  the St. Austin Review entitled “Evelyn Waugh Revisited” has now been published. See earlier post. An online announcement includes a full table of contents as well as the complete copy of an article by Frank Brownlow entitled “Waugh Mistaken and Brideshead Unvisited.”

In his article Brownlow, Professor Emeritus at Mount Holyoke College, starts by describing what he deems to be the death of the “gentleman,” which was foreseen by Waugh in his writings:

Things changed for everyone circa 1965, when overnight the likes of John Lennon and Mick Jagger became the role models for the young men whom people had formerly expected to grow up into some variety of gentlemanliness. Shortly afterwards, the women began to deprive gentlemen of their habitat by attending their schools and colleges and joining their clubs.

The generations coming of age since the gentleman’s demise have been bereft of the positive effects the concept had on their forebears. As an example of the damage this has done to the new generation of the “gentlemen-less,” Brownlow cites Christine Berberich’s The Image of the English Gentleman in Twentieth-Century Literature. He then deconstructs her interpretation of Waugh’s Decline and Fall and Brideshead Revisited:

…she is not only ignorant of what a gentleman is supposed to be, but she hasn’t the least inkling of what Evelyn Waugh intended his fictions to express. She and her fellow dons are all—in theory if not quite in practice—egalitarians. They look out upon the world, and they see no essential distinctions of status anywhere. The hierarchical principle—universally accepted until about seventy years ago—on which Evelyn Waugh based his whole view of the world makes no sense to them.

Finally, after approaching Brideshead Revisited with an appropriate “gentlemanly” understanding, Brownlow concludes:

Brideshead is not about snobbery and social ambition. It is about a whole false attitude to life swept away in a moment because a dying man makes the sign of the cross… [Charles Ryder] can be selfish, unfeeling, and cruel, and even Julia has to tell him not to talk “in that damned bounderish way”. What makes him tolerable, even admirable as a narrator, is that he tells his story in the light of his later conversion, and tells it honestly…

Individual copies of the journal are available as explained in the earlier post.

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