The internet newspaper Vox.com has posted an article about a long-running TV series on the Syfy Channel. This is based on the fantasy novels of Lev Grossman called The Magicians Trilogy and is now in its fourth season on Syfy. The Vox article identifies a theme in the series which dates back to Brideshead Revisited. It was also confirmed by Grossman in an interview that predated the TV series:
This week on Syfy’s The Magicians, a long-established subtext, a subtext that has arguably been building since 1945, finally became text. I am talking, of course, about Quentin Coldwater declaring his love for Eliot Waugh.
The Magicians has only been airing since 2015, but Quentin/Eliot is a ship with a long legacy. Syfy’s TV show is based on a series of novels by Lev Grossman, and almost every time Grossman talks about his books, he talks about Brideshead Revisited, the barely subtextually queer novel by Evelyn Waugh. “I rely on most of my readers to never have read Brideshead Revisited, so they cannot see how much I am stealing from it,” Grossman told the A.V. Club in 2011. [See below.]
Grossman knows that Brideshead Revisited is a love story. He named it one of the most romantic books of all time in 2007, swooning over its “dream of love — of both the heterosexual and, more subtly, homosexual varieties — that lasts decades.” In Brideshead Revisited, protagonist Charles Ryder never quite says out loud that he’s in love with his best friend Sebastian Flyte, but the romance between the two is lingering just beneath the surface of the text. It’s not hard to spot. It’s veiled just enough to get by in 1945.
The first Magicians book came out in 2009, but the relationship in Grossman’s books that most clearly echoes Brideshead Revisited, the friendship between mostly straight protagonist Quentin Coldwater and the queer and tellingly named Eliot Waugh, follows Evelyn Waugh’s lead in keeping any potential romantic angles mostly subtextual. Only occasionally does the possibility of sex or romance between Quentin and Eliot emerge into text in The Magicians novels, and when it does, it is nearly always inflected with deep self-loathing.
This week, The Magicians TV show finally made the subtext text. It explicitly signposted Quentin and Eliot’s story as one of romantic love, one where they would kiss and express their love for each other and it wouldn’t be a weird self-destructive one-off. It made the slash canon.
In Grossman’s 2011 interview, excerpted in the Vox article, he explained in greater detail his debt to CS Lewis’s Narnia books as well as to Waugh and others:
LG: […] So for me, massively influential are obviously James Joyce, another reinterpreter of Homer, and Virginia Woolf. My prose comes more from the Americans, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, rather obviously. The other influence is Evelyn Waugh. I don’t even know if Waugh is a modernist. He was writing at the time, but in a different mode. Brideshead Revisted is always super, super present in my work. I rely on most of my readers to never have read Brideshead Revisited, so they cannot see how much I am stealing from it. But I do urge people to go out and read it. It’s a hugely important source text for the 20th century, and is also an incredibly fun novel to read.
AVC: What about that novel speaks to you?
LG: It’s another one of these books that looks at modernity, and what we have lost by becoming modern with this immensely profound sadness. It’s about this guy, and World War II, the death of the English country-house lifestyle and the English countryside, on which so much fantasy is based. The passing away of that, and what do you find to replace it with?
I feel that’s one of the central questions of fantasy. What did we lose when we entered the 20th and 21st century, and how can we mourn what we lost, and what can we replace it with? We’re still asking those questions in an urgent way. I think that focus is something I share with Waugh. Also, Waugh is pretty funny. So I’m always trying to bite his style, because he’s just so entertaining.
Season 4 of the series is currently available in the USA on Syfy.com. In the UK the first three seasons are available on Netflix.
A reference to the Brideshead scene in which Rex Mottram and Charles Ryder dine in a Parisian restaurant is used to open an article in the Daily Telegraph celebrating new attitudes to wine pairings:
“I remember the dinner well – soup of oseille, a sole… a caneton à la presse, a lemon soufflé… And for wine, a bottle of 1906 Montrachet, then at its prime, and, with the duck, Clos de Beze of 1904”. Thus Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, bracing himself for dinner with the brash Canadian businessman, Rex Mottram. The pages of Evelyn Waugh’s novel are saturated in alcohol.
The article by Jane Shilling is entitled “Finally, the world is revolting against pompous food and wine pairings.”
The Lancashire Telegraph also mentions Brideshead in connection with an upcoming BBC Antiques Roadshow episode. This will be filmed at Lytham Hall in Lancashire on 11 June 2019 and presented by Fiona Bruce. As explained in the article:
Lytham Hall is an 18th-century Georgian country house with a fascinating history. Once owned by the ‘colourful’ Clifton family for over four centuries, whose antics inspired author Evelyn Waugh to write Brideshead Revisited. [See previous post.]