Evelyn Waugh's novels written before 1945 are typically satiric and filled with dry humor and sarcasm, and many critics view Brideshead Revisited as heralding a change in Waugh's writing style. Brideshead Revisited presents a more nostalgic story based on the main character's memories of a wealthy English Catholic family he befriended before World War II. In an England where most people are Protestant, being Catholic makes the family—despite their land ownership and high social status—a minority, subject to a degree of prejudice. Many of the characters and events in the novel reflect Waugh's life when he was in school and later as an adult.
Brideshead Revisited was the first of Waugh's novels to come to the attention of the American public. In fact, soon after the publication of Brideshead Revisited, Life magazine printed an interview with Waugh. But critics were split over the quality of the novel, and some have criticized it for being too romantic and lacking the brilliance of Waugh's other novels. James Carens in The Satiric Art of Evelyn Waugh notes that even though the critic and author Edmund Wilson was an admirer of Waugh's earlier works, he condemned Brideshead Revisited as a "disastrous" novel. In contrast, Carens notes that the review in Catholic World magazine praised the novel, calling it "a work of art."