Essays and Criticism
Overview of Brideshead Revisited
Evelyn Waugh was widely known to be a conservative man, a man who felt more comfortable with the warm burnish of tradition than with the bright shine of the modern. Most of his novels written before 1942 are considered masterworks of satire. So the critics' nearly unanimous howl in 1945 upon the publication of Brideshead Revisited—a collective complaint that Waugh had lost his spark and had gone soft—should not come as a surprise. The novel was condemned as a romance, even a fantasy, and the knock against Waugh became that he had done his best work before World War II.
But after getting over the expectation that every scene should poke fun at something or someone (while still experiencing the occasional pleasure of Waugh's wit in Brideshead Revisited), readers familiar with Waugh's earlier satires need only look to Waugh's life for an explanation of the change in his writing. Even a brief examination of Waugh's background makes clear that many of the elements in Brideshead Revisited are taken from his own experiences. Waugh's partiality to traditional institutions and patterns shines through the novel's protagonist, Charles Ryder. Charles is a lover of old buildings, ancient cemeteries, and old wine; he dislikes new styles, be they displayed in a piece of jewelry or through the interior designs of a ship, and he feels that young people are not as attached to their history as they should be. From that common ground, Charles's story...
(The entire section is 1901 words.)
Brideshead Revisited and the Modern Historicization of Memory
In a 1969 article, "The Uses of History in Fiction," based on a panel discussion at a meeting of the Southern Historical Association, C. Van Woodward notes that, "Over the last two centuries, novels have become increasingly saturated with history, and novelists have been becoming ever more deeply historically conscious. In a sense, all novels are historical novels. They all seek to understand, to describe, to recapture the past, however remote, however recent." Woodward and the other participants in this discussion go on to talk about the relations between storytelling and historiography, examining how both reflect a growing historical consciousness in western society, and how they serve to satisfy a desire for historical understanding. Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited offers an example of this mutual interrelation between fiction and history, demonstrating how both support each other in accomplishing a very specific and, as critics have seen it, politically charged task; namely, the preservation and fictional reconstitution of an aristocratic Catholic heritage in England.
Though purely religious and spiritual considerations tend to elide this implicit purpose behind the novel, the task of this essay will be to explicate the ways in which Brideshead is preoccupied with the issue of preserving Catholic identity and Catholic memory. More specifically, it will discuss how the novel is about the decline of a family tradition of memory and the...
(The entire section is 5733 words.)