Brideshead Festival May Not Happen

The Yorkshire Post has published a story by David Behrens in which it reports that the festival scheduled last year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited’s publication may never happen. This is largely based on an interview with the festival’s brainchild Victoria Barnsley. It opens with her expression of some relief that it had to be postponed from its original date:

“It poured with rain all that weekend,” she said. “And my sadness that the festival didn’t happen was mixed with relief because Brideshead in the rain wasn’t the idea. It was all going to be picnics and punting on lakes.”

This year marks perhaps an even more significant anniversary for the grand house, home to the Howard family for three centuries – for it was 40 years ago that Granada Television’s monumental adaptation of the novel hit the screen.

It was filmed in large measure at Castle Howard – apparently Waugh’s inspiration for the fictional Brideshead Castle – and its phenomenal success in Britain, the US and beyond, placed the house indelibly on the world tourism stage.

Ms Barnsley had considered reviving the festival for this summer, but the uncertainty over international tourism made it impractical.

“I don’t know whether we’ll ever resurrect the idea now. It feels as if its time has come and gone,” she said. “It’s so sad. We were going to have glamping in the walled garden and Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bears’ picnic.

“As far as I know, no-one has done a festival around a single book or a single author. But it was a huge amount of work and the logistics in such a rural location were also challenging. We might revisit bits of it – the teddy bear’s picnic on its own could be a lovely thing to do.

“But there will be a perennial interest in Castle Howard because of Brideshead. There’s even a new BBC adaptation rumoured to be in the works.” […]

After a discussion of Castle Howard’s connection with the film productions, Ms Barnsley addresses Waugh’s personal association with the house:

Evelyn Waugh had passed it in 1937 on his way to Ampleforth Abbey and was later a visitor there. When Brideshead Revisited was serialised in the USA and the publishers requested an illustration, he sent an engraving of the Yorkshire house [sic]. But the narrative dictates that the fictional Brideshead Castle is closer to Oxford.

It is true that the drawing that illustrates the serial version of Brideshead in Town & Country magazine does resemble Castle Howard. But Waugh had nothing to do with that serial version or its illustrations as he was in Yugoslavia when it was being edited, prepared for publication and issued in four installments in November 1944-February 1945. Waugh never saw the abbreviated version before its publication and was furious when he learned it had been shortened. The artist who illustrated the serial (Constantine Alajalov) used only Waugh’s verbal description in the novel to depict the house, but that came so close to Castle Howard as to look as if it were a copy.  For a more detailed discussion of the serial version of Brideshead see Evelyn Waugh Studies, No 50.3 (Winter 2019). A reproduction of Alajalov’s drawing appears at p. 17 of the article.

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