"Brideshead Revisited"

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Ralph
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"Brideshead Revisited"

Post by Ralph » Mon Aug 11, 2008 9:06 pm

I got around to seeing this a couple of nights ago. I never saw the TV series so I had nothing to compare this sprawling flick to.

Evelyn Waugh was, by all accounts, a singularly unpleasant upper class type. He had little use for Americans. In "Brideshead Revisited" he sketched a dying pastoral aristocratic world where old social connections and traditions were zealously maintained while a world war threatened and changes in society and technology were soon to make obsolete fops of the kind of characters populating Waugh's novels.

What makes this story different from similar ones well told in Merchant Ivory films and on Masterpiece Theater is the the centrality of a strong, almost fanatical Catholicism in a titled family. Of course by the pre-war period Catholics were very secure in England but also, no matter how rich, outside the circle of Anglican society. In Brideshead the abandoned wife, played with chilling intensity by Emma Thompson, anchors religion in her munificent home the better to shape and control her children. The oldest son lives away and seems to be a harmless sort, the younger one, Sebastian, a developing alcoholic engaged in homoerotic adventures at Oxford where he meets Charles, the atheist acolyte painter from a modest London home where he lived with his father, a fellow properly attired as a gentleman but with one taco short of a combination plate.

Invited to Brideshead, Charles meets Julia, the beautiful daughter (there's a younger daughter who doesn't play much of a role in the story). Of course Charles falls in love with Julia alienating Sebastian the Souse and getting himself ordered off the property by the stern protecting mother hen.

The reviews are mixed. The story moves slowly but very effectively as the strictures of religion increasingly deny to Charles and Julia the only true happiness either ever had a shot at.

The scenery is breathtaking-a great house was fortunately available for filming. For a nice price.

It's a period piece and yet it's not in the sense that it raises the issue of how, not whether, religiosity displaces human feelings.

Definitely worth seeing.
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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by Brendan » Mon Aug 11, 2008 10:31 pm

From http://www.slate.com/id/2195923/

But do not, when attempting any course of reading aimed at appreciating Waugh's wit, give undue attention to Brideshead Revisited, a misfit of a book, much loved, and often loved in the wrong way, as the vomitous stupidity of Miramax's new film adaptation attests. There's a comic novel in there, but it is not, as the common expression goes, struggling to get out. It's lodged there quite contentedly; the book's acid portraits of dull dons and rich oafs are enmeshed with its affectingly tender peeks at lost youth and also with its eagerly overwrought splendor and its sincerely bogus religiosity. This was the seventh novel Waugh published—the eighth he attempted—a grasp at grandeur written in a mere four months, during a leave from the British army in early 1944. "Waugh wrote Brideshead with great speed, unfamiliar excitement, and a deep conviction of its excellence," Martin Amis once remarked. "Lasting schlock, the really good bad book, cannot be written otherwise."

All apologies to Wuthering Heights, but Brideshead Revisited has a claim as literature's finest schlock. It sees narrator Charles Ryder reflecting, with a compound of sharp rue and magniloquent longing, on his past. In his youth, there was a powerful love for beautiful and doomed aristocrat Sebastian Flyte and a failed attempt to rescue Sebastian from alcoholism; in early middle age, a thwarted romance with Sebastian's sister, Julia, and a continuing passion for the Flyte family's huge and gorgeous country house. At 39, Ryder—and, with him, the credulous reader—is convinced that the world of the Flytes has expired and, with it, an essential part of the soul of England.

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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by Chalkperson » Mon Aug 11, 2008 11:09 pm

When it was Broadcast on TV in the UK in, I believe, the late seventies, I managed to miss every episode, I will make sure the same happens with this movie, and you are right Ralph, Evelyn Waugh was the epitome of everything that was wrong with 'The Ruling Class'...
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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by karlhenning » Tue Aug 12, 2008 6:43 am

Ralph wrote:It's a period piece and yet it's not in the sense that it raises the issue of how, not whether, religiosity displaces human feelings.
If that is one of the messages of the movie, then it was a liberty taken to veneer an Author's Message upon the text.

