An article on Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited has recently appeared on a website called academia.edu. This is by Dr Joanna Bratten and is entitled “From Arcadia to Ascesis: the necessary loss of pleasure in Brideshead Revisited”. Dr Bratten also presented a paper entitled “So Much for Infidelity: Evelyn Waugh, A P Herbert and the Hotel Bill Divorce” at the 2015 Evelyn Waugh Conference at the University of Leicester. She is currently head of the English department at St Paul’s School for Girls in Hammersmith, London W6. Here is the introduction to her article:
Charles Ryder claims that his ‘theme’, and therefore the theme of the novel he is narrating, ‘is memory’ (291). I would like to propose that Waugh’s theme is not, in fact, memory but rather the redemption that comes from sacrifice and loss. In the Epilogue, Charles describes himself to Hooper, with only a tiny dollop of irony, as being ‘child-less, home-less, middle-aged, love-less’ (450). This list of negations – loss of family, home, youth, love – neatly summarises what Charles has been stripped of throughout the novel. He loses everything – and is at fault himself for many of these losses. His love of art appears to have died; he never loved his wife or his child (children, if Caroline’s patronymic is to be trusted) so has lost them; his love of Sebastian is soured by bitter regret and fades to something that seems to exist only in a past tense; his love of Julia, questionable from the start, is ultimately sacrificed on the altar of her conscience; even the pleasures of eating and drinking recede – aided, in part, by the privations of wartime. And there is a reason for all of this, rooted entirely in Waugh’s theological vision for the novel: for Charles to be drawn to love of God he must, rather like Job, lose all other loves and pleasures that might distract him from the one love that he’s been led towards all along.
Waugh’s novel – particularly the section titled ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ – is famous for a kind of gluttonous romantic indulgence, lushly expressed in prose that was, in 1945, both praised and castigated. The New York Times admired the ‘almost romantic sense of wonder’1 that oozes from the writing, whilst Peter Quennell, writing for the Daily Mail, charged his old Oxford friend with ‘the major sin of romantic over-writing’.2 Although the ‘over-writing’ never fully recedes or gives way to a sparser, leaner style, I nevertheless I want to consider the way in which the narrative as a whole distances itself from indulgence and pleasure and moves towards ‘ascesis’ – that is, the state of one who follows an ascetic life, who practises self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.
The same website has also posted what appears to be the full version of the paper Dr Bratten presented at Leicester retitled: “Barbarians in the Waste Land: Evelyn Waugh and the civil and spiritual repercussions of adultery”. This relates primarily to the novels A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited.
These papers are both available on academia.edu and may be downloaded at no charge after completing the registration process. It should be noted that this website, despite its name, is not a charitable or stated-funded educational institution providing services to the academic community. Once you register, you will be emailed several notices offering upgrades and premium services available at a fee. The papers posted are not peer reviewed or edited by anyone at academia.edu. There are several other papers on Evelyn Waugh that may be of interest, but since these two were posted by a recognized scholar known to the Waugh Society, they come with some additional credibility. I have read both papers and can attest that they reflect a high level of research and are well-written. Anyone with knowledge of other relevant papers that have been posted on the website or willing to review one or more and comment on them is invited to do so as provided below.