Caveat Lector

The Kenyon Review posts another article by writer Aatif Rashid about re-reading  Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited:

In a piece last month, I wrote about my admiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. [See previous post.] But my experience reading it was actually more complicated than I described: when I first read the novel, I was taken in by its rich language, its lush descriptions, and its admiration for aesthetic beauty that seemed to belie its morally simplistic Catholic themes. When I reread the novel a year later, however, I found it darker, more melancholy, and far less rich and indulgent than I had remembered. Its aesthetic beauty felt pared down, and the vivid descriptions of Oxford and pre-war English life seemed overlaid with a grey, melancholy pallor. I was a little taken aback by this altered reading experience.Had I really changed so much in a year that the once-beautiful passages of aesthetic splendor had turned suddenly somber? Could a single year of life really alter the experience of a novel so significantly? I honestly felt a little depressed, and I wondered if it would ever be possible to recover the experience of reading the book the first time.

The truth was, though, it was not me that had changed: it was the book. What I didn’t realize was that the copy of Brideshead I’d checked out from my college library for my first reading had been a printing of the original 1945 text—but when I went and bought a version from the bookstore to read it a second time, I’d purchased the more standard 1960 version, which Waugh had revised, with “small additions” and “substantial cuts.” […]

He goes on to compare two passages from Brideshead where Charles Ryder is describing a Burgundy wine. Rashid comments: “Looking back, I can’t help but feel Waugh made a mistake: the original is so much better, so much wilder, so much more passionate.” He then compares Waugh’s changes with those made by Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens to the original texts of Frankenstein and Great Expectations and concludes that things would have been better if left alone:

If I had my way, I would replace every edition of each of these novels with their more powerful originals. But because I’m not in charge of Penguin or Oxford University Press, I’ll have to make do with encouraging readers to seek out the originals rather than the revised and “accepted” versions. If they were still alive, the authors might object, but as we know, a novel is not the sole property of a writer once it’s published. These three writers created works of art that were profound and moving. We shouldn’t let them diminish their masterpieces just because their own feelings later changed.

It is easy enough to find the original versions in the US since Little Brown did not publish the revised version until 2011. Thus, all US reprints up to that date published by Little Brown continued to reflect the 1945 text. To be sure, it would be best to check with the bookseller; if the edition he is selling has the 1959 “Preface” written by Waugh, it is unlikely to be the original 1945 text. If anyone reading this knows of any exceptions to this understanding, please comment as provided below.

Although US paperback publishers put out a “new Dell edition” as a Laurel edition in October 1960, the Waugh Bibliography notes that it “Seems identical to previous edition”–i.e., the one first published by Dell in 1957, before Waugh’s 1959 edits.  Penguin editions published since 1962 are the revised text. The Everyman’s Library hardback edition published in 1993 in the US by Knopf contains the text of the 1960 revised edition, according to a bookseller note on ABE. Assuming it follows its previous policy, the OUP’s Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh v. 9, Brideshead Revisited will contain the original 1945 edition, with changes made in subsequent editions noted.



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