Brideshead @ 75: Castle Howard, The Spectator, BBC

Today is the 75th anniversary of the first book publication of Brideshead Revisited. Chapman & Hall and the Book Society jointly issued the book in London on 28 May 1945. The occasion has been marked in several recent events:

–Castle Howard this morning sponsored a “webinar” in which the connections between the book and the building were discussed. Most of these connections stem from the two adaptations of the book which were filmed at Castle Howard. The Castle Howard curator Chris Ridgway delivered an excellent talk with illustrations from both the 1981 and 2008 adaptations as to how the building and grounds were skillfully woven into the films. He also explained that connections between Waugh’s fictional Brideshead Castle and the real Castle Howard were more illusive but nevertheless worth considering.  Waugh’s only recorded visit was in 1937 and not much is known of the details of that visit. Still, Waugh has included many elements of Castle Howard in Brideshead Castle (including the dome, the fountain and the back story) as well as several hints in the book that suggest he may have had Castle Howard in mind for at least some important features of his fictional edifice.

This was a very interesting talk, both well researched and presented. The illustrations were also efficiently laid out and relevant to the theme. The webinar was well attended. I noticed more that 90 participants on the participant counter. The webinar will be posted on the Castle Howard website in the coming days and a link will be provided when that occurs. Meanwhile, an abbreviated transcript of Chris Ridgway’s presentation with several of the slides has been posted on the Castle Howard’s website for immediate access at this link.

The Spectator magazine has posted a podcast marking the book’s anniversary. This involved the participation of novelist Philip Hensher and Waugh’s grandson Alexander and was moderated by literary journalist Sam Leith. The topics discussed began with how Brideshead Revisited fitted into Waugh’s oeuvre, the style of his writing compared to his other works, and how the text of book evolved over the years after publication. Philip Hensher asked Alexander what version of the book would be used for the OUP Complete Works edition. Alexander, who is acting as the project’s General Editor, explained that it would be the 1945 London edition with all subsequent changes clearly annotated. The book’s religious and comic themes were also discussed at some length as were film and TV adaptations. Another topic related to how Waugh built original fictional characters using elements from real life friends and acquaintances. The podcast carries on for about 45 minutes and never lags. It can be monitored at this link.

The Evening Standard posted this entry in its Londoner’s Diary column relating to the Spectator podcast:

John Mortimer, who wrote such a poor script for the film of Brideshead Revisited that it had to be rewritten by the director and producer straight from the book, was once asked: “How did you do it?” Alexander Waugh, Evelyn’s grandson, recounts his self-effacing reply, “well you know it’s all Waugh, he’s wonderful, he’s just such a good writer”. Alexander Waugh adds to the Spectator’s podcast: “He wouldn’t quite admit that he didn’t write it at all, and yes it was all Waugh.”

–BBC Scotland has interviewed Jenny Niven who is the dircctor of the now postponed Brideshead Festival at Castle Howard originally scheduled for next month. This is carried on BBC Radio Scotland in the Monday, 25 May episode of The Afternoon Show. The first topic was how the Wuhan coronavirus lockdown has affected cultural events such as this. Niven commented on her hope that the Brideshead Festival event can be rescheduled, but with all the current uncertainty, firm rescheduling plans have not yet been possible. The presenter (who I think was Janice Forsythe) also asked Niven to discuss the history of the book and the filmings of the two adaptations that took place at Castle Howard.

You can listen to the interview on BBC iPlayer for about a month. It appears at the end of a 2 1/2 hour broadcast. Set the timer to 2:11:00 which is about where it begins. Here’s the link.

UPDATE (29 May 2020): A reference in the Evening Standard to the Spectator podcast was added.

UPDATE (30 May 2020): An abbreviated version of Dr Chris Ridgway’s webinar presentation has been posted on the Castle Howard website pending the availability of the complete webinar,

UPDATE (1 June 2020): The source referenced in the 29 May update should have been the Evening Standard, not the Evening News.The link itself was correct.




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