No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, December 02, 2016

2016/61: Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder -- Evelyn Waugh

'...It seems to me that without your religion Sebastian would have the chance to be a happy and healthy man.'
'It's arguable,' said Brideshead. 'Do you think he will need this elephant's foot again?'[loc. 2198]

Incredibly, I had never actually read this: having been deterred at an early age by the 'classic' label (for which I blame an education system that inflicts 'classics' on adolescents before they are mentally or emotionally ready to appreciate them), and never having seen the classic BBC adaptation (beloved of many of my university friends) I just ... didn't. After all, there were so many other books to read.

Sebastian Flyte was born into privilege and acts, on occasion, like a spoilt child. Middle-class Charles Ryder is drawn to his company, but can't help (and possibly isn't aware of, at the time) judging him. It's an affair as intense as any grand romance, whether or not it is actually a sexual liaison. Charles sets himself (again, perhaps not consciously) against the Flyte family, and loses. Later in life -- though before the framing narrative of Brideshead in wartime -- he begins to appreciate just how profoundly Sebastian's Catholicism has shaped his life.

If I'd read this sooner, I might not have appreciated the growth of Charles Ryder as a character: I might have been too fascinated by the golden youths basking in the idyllic Twenties [yes, I know they weren't actually idyllic] and dismissed the more sober and mature reflections of Charles the husband, Charles the soldier, Charles the convert as a fading or lessening of the person he had been. Instead, I found myself thinking about Brideshead Revisited for quite a while after I'd finished reading. Perhaps I'm still thinking about it.

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