Waugh and Nostalgia

The Washington Post’s theatre critic Peter Marks waxes nostalgic in response to the current period of political turmoil consuming the United States. Most prominently, in a recent column entitled “Nostalgia! Yestalgia!”, he harks back to the “soothing” musical comedies of Rodgers and Hammerstein, looking forward particularly to an upcoming Washington revival of Carousel. He also recalls a nostalgic theme from a Waugh novel: 

“Sebastian is in love with his own childhood,” is how one of the central characters is described in “Brideshead Revisited,” Evelyn Waugh’s sublime 1945 novel of Catholic aristocrats in England. How current an observation that still sounds. Sebastian Flyte is nostalgia personified: a scion of a storied family who strolls the lawns of Oxford carrying his teddy bear everywhere. The assessment of him, of course, by Sebastian’s father’s Italian consort, was not intended as a compliment. But does nostalgia, when applied to art, always have to carry a negative, hidebound connotation? There is as much in the term to suggest a warm, even revivifying homage — think of bare-shouldered Lady Gaga, gracefully crooning at the Oscars from the half-century-old “The Sound of Music” score — as there is of the faddishly retrograde.

Marks closes with contemplation of the recreation of Penn Station in New York to replace the structure summarily destroyed in the 1960s to be replaced by the hideous and much maligned remake of Madison Square Garden, and he looks forward to attending a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and a Stevie Nicks’ concert at Washington’s Verizon Center.

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