I must have read that book four or five times, Ralph; it is rich, and there are many themes; but that for which you praise the flick, ain't one of them. There is an American character whose attitude towards religion is very cynical; but any lack of his in regard to human feelings, is not at all specifically allied to "religiosity."

Really, your comment baffles me. (But then, all I've done is read Waugh's book . . . .)

Cheers,
~Karl

PS/ I should say, rather than that Waugh had "no use for Americans," that he did not gladly suffer fools of what nationality soever.
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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by karlhenning » Tue Aug 12, 2008 6:50 am

Chalkperson wrote:When it was Broadcast on TV in the UK in, I believe, the late seventies, I managed to miss every episode, I will make sure the same happens with this movie, and you are right Ralph, Evelyn Waugh was the epitome of everything that was wrong with 'The Ruling Class'...
Golly, what am I missing here? Waugh's satire filleted The Ruling Class (among others).

Some of the commentary here is the epitome of all that is wrong with The Instantaneous Publication Era ; )

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by karlhenning » Tue Aug 12, 2008 6:52 am

FWIW, I don't plan to watch this. I just don't see Bill Murray anywhere in the novel; and I don't really have any confidence in Murray's capacity for 'inhabiting' a role.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by Ralph » Tue Aug 12, 2008 7:24 am

June 30, 2004, 9:47 a.m.
Evelyn Waugh, R.I.P.
By William F. Buckley Jr.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This obituary appeared in the May 3, 1966, issue of National Review.

I once encountered a very angry lady in Dallas, Texas, who announced herself head of a vigilance committee to keep dirty books out of the local libraries, and we talked a bit. I forgot just how the conversation moved, but at one point I said that to pull out all the salacious passages from modern literature would require the end of individual reading. All of us would have private readers, like the old eccentric who forced his prisoners to read to him the works of Charles Dickens in the novel by Evelyn Waugh. Who, asked the lady book critic, was Evelyn Waugh? The greatest English novelist of the century, I ventured, but on ascertaining that he was not a dirty writer, she lost all interest, and went off to look for more dirty books to rail against.

I wrote Waugh and told him about the episode. My letter did not include any reference to any business matter, so I knew he would not reply to it; but I knew the little story would appeal to his sense of satire, so strongly developed as to make him, in the judgment of the critic Edmund Wilson, the "only first-rate comic genius the English have produced since George Bernard Shaw." (Waugh's reply, several years later to an interviewer who asked what was his opinion of Edmund Wilson: "Is he American?" End comment.) But Waugh was much more than that, though millions of his readers who read only Handful of Dust, and Scoop, and The Loved One, did not know about the other dimensions; did not know that Evelyn Waugh the great satirist was a conservative, a traditionalist, a passionately convinced and convincing Christian, a master stylist routinely acknowledged, during the last decade, as the most finished writer of English prose.

He died at 62 having completed only one volume of a long autobiography. In it he recorded, dispassionately, the impressions of his early years; something of the lives of his ancestors, many of them eccentric; and of the Chaos of his undergraduate career at Oxford, from which he was duly expelled, as so many interesting Englishmen are expected to be. He decided, in his mid-twenties, that the thing to do was to commit suicide, and he describes, as he would in a novel, his own venture in this dramatic activity — the verse from Euripides about water washing away the stains of the earth, neatly exposed where it could not be missed by grieving relatives or meticulous coroners; wading out into the ocean, thinking diapasonal thoughts; then running into a school of jellyfish, and racing back to the beach, putting on his clothes, tearing up Euripides, and resuming his career, for which we thank God's little jellyfish.

He was an impossible man, in many respects. At least as far as the public was concerned. Like J. D. Salinger and James Gould Cozzens, he simply refused to join the world of flackery and televised literature. On one occasion when he did consent to grant an interview to a young correspondent from Paris Review, because he was related to an old friend, Waugh thoroughly disconcerted the interview by arriving in his hotel suite, taking off his clothes, getting into bed, lighting a huge cigar, breaking open a bottle of champagne, and then uttering: "Proceed."

