Roundup: Brideshead Über Alles

Perhaps in connection with what was effectively the BBC’s 10th anniversary rebroadcast of the 2008 film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited earlier this week, there have been several discussions of the novel and the film on the internet:

–An Australian Roman Catholic podcast site has posted a reading of the novel. It is not clear from their site whether this will be excerpts or the whole thing. The first posting was less than half an hour so they will have to get wheels on if they plan to finish it before the end of the Southern Hemisphere winter which is about to set in. Part one is available on Catholics Read (Cradio).

–An unidentified blogger on a religious weblog called The Rad Trad, reports on a discussion with some friends recently in which they expressed their views of Brideshead Revisited. Differences of opinion arose, with the blogger taking this position:

Lady Marchmain is probably the most detestable character in the novel, more so than her eldest son, Bridey, because his aloofness and good nature are almost foibles; he has no ill intentions while his mother seems like she could sneak a dagger through a vertebra and twist it just right. Why does Lady Marchmain hold such a tight grip over her family and why does it make Bridey and Cordelia good Catholics while Julia and Sebastian apostosize, return after her death, and become saintly on their own? Why does she smother Sebastian to the point of alcoholism when all he has done is rabble-rouse a little as a student?

The blogger goes on to explain, but not necessarily defend Lady Marchmain’s position based on her family and religious history. Some fairly vigorous comments have been filed on the weblog.

–Another blogger posting on steemit as “wojtyla” (which was the surname of Pope John Paul II) offers a socio-historical interpretation to compare with the religious approach on the other weblog. In this version, it’s all because of nostalgia for the class system. This begins:

The novel Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, originally published in the bleak reality of 1945 has been adapted for the screen twice, as a TV series in 1981 and a film in 2008. The two ecranisations, with a quarter of a century between them may differ in quality, yet both can be interpreted as the manifestation of a grudging nostalgia. English aristocracy of the early XXth century is portrayed as decadent and superficially dignified, yet the luxurious interiors of 1920’s Oxford and Brideshead manor reveal the true meaning of the film. The protagonist, a young middle class painter is shown to struggle with and ultimately fail to adapt to aristocratic society…

–Literary critic Joseph Pearce has posted an essay in which he considers whether there is a new Roman Catholic literary revival in the offing. He traces the projectory of the previous Catholic literary movement, stretching from John Henry Newman’s mid-19th c. conversion to the death of Graham Greene in 1991. Greene, Evelyn Waugh and G K Chesterton were the most successful exemplars of that movement. But he fears that the latest Catholic writers (many of whom he mentions) may lack the resources of the earlier flowering:

Today, amidst the rise of an increasingly intolerant secular fundamentalism, it is not easy for Catholics to find acceptance in the wider culture. It’s possible, for instance, were Brideshead Revisited to be written today, that it would have been rejected by mainstream publishers purely because of its pro-Catholic stance.

What he might have mentioned is the consolidaton of publishing firms into 4 or 5 mega-publishers where previously there were dozens of established (or as he puts it, “mainstream”) firms such as Chapman & Hall, Duckworths and Little, Brown which published Waugh and Heinemann which published both Greene and Anthony Powell. This lack of diversity cannot be helpful to writers seeking to appeal to a more limited audience.

–Nicholas Hoare has posted a 4 1/2 minute video from a Vermont PBS program in which he promotes new readers for Waugh’s books. He singles out Brideshead as well as Jane Mulvagh’s book from a few year’s back entitled Madresfield as examples of where new readers might want to start.

–Finally the novel has been recommended on two books blogs. Posting on Odessey Sarah D’Sousa of Pennsylvania State University recommends Brideshead Revisited as one of 60 classics for a summer reading list. These are described “old books that never get old.” And novelist Helene Dunbar is interviewed on the website The Debutante Ball by Kaitlyn Sage Patterson. Dunbar’s latest novel is entitled Boomerang and is about a lost boy. Here’s part of the interview:

Who is one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?

My favorite book of all time is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. And my favorite character in that book is Sebastian Flyte. I learned a lot from how Waugh wrote Sebastian’s character, never giving the reader (or the main character, Charles) quite enough of him. I kept this in mind a lot when I was writing the character of Trip in Boomerang. Although he and Sebastian are very, very different, I wanted them to share that same elusive quality. So I tried not to get into Trip’s head too deeply, and also gave him a little less page time than I really wanted to.

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