Brideshead @ 75: National Review and Diario de Noticias

The National Review has posted an article commemorating the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited. The article is by NR columnist Madeleine Kearns and is subtitled “The best 20th-century novel on time and grace.” It opens with this:

Between December 1943 and June 1944, English author Evelyn Waugh took unpaid leave from the army to finish his novel Brideshead Revisited, now considered by many to be his greatest. The book (which Waugh first suggested calling “A Household of Faith”) has many themes — Catholicism, aristocracy, youth, redemption — but the author’s specific focus was, in his own words, “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.” Today Waugh’s religiosity, much like his traditionalist tastes, may seem niche or archaic, but his treatment of the human experience of time is — well, timeless. In an updated preface, Waugh offered Brideshead “to a younger generation of readers as a souvenir of the Second War rather than of the twenties or of the thirties, with which it ostensibly deals.” While nostalgia functions both as a theme and a narrative device in the novel, what is often overlooked is how masterfully the two themes, nostalgia and grace, are interwoven.

What follows is not the usual plot summary but an interesting discussion of Waugh’s use of a first-person narrator, George Orwell’s criticism of that and other elements of the book and an interpretation of the fountain scene with Julia as self-parody. The article concludes:

In 2003 essay for The Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens agreed with Orwell that there was something adolescent about Waugh’s worldview, although “Waugh was not a mere propagandist, and we would not still be reading him if he had been.” He’s right about that. Readers are free to reject Waugh’s religious interpretation, just as the novel’s characters are (though ultimately they don’t). The accusation of childishness is nevertheless correct. A child is simultaneously fully present in his time and yet capable of fully leaving it through imagination. Being truly present — free from regret, change, loss, and shame — are all things lost with experience and retrieved through grace.

–The Portuguese paper Diario de Noticias has published the fourth and apparently final installment in a series of articles about the connections between Brideshead Revisited and Waugh’s friendship with the Lygon family. These are entitled Uma educação sentimental and are written by António Araújo. See previous posts. This one addresses Mary Lygon’s unhappy marriage to a Russian prince and her subsequent decline into alcoholism. It begins by describing the circumstances of the marriage and Waugh’s troubled relationship with the couple, including his short-lived and unsuccessful attempt  to share an apartment with them in London. The article also mentions Waugh’s hatred of Prince Vsevelod, including a claim that he once told Mary that Vsevelod was spying for the enemy. There should have been some mention in mitigation that Waugh and Vsevelod were able to cooperate in Waugh’s 1947 book Wine in Peace and War that was dedicated to Vsevelod who was an employee of the sponsors. After that, the relationship between the couple and Waugh as well as Mary Lygon’s marriage went ever more precipitously downhill, ending in a divorce and her impoverishment in the 1950s. The article notes that friendly relations between Waugh and Mary herself were never seriously threatened and contains this in its concluding section:

Maimie was interviewed when the the Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited was broadcast. At the time, at 71, she lived in a small house in a London suburb, where the television broadcast shows the chaotic and dirty housekeeping arrangements, and Maimie continuously serving vodka sweets, even though it is mid-afternoon. Mary “Maimie” Lygon died of cancer in September 1982.

The article also mentions Waugh’s attitude toward Portugal and religion in an earlier section:

…in 1952, Waugh traveled to Goa, which fascinated him by the European presence and the mark of the Christian faith (as is evident, not only in that did he not question the Portuguese colonial rule but also that he proved to be a supporter and admirer of Salazar).

The article is accessible on the newspaper’s website linked above. If it asks for access code and password, try again later. The translation by Google is better than average, aside from the usual Iberian gender confusion with pronouns. The quotes  above have been edited somewhat.

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