Rather than live a public life, he situated himself in a large old house in the country, surrounding himself with a moat that was proof against all but his closest friends, and the vicar. The piranhas made a specialty of devouring first-class mail asking for interviews, comments, suggestions, whatever. I confess to having successfully swum across the moat, after several fruitless assaults. I discovered that the squire felt an obligation to reply to all letters concerning questions of commerce; so that if you wanted a comment or two on a matter of literature or philosophy or politics, you could hope to get it by dropping into your letter a trivial question relating to business.

But he was a man of charity, personal generosity, and, above all, of understanding. He knew people, he knew his century, and, having come to know it, he had faith only in the will of God, and in individual man's latent capacity to strive towards it. He acknowledged the need to live in this century, because the jellyfish will not have it otherwise; but never, ever, to acclimate yourself to it. Mr. Scott-King, the classics teacher, after his tour through Evelyn Waugh's Modern Europe, comes back to school, and there the headmaster suggests that he teach some popular subject, in addition to the classics — economic history, perhaps, for the classics are not popular. "I'm a Greats man myself," the headmaster says. "I deplore it as much as you do. But what can we do? Parents are not interested in producing the 'complete man' anymore. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the public world. You can hardly blame them, can you?" "Oh yes," Scott-King replies. "I can and do." And, deaf to the headmaster's entreaties, he declares, shyly but firmly, "I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world." Waugh got the best of the modern world, but paid a high price for it: he gave it his genius.
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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by BC » Tue Aug 12, 2008 10:38 am

Brideshead (the novel) tends to split opinion. It is Waugh's most famous book, certainly his most popular. Ironically enough given his dislike of Americans, it was American sales of Brideshead that finally made Waugh rich.

All the same many Waugh fans regard it as something of an embarrassment: a sentimental melodrama, lushly overwritten and crudely partisan. It has its defenders, but I'm not one of them: I found it almost painful to read, although I have to admit that the story and characters resonate in the mind long after those in better-written novels have faded.

Waugh's early novels are very different. Satirical, cynical, almost cartoon-like and stylistically spare. Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust and Scoop are among my favourite comic novels, like Wodehouse with added viciousness and lunacy (and a better editor). (In fact, there is a strong influence: Wodehouse's way of using dialogue is largely stolen from Waugh). The Sword of Honour trilogy is a kind of halfway house between the early satire and Brideshead, with some of the same lopsided indulgence of Catholicism and the old English nobility but retaining the early satiric edge.

It's an oversimplification to regard Waugh as a member of the ruling classes. He was a terrible snob, certainly. But he was not a member of the aristocracy; rather of the professional middle class (the distinction may seem small to some: it would have been massive to Waugh himself). He did, however, manage to ingratiate himself with the upper classes socially by a mixture of indefatigable toadying, literary celebrity and (laterally) wealth. It's wrong to assume that because he savagely caricatures the aristocracy he isn't utterly infatuated with it. Like many right-wing satirists of the upper classes he isn't targeting his invective at those who most deserve it, but at the only people he considers worthy of his attention.

A man who was misanthropic and conceited, and horribly unpleasant even to his own family, Waugh is pretty hard to defend as a human being. But he's still among my favourite writers.

I've never seen the film. I did see the television series which I enjoyed very much the first time I watched it (I used to think it was one of those examples of a bad book making a good film). But trying to watch it again later, I found it tedious and full of the same faults as the novel. I'm not sure if it had dated badly (its production values were ostentatiously high for a television production at the time it was made) or its flaws simply become more apparent on a second viewing.[*]

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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by karlhenning » Tue Aug 12, 2008 10:54 am

BC wrote:Brideshead (the novel) tends to split opinion. It is Waugh's most famous book, certainly his most popular. Ironically enough given his dislike of Americans, it was American sales of Brideshead that finally made Waugh rich.

All the same many Waugh fans regard it as something of an embarrassment: a sentimental melodrama, lushly overwritten and crudely partisan. It has its defenders, but I'm not one of them: I found it almost painful to read, although I have to admit that the story and characters resonate in the mind long after those in better-written novels have faded.

