Weekend Roundup: Brideshead Re-edited

Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited dominates this week’s roundup:

–Scottish novelist and journalist Allan Massie has written an article in the Catholic Herald entitled “Chapter & Verse: Brideshead re-edited”. The article begins:

Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945, was Evelyn Waugh’s first explicitly Catholic novel. It lost him, he wrote later, “such esteem” as he had enjoyed among his contemporaries. … It was possible to fall in love with the novel while ignoring its Catholic theme, or paying little attention to it. That was my experience, reading it in 1957, shortly before going up to Cambridge. I was entranced by Waugh’s evocation of 1920s Oxford, even if he assured the reader that this was now “lost as Lyonnesse”, entranced too by the beauty, charm, silliness and melancholy of Sebastian Flyte. Later I would be saddened by his descent into alcoholism as he ran away from adult life and the demands of his mother, Lady Marchmain – saintly but not a saint.

Of course I was reading it all wrong, as indeed the narrator, Charles Ryder, misunderstood Sebastian and his mother. In time he would come to see Sebastian as “the forerunner”, when a decade or so later he falls in love with Julia, Sebastian’s twin, has an affair with her, lives with her as man and wife, both being married – Charles to a bright socialite, Julia to the crass and pushing politician Rex Mottram. Julia, it should be said, is the great failure of the novel.

The remainder of the article is behind a paywall but perhaps one of our readers can report below how Massie would “re-edit” the novel.

–On the Anglophile website Anglotopia, a guest writer (Janna Wong Healy), who failed to find delight in either the novel or the 1981 TV adaptation when she was younger, has read (or listened) to the former and watched the latter, as well as the 2008 film version. She now has something good to say about each of them. After summarizing the story, she reaches this conclusion about the novel:

Brideshead Revisited has the depth and weight that are found in a writer working in his prime, in the full powers of an eager, good mind and a skilled hand, retaining the best of what he has already learned. It tells an absorbing story in imaginative terms. By indirection it summarizes and comments upon a time and a society. It has an almost romantic sense of wonder, together with the provocative, personal point of view of a writer who sees life realistically. It is, in short, a large, inclusive novel, … a novel more fully realized than any [considered on the website in] the year now ending, whatever their other virtues.

Moving on to the 1981 TV series, she admitted to having trouble sitting through the first episode, but she continues:

By the second episode, I was hooked.  The series is an extraordinarily true translation of the novel.  Every detail, every nuance of every character is depicted in the series.  In fact, I can think of no part of the book that was excised from the series.  When you watch the series, you get the full essence of the book, including (and especially) the lovely narration delivered in the dulcet tones of Jeremy Irons’ voice.

With respect to the 2008 film, she was able to watch that when it was released and then  again after reading the novel and viewing the 1981 series:

It’s a good piece of filmmaking.  It nicely depicts the friendship between Charles and Sebastian and the romance between Charles and Julia and it explores the importance of religion in the Flyte family.  But, there is no way to reduce a 432-page book that once had life as a 13-hour television series, into a 2 hour and 13 minute movie.  Too many of the subtleties of the characters and relationships are left undeveloped.  Watching the movie is a good method for becoming familiar with the main beats of the story and that’s how I appreciated it when I originally saw it in 2008.  But now that I am initiated in Mr. Waugh’s novel, I can see the movie’s shortcomings.  There was just too much from the novel that had to be excised in order to get it into the theater with a decent run time.

She concludes with a series of alternatives for combining the novel and the films in a satisfactory manner.

Brideshead along with a later novel appear on the website Clothes in Books. They are both included on a list of books recommended as good reading while on cruise:

4) The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold – Evelyn Waugh’s alter ego noisily going mad on a Mediterranean cruise. A kind reader has pointed out that while Pinfold passes through the Mediterranean, he is not on a Mediterranean cruise: he is on a ship travelling to Ceylon with cargo and passengers.

5) And Brideshead Revisited, also by Waugh, contains a memorable love affair on a transatlantic crossing…

Waugh did write a book about a Mediterranean cruise. This was Labels (1930), a travel book, not a novel.

–The BBC has announced that next year’s edition of its series Countryfile Live will be broadcast from Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. The program will air from 15-18 August 2019:

Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, Sir Gary Verity DL says: “…Castle Howard is a beautiful location and the perfect setting to host this family favourite.” Castle Howard, widely recognised as ‘Brideshead’ in adaptions of the Evelyn Waugh novel, will host many of the much-loved Countryfile Live attractions on its 1000 acre site including Passion for British Livestock, the Wildlife Zone and most importantly, The Craven Arms.

This year’s series of live broadcasts comes from Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire 1-4 August.

–In the magazine Humanities (published by the US-based National Endowment for the Humanities) Danny Heitmen has written a retrospective essay entitled: “The Messy Genius of  W H Auden”. In describing Auden’s wartime career, the article first quotes his biographer as explaining that he left England “to escape the temptations to fame.” According to Heitman:

That’s perhaps the most charitable explanation for Auden’s move to America in 1939. Others couldn’t help noticing that his departure coincided with the start of Britain’s ordeal in World War II. Novelist Evelyn Waugh would later claim that Auden had left “at the first squeak of an air-raid warning.” His absence from England even came up in the British Parliament, although the government took no action against him. 

Auden and his companion on his trip to America, Christopher Isherwood, were depicted in Put Out More Flags as Parsnip and Pimpernell who made a similar trip. The quote comes from that novel. See previous post.

–Meanwhile, on the conservative website Counter-Currents Publishing: Books Against Time, Ash Donaldson has posted an article entitled “Sword of Dishonor: The Reasons for the Decline of America’s Military”. While alluding to Waugh’s WWII trilogy for his title, in his text he relies on a character from Brideshead Revisited to explain one facet of the American military decline. This is in a section titled “An Army of Hoopers”:

By the Second World War, officers like Hooper in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited were as common as hobbits in the shire:

“Hooper had no illusions about the Army – or rather no special illusions distinguishable from the general, enveloping fog from which he observed the universe. . . . Hooper was no romantic. He had not as a child ridden with Rupert’s horse or sat among the camp fires at Xanthus-side; at the age when my eyes were dry to all save poetry . . . Hooper had wept often, but never for Henry’s speech on St. Crispin’s day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change. Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn, Roncevales and Marathon – these, and the Battle in the West where Arthur fell, and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even now in my sere and lawless state, called to me irresistibly across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood, sounded in vain to Hooper…

–Finally, on the website of the Dublin-based popular music magazine Hot Press. a recent performance of the band calling itself Flyte is reviewed:

They’ve got that four part harmony thing down too, on opener ‘Victoria Falls’ from last year’s debut album, The Loved Ones, and ‘Closer Together’, which attempts to mix it up with some quasi 80s keyboards. … they’re at least heading in the right direction, although some of it sounded a bit samey, they could take it easy with the shiny keyboards, and they need to learn how to work an audience a bit more. The bass player has lovely hair though.

The performance was at The Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. See previous post.

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