Brideshead Festival: Two Interviews

Victoria Barnsley, who is organizing this summer’s Brideshead Festival at Castle Howard, is interviewed about the event by two newspapers. David Behrens files the report of his interview in the Yorkshire Post. Here are some excerpts:

…“I’d been thinking of having a literary festival here for some time,” said Ms Barnsley, a publisher by profession, who used to be chief executive of HarperCollins. Jeremy Irons, who played Charles in the TV series, will return for the weekend event in late June, along with Waugh’s grandson, Alexander – but the romantic seclusion of the original scene will be disturbed by the presence of paying guests camping in the grounds.

“Sacred and profane” was how Waugh had characterised Ryder’s infatuation with the Flyte family, and the recreation will attempt to summon up the same spirit, with punting on the lake, weather permitting, and a 1920s themed jazz party on the Saturday night, as well as the return of wine tasting to the temple.[…] “There will be a lot of authors and novelists here as well as TV and film people,” Ms Barnsley said. “Literary festivals don’t usually focus just on one book and one author, but we want to put a contemporary slant on it by looking at the legacy of Evelyn Waugh and the influence he’s had on writers today.”

The idea for the event came from the Granada producer Derek Granger, who returned with his cast to Castle Howard a few years ago to pose for pictures in the magazine Vanity Fair. He will be back again for the festival, by which time he will be in his 100th year. Claire Bloom, who played Lady Marchmain in the series, and its director, Charles Sturridge, are also expected to attend.

Some of those associated with the 2008 cinema remake, which starred Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson, and which was again filmed at Castle Howard, will also be there.

If demand dictates, the estate will open its walled gardens to glamping – short for glamorous camping – for the first time, but Ms Barnsley thinks most guests who come for the weekend will stay in York or the nearby village of Hovingham. Bookings have already come in from Ireland, Paris and the USA.

Ms Barnsley was also interviewed by Eleanor Doughty for the Sunday Telegraph where her story is entitled: “Was Castle Howard the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead?” This opens with a quote from Waugh:

‘It was impossible to foresee, in the spring of 1944, the present cult of the English country house.” So wrote Evelyn Waugh, in a 1959 preface to a new edition of his novel Brideshead Revisited. “It seemed then that the ancestral seats which were our chief national artistic achievement were doomed to decay like the monasteries in the 16th century. So I piled it on rather.”

What would Waugh make of the modern country house? And how would he assess the fortunes of Castle Howard? The house, thanks to an Eighties television adaptation filmed there, is closely associated with the book he called his magnum opus.

After a discussion of recent events (including Christmas plans) at Castle Howard, which Ms Barnsley runs with her husband Nicholas Howard, they arrive at the subject of the upcoming festival. According to Doughty:

[…] The television series has given the impression that Castle Howard was the inspiration for the novel’s Brideshead, a subject that [Ms Barnsley] and I, Waugh fans, debate. “Maybe I’m biased,” she says with a laugh, but “Brideshead is Castle Howard! It’s baroque, it has a dome and a fountain.” Waugh describes the Brideshead fountain as “frightful…all rocks and sort of carved animals…such as one might expect to find in a piazza in southern Italy.”; the fictional pile is where Waugh’s protagonist, Charles Ryder, has his “conversion to the baroque.”

Still, no one is quite sure. There is only one record of Waugh visiting the house, as he recorded in his diary on Feb 4 1937, it was a “pleasant unrestful Holy Week, visiting Castle Howard and entertaining dumb little boys and monks” [at nearby Ampleforth.] “We are convinced he did know the house,” says [Ms Barnsley]. I can’t see otherwise where the dome, the fountain and the baroque came from.”

Doughty then concludes with a discussion of the history of the house and recent renovations, with some additional background supplied by Ms Barnsley

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