The Buenos Aires newspaper La Prensa has published an article marking the 75th anniversary of the completion of Brideshead Revisited in 1944. This is entitled “Bajo el hechizo del recuerdo” (“Under the spell of remembrance”) and is written by Guillermo Belcore who opens with this:
It could be said, dear reader, that the great news of spring has not been the disturbing return of Peronism or the escape of Evo Morales, but the decision of Tusquets to liquidate inventories in Buenos Aires. Today, one can discover gems in Buenos Aires bookstores at the price of a shortbread. You will find, for example, one of the best novels of the twentieth century: Retorno a Brideshead, the masterpiece of Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), “English writer considered by many to be the brightest satirical novelist of his day” (according to Encyclopedia Britannica).
Seventy-five years ago, Waugh concluded the book, taking advantage of the fact that an indulgent military commander extended his medical leave. In 1944, the writer served in the Royal Marines and joined a British mission to prop up Yugoslav partisans, but – he explains in the prologue – he had the good fortune of suffering an unimportant wound that provided him with a rest season. He broke the piggy bank of his personal experiences to compose a sublime exercise of nostalgia that portrays a tiny sector of the British aristocracy – Catholic landowners, twenty families apart from any ascent – and that reflects on love, desire and religious convictions ( in 1930 Waugh had been received in the Catholic Church).
Tusquets is the Spanish language publishing house that has been offering the Spanish version of Brideshead since the 1980s, probably taking it up in the wake of the Granada TV series. Why they are liquidating their Buenos Aires inventory is not explained. It should be noted that Waugh wrote Brideshead during a leave from the military premised on his specific request for three months to write the novel. He was not on medical leave during the period February-June 1944 when the novel was written in Chagford, Devon. The author of the article may have been misled by Waugh’s introduction to the 1960 edition which does not fully explain this.
After an extended and lively description of the plot of the novel, the La Prensa article concludes with this:
[Robert Lewis] Stevenson said that there is a virtue without which all others are useless; That virtue is charm. Brideshead Revisited is pure charm. The characters are lovely, particularly the young people of the idle classes who can live comfortably from a grant from their elders and need to be shocked. The refined conversations, the long and majestic comparisons (undoubtedly Waugh had talent for metaphor), the plot twists are also lovely. Social criticism is also exquisite: behind a lord there is usually rot, snobbery and stupidity, as in any other human being.
But the author on page three hundred and twenty-two rebels against artifice and even against the intense need of the English to be educated. [He] wrote: “Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love. It kills art.” And in the prologue -dated 1959- he confesses that, “now with a full stomach”, he finds the “rhetorical and ornamental language” in bad taste. Ignore it, it must have been a concession to a time when socialism gained ground in the form of that calamity called political correctness.
The truth is that, even today, the novel catches both the aesthetic power of the form and the depth of the content. Identification is easy. Who has not lost any paradise in his life, real or imaginary? What person of faith does not ever suffer a problem of conscience? By the way, for the writer faith is basically two things: accept the supernatural as real and open the door of the spirit to religion. Brideshead Revisited is, in short, one of those great novels in which you simply have to abandon yourself to the enjoyment of reading. Let’s say it with the words of Evelyn Waugh: literature “brought a moment of joy, such as strikes deep to the heart on the river’s bank when the kingfisher suddenly flares across the water.”
The translation is by Google with a few edits. The original text as written in English by Waugh and quoted from the novel has been substituted for the retranslation quoted from the Spanish version.