Roundup: Brideshead to Bridgerton

–A new Netflix serial “Bridgerton” has been compared in several papers to Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited and its film and TV adaptations. Here an excerpt from the Bloomsberg News:

… “Bridgerton” is a sly and sexy Netflix Inc. series set in Georgian England in 1813. At a time when Europe and the US feel like distant cousins, here we have a glorious example of British heritage and American irreverence fruitfully colliding to make riveting TV.

Launched on Christmas Day, just as it was becoming clear that the pandemic would make this a very long winter, Bridgerton is a mixture of historical romp, tart commentary on the 18th-century marriage market and an experiment in “color-blind” TV casting. It turns upside down the slave-holding society of the reign of King George III, giving a cast of various ethnicities roles as aristocrats and royalty, rather than relegating them to inferior positions as footmen and maids. […] Historical accuracy plays second fiddle to dramatic impact. Not only would the sex make Ms. Austen blush, but here the women take charge and manipulate the men. […]

It is a clever repurposing of the “Brideshead Revisited” formula, Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel about privileged Oxford University and stately home living, which is reliably screened or remade as every new recession bites. Waugh’s book was published in 1945 amidst British post-war austerity and rationing. As the author said, “It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster — the period of soya beans and Basic English — and in consequence, the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past.”

The 1981 independent television adaptation of Brideshead, shown when unemployment hit the three million mark in the U.K., is widely considered to be one of the best British productions of all time. A film version was also produced after the Great Recession of 2007-2009. And by no Covid coincidence, the BBC and HBO are shooting yet another TV version, this time directed by “Call Me By Your Name” director, Luca Guadagnino.

With conspicuous consumption a bad look nowadays, we’re once again drawn to bling and richness. There are close to 7,500 brightly colored costumes in the first season of Bridgerton. And the crunch of gravel leading to magnificent stately homes is the main soundtrack. (The producers appear to have commandeered the elegant city of Bath, where Jane Austen took the waters and penned her wry observations on humankind, for a stage set.) In one room, the glass window fittings alone cost 40,000 pounds ($54,436).

–They might have mentioned a further connection between “Bridgerton” and Waugh’s novel.  This review by Matthew Moore appeared in a recent video section of The Times newspaper:

When it comes to protecting the historic soft furnishings, the staff at Castle Howard take their work extremely seriously. Attendants employed by the stately home in North Yorkshire are so committed that they declined to leave the room during the filming of Bridgerton sex scenes, the period drama’s director has revealed.

Producers selected Castle Howard as one of several historic English locations for the Regency romance, which has become one of Netflix’s most successful ever original series.Most productions insist upon a closed set during intimate scenes, meaning only crew members who need to be present are allowed

The privately owned Grade I-listed estate, home to the Howard family for more than 300 years, has previously done duty as Brideshead in the television and film adaptations of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited.

–In the latest issue of the New Criterion, James Zug has an essay entitled “Stepping Stones”. In this, he cites numerous examples of how a random event has led him to a chain of memorable reading experiences. This begins with a neighbor named Paddy leaving a crumpled edition of The Sunday Times next to the swimming pool at Zug’s family home.  He found in it a serialized version of Graham Greene’s autobiography A Sort of Life and became an avid Greene fan. That experience is linked to one later in the essay:

…while up at Oxford, I had haunted Charing Cross secondhand bookstores. I’d buy up a half dozen books and the seller would sometimes tie them with brown twine like they were a miniature bale of hay. […] I scanned the shelves. I saw a blue spine: Graham Greene, Ways of Escape. I hadn’t heard of this book. A novel? No, his memoir. Another?

Ways of Escape came out in 1980, a sequel of sorts to A Sort of Life. It originated in introductions Greene had written for a collected edition of his novels. Deep into Ways of Escape, Greene discussed his Catholic faith, which led him to thinking about his relationship with another famous English Catholic writer, Evelyn Waugh. This led to reprinting some correspondence between him and Waugh and a short exegesis on Waugh’s “The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold”. I had never read this novel. When I got home, I ordered a copy. I read it. I didn’t like it. I adored Waugh and found the novel trapped, thwarted. It was even boring, something I thought Waugh could never be.

This kind of literary stepping stone—Sunday Times with Paddy to Greene to Waugh—was commonplace….

–A website called The Royal UK which describes itself as an independent source for news about the Royal Family has posted a list of Kate Middleton’s favorite reading. A Waugh novel is the only 20th century publication on her list:

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. If nothing else, Evelyn Waugh’s paean to the lost world of the British aristocracy before the Great War will make you feel decidedly better about your own family relationships.

The other selections (total 12) are all 19th C. classic novels plus Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Homer’s  Odyssey.

–In another New Criterion article Stephen Schmalhofer observes that last month marked the 850th anniversary of the murder of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. He reports on his recent visit to the site accompanied by his daughter:

At the site of the martyrdom in the northwest transept of the cathedral is a modern sculpture added in 1986. The four jagged swords resemble iron lightning bolts, suspended in the act of carrying out the foul deed. Becket’s feast follows St. Stephen the Protomartyr and the Massacre of the Holy Innocents. Evelyn Waugh best described this shocking contrast in the Church calendar: “After the holly and sticky sweetmeats, cold steel.”

—The Wall Street Journal has a review of Alexander Larman’s new book The Crown in Crisis. This is by Moira Hodgson who starts with this:

Alexander Larman opens “The Crown in Crisis” with a gleeful quote about the abdication of Edward VIII from Evelyn Waugh’s diary: “There can seldom have been an event that has caused so much general delight and so little pain.” Even now, over 80 years later, the saga of the king and the much reviled, twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson continues to entertain. The public has never tired of hearing about anything that concerns the British monarchy—but this scandal has proven a particularly enduring hit. In his fresh chronicle of the dramatic events leading up to the abdication, Mr. Larman, a historian and journalist, has unearthed newly released archives, unpublished letters and interviews with people who knew the couple.


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