Three Country Houses in the Telegraph

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen describes three post war novels that each celebrated the English country house in a different way. The first was Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. According to Christiansen:

…its reception was largely enthusiastic and its sales soared. Fellow novelist Elizabeth Bowen expressed the majority view by calling it “supremely and triumphantly romantic”, and it has gone on to assume classic status, bolstered by the epic television adaptation of 1981. Another novel published at exactly the same time stands in fascinating counterpoint to Brideshead – Henry Green’s Loving. Both are focused on the spiritual condition of the upper classes and the fate of the great house, but they address the issue from opposite ends of the telescope.

Waugh and Green (born Henry Yorke) were old friends from their days as Oxford undergraduates. Green was a generous admirer of Brideshead Revisited: “the whole thing seems to me deeper and wider than any book you have written” he told Waugh. But there was a subtle sting in the tail of his encomium: “it is so curious that we should choose subjects, each of us, so distasteful to each other. Quite soon now another one of mine about the proletariat and about children will be on is way to you … and which you will find quite unreadable.” He appears to have been right on the last score – Waugh confided to his diary “Henry has written an obscene book named Loving about domestic servants” [..]

Christiansen then summarizes Loving which he denominates “the anti-Brideshead” and contrasts it to Waugh’s novel in several respects, one of which is the starkly different writing style adopted by Green

The writing is idiosyncratic in its elisions and inversions, with dialogue that is often oblique, even opaquely Pinterish. Waugh, who aimed at a prose of classical translucency, told Green that he was “debasing the language vilely”, but others have been enchanted by a style that is fresh, buoyant, untrammelled. […] While Loving debunks the country house, Brideshead Revisited mourns its demise.

The third country house novel that is considered is

Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day – not published until 1948, but largely written in 1944-5… [This] presents it more positively as symbolic of a future fed by its past, through a perspective coloured by the author’s inheritance of the Georgian Anglo-Irish mansion of Bowen’s Court, near Cork. Set in 1942 when victory over the Nazis began to look possible, The Heat of the Day presents Bowen’s Court thinly disguised as Mount Morris. […]

In contrast to Green and Waugh’s negativity, Bowen invests her vision of the future in the continuities of Mount Morris; it is ironic that although she loved Bowen’s Court deeply and expended much time and effort post-war on upkeep, debt forced her to sell up in 1959 and the buyer demolished the house a year later. “A clean end,” she wrote bravely, “At least Bowen’s Court never lived to be a ruin.”

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