Waugh's early novels are very different. Satirical, cynical, almost cartoon-like and stylistically spare. Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust and Scoop are among my favourite comic novels, like Wodehouse with added viciousness and lunacy (and a better editor). (In fact, there is a strong influence: Wodehouse's way of using dialogue is largely stolen from Waugh). The Sword of Honour trilogy is a kind of halfway house between the early satire and Brideshead, with some of the same lopsided indulgence of Catholicism and the old English nobility but retaining the early satiric edge.

It's an oversimplification to regard Waugh as a member of the ruling classes. He was a terrible snob, certainly. But he was not a member of the aristocracy; rather of the professional middle class (the distinction may seem small to some: it would have been massive to Waugh himself). He did, however, manage to ingratiate himself with the upper classes socially by a mixture of indefatigable toadying, literary celebrity and (laterally) wealth. It's wrong to assume that because he savagely caricatures the aristocracy he isn't utterly infatuated with it. Like many right-wing satirists of the upper classes he isn't targeting his invective at those who most deserve it, but at the only people he considers worthy of his attention.

A man who was misanthropic and conceited, and horribly unpleasant even to his own family, Waugh is pretty hard to defend as a human being. But he's still among my favourite writers.

I've never seen the film. I did see the television series which I enjoyed very much the first time I watched it (I used to think it was one of those examples of a bad book making a good film). But trying to watch it again later, I found it tedious and full of the same faults as the novel. I'm not sure if it had dated badly (its production values were ostentatiously high for a television production at the time it was made) or its flaws simply become more apparent on a second viewing.[*]
Very interesting, thanks.

And thank you for clarifying this, better than I might have done:
BC wrote:It's an oversimplification to regard Waugh as a member of the ruling classes. He was a terrible snob, certainly. But he was not a member of the aristocracy; rather of the professional middle class (the distinction may seem small to some: it would have been massive to Waugh himself).
FWIW (which may not be all that much) I never warmed to the television series; I think the presence of Jeremy Irons was largely the catalyst . . . I seem to have an irrational distaste for him in most of his work, possibly a result of being too powerfully creeped out by a certain Dave Cronenberg film.

I don't mind him particularly in the film of Merchant of Venice, though . . . .

I had mostly read Waugh's satires before I ever approached Brideshead; it was obviously a change of tone and medium, but that of itself did not bother me (if anything, I admire a writer — as I do a composer — who can work well in a variety of media, so to speak).

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by BWV 1080 » Tue Aug 12, 2008 12:11 pm

Ralph wrote:He had little use for Americans.
If you read "The Loved One" - his novel set in Los Angeles (and my favorite) you could probably argue either way. It is brilliantly dark satire
In "Brideshead Revisited" he sketched a dying pastoral aristocratic world where old social connections and traditions were zealously maintained while a world war threatened and changes in society and technology were soon to make obsolete fops of the kind of characters populating Waugh's novels.
Waugh had a complex love / hate relationship with the aristocracy

Sebastian, a developing alcoholic engaged in homoerotic adventures at Oxford


A fair picture of Waugh in college


Invited to Brideshead, Charles meets Julia, the beautiful daughter (there's a younger daughter who doesn't play much of a role in the story). Of course Charles falls in love with Julia alienating Sebastian the Souse and getting himself ordered off the property by the stern protecting mother hen.
The story moves slowly but very effectively as the strictures of religion increasingly deny to Charles and Julia the only true happiness either ever had a shot at
It's a period piece and yet it's not in the sense that it raises the issue of how, not whether, religiosity displaces human feelings.
The main character in his Sword of Honor Trilogy is in a similar position - his wife left him but he cannot remarry due to his Catholicism. But of course Waugh was a devout convert himself and respected the Church's position. Most of his work has a very conservative view

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Re: "Brideshead Revisited"

Post by BC » Wed Aug 13, 2008 12:55 pm

there's a younger daughter who doesn't play much of a role in the story

Cordelia was a key character for Waugh himself -- her devout Catholicism personified his idea of the correct way to live. He confirmed in correspondence that the theological import of the book is carried by Cordelia, particularly in the scene where she expresses her pity that, as a "poor agnostic" Charles Ryder will never be able to understand her response to the de-consecration of the chapel. ("suddenly there wasn't a chapel there any more, just an oddly decorated room").

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