Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh

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How can we analyse Brideshead Revisited in light of Umberto Eco's migration of characters?

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Umberto Eco's idea that characters migrate, developed in his nonfiction book On Literature (2002), has generally been applied to works in which the characters have clearly become part of popular consciousness. Such characters as Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula, for instance, are known to millions of people who have never read the books in which they appear.

There are no characters in Brideshead Revisited who are as well-known as this. The characters most likely to be recognized are Sebastian Flyte and Anthony Blanche, both of whom are stereotypes of the effete, wealthy Oxford undergraduate. However, one might extrapolate from Eco's comment the idea that institutions or even atmospheres can migrate in the same way as characters.

The word Brideshead comes up fairly often in British popular culture, and it has two significant connotations. One is the atmosphere of privilege and exclusivity that surrounds Oxford University. Whenever Oxford is being described not as an academic powerhouse but as a place where exquisitely dressed aristocratic young men drink champagne while picnicking on smooth green lawns, Waugh's novel is likely to be mentioned. The same is true of a similarly snobbish aesthetic atmosphere pertaining to the Roman Catholic Church. These two institutions are the most successful migrations from Brideshead Revisited into popular culture.

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