Review: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

PAPERBACK; 326 P.
PENGUIN , 2000/1944
SOURCE: RECEIVED AS A GIFT

The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.

Brideshead Revisited is known as one of the classics depicting the 1920s – a period that I’m not that familiar with. I received this book a few years back as a birthday present from my parents and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I was, however, reminded of the book’s presence soon after New Years when the BBC adaptation was suddenly on TV and it looked beautiful (I did, however, close the TV after 5 minutes because I didn’t want to be spoiled). I started reading this book at the end of the Bout of Books 9.0 read-a-thon, and the exhaustion from an intense reading week was definitely present. I put the book down on Sunday evening and didn’t pick it up until Wednesday night. I just did not feel like reading. I continued to read Brideshead Revisited a couple chapters at a time, quickening the pace towards the end of the book.

The story is told from the perspective of Charles Ryder, an artist and now a commander in WWII. It looks back into Charles’s youth in the bustling 1920s, his friends and their relationships. The tone in the beginning of the book – the modern day – is sad, depressed, and bored which presents a strong contrast to the youthful memories. Charles’s story starts when he befriends Sebastian Flyte, a young and peculiar student from a wealthy family in the countryside. Charles is slowly introduced to the strange family circle of the Marchmains, and their luxurious lifestyle soon pulls him in. The book describes both the languid and relaxed moods of the period as well as the fast and instantaneous ones. The relationship with Charles and Sebastian is an interesting character study of both friendship and love.

I tweeted that reading Brideshead Revisited was like watching a slow-motion film, and I still hold on to that opinion. The events usually happen in small periods of time but they are described with such a calm tone that it feels like it never ends. This was for me both an enjoyable thing as well as a bit off-putting. The language is beautiful, but at the same time I craved to go on with the story and find out what will happen. I didn’t completely fall into the world of the book and was left a bit cold by it. The debate on religion was also fascinating, but I didn’t feel the passion behind it. In short, I was a bit disappointed by the book. Similar to my reading experience with The Great Gatsby, I felt like I missed something that the book was trying to convey.

Nevertheless, I would recommend this book for its stunning language and description, especially to the fans of the 1920s.

3.5/5

The languor of Youth – how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably, lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth – all save this – come and go with us through life. These things are a part of life itself; but languor – the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the minds sequestered and self-regarding – that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it.

This book was read for Jazz Age January hosted by the lovely Leah of Books Speak Volumes – go check her out!

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2 thoughts on “Review: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

  1. Pingback: Jazz Age January: Week 4 Linkup | Books Speak Volumes

  2. Pingback: Jazz Age January: Week 5 Linkup and Wrap Up | Books Speak Volumes

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