Revisiting brideshead

Revisiting Brideshead was televised last night.1 I had seen this 11 part series on television back in the 1980s or early 1990s after it first came out in 1981. I had not read the novel, Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by English writer Evelyn Waugh which was first published in 1945. In 2015 I had the pleasure of seeing the 2008 film version.2 I wrote about the TV series and the film after I had retired from my 50 year life-experience as a student and in paid employment, 1949-1999, and after I had seen the series a second time in Australia.

The Flyte family who lived at Brideshead symbolises the English nobility, and Waugh's marvelously melancholy elegy brings that nobility to life. One reads in the book that Brideshead has "the atmosphere of a better age." Viewers, millions, enjoy the opulent and aristocratic edge, the glitter and gloss, the grandeur and the glamour of this wealthy family estate, and of a time in our history now quickly dying-out, if not long gone. In this one house, as one reviewer put it, is a fading, a dying, empire; or is it just sublime real estate. For many, in the millennial and generation Z, I can just about hear them clicking on the remote and uttering a now familiar word, a word especially familiar to people like me who retired after more than 30 years in classrooms: borrrring!

There's room for more than one Brideshead in this far less glamorous day and age, though, room at least for the baby-boomers and for the silent generation among the viewing public, with the glitter and gloss of society now often tarnished beyond repair in our complex 21st century.-Ron Price with thanks to 1ABC2, 11:55-12:45, 19 & 20/9/’11, and 2ABCTV, 8/2/'15, 10:05-11:30 pm.

1981 was a bad year in the UK
with 2 & ½ million out of work
and a list of bad news to fill all
those English heads to the top.1

There was nothing like this bit
of escapism from the real world
into a nostalgic, a romanticized
past, homoerotic suggestiveness,
Evelyn Waugh’s WW2 vision.2

I’ll let all you readers find out
what it all meant to Waugh, to
his critics & to modern viewers
whose views are available for us
to see on that new source of info:
the internet, the world-wide-web.3

1 See Wikipedia for all the bad news in 1981.

2 Waugh wrote in the preface to the 1959 edition of the book that he was appalled by his book, and that he found rereading it distasteful. I was only 15 at the time, and had read none of Waugh. I lived in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, had just joined the Baha’i Faith, and was in love with sport and at least 3 girls. The plot of the book was set in 1943-1944, in the months when I was in utero.

3 I was particularly interested in Waugh’s defence of Catholicism, his critique of secular humanism, and his emphasis on the many forms of conversion that take place in peoples’ lives.

Ron Price
20/9/'11 to 12/2/'15.

Part 1:

In the six months between December 1943 and June 1944 the novel Brideshead Revisited was written in England. In those same months I existed in utero on the other side of the Atlantic in Canada. When Evelyn Waugh, the author of this novel, wrote his preface to a revised edition of the book in 1959, and Fr. Ronald Knox published his biography of Waugh in that same year---I was 15 and had just joined the Baha’i Faith, and was in the middle of my adolescent baseball and ice-hockey careers. By my 20s my sport-playing days had ended, although I have remained a Baha’i all my life.

Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism in his late 20s and remained a Catholic although, as Martin Stannard the author of a two-volume biography of Waugh noted, “he struggled against the dryness of his soul”1 In the end, this is a common experience for believers of all Faiths and non-believers of all philosophies alike, especially in our troubled-age. Stannard saw Waugh as “the greatest novelist of his generation.”2

Part 2:

Waugh saw this novel, Brideshead Revisited, as his magnum opus but, on reading it later in life, he found what he called its "rhetorical and ornamental language.....distasteful."3 Readers with the interest in this film and this novel should surf-about on Wikipedia and other internet sources for all sorts of bits-and-pieces of information and analysis.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Martin Stannard, "Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh(1903–66),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition, 2007; 2Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903-1939, and Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939-1966, W.W. Norton & Co., NY., 1987 & 1992, resp., V.2, p.492; and3 Wikipedia.

Part 3:

Without Christianity you saw
civilization doomed or, as you
put it in your conversion: “it is
like stepping out of a Looking-
Glass world, where everything
is an absurd caricature, into the
real world God made, and then
begins the delicious process of
exploring it limitlessly.”1..This
is perhaps the most succinct &
sufficient description of process
in the act of conversions that ever
were written in that 20th century.

Waugh's own conversion from the
"absurd caricature" of what might
be called ultra-modernity to that
real world of Catholic orthodoxy
was greeted with astonishment by
the literary world and it caused a
sensation in the media. Do those
who have watched Brideshead in
these last 30 years know of this?
I did not until today and, wanting
to know something about how this
television series and film came into
existence in those last twenty-five
years: 1981 to 2007, I learned that
there was much to learn with a little
research and reading, and not even
reading E. Waugh's book at all.......

Part 4:

“Today we can see it on all sides as the active negation of all that Western culture has stood for. Civilization - and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe - has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity and, without, it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state. It is no longer possible to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests."

Waugh concluded the above press statement on his conversion by saying that he saw Catholicism as the "most complete and vital form" of Christianity. The article from which the above is taken was written by Joseph Pearce and it appeared in Lay Witness a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968.

Ron Price
14/7/'11 to 12/2/'15.


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