Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Visiting Brideshead

I'm told girls used to read Brideshead Revisited and become enamoured of Evelyn Waugh, and then read his other books like Vile Bodies. And then they would take books like Vile Bodies seriously because Brideshead was, and Evelyn Waugh became sorry he'd ever written Brideshead because these girls were so annoying. I'm not sure how much of this story is true; my father told it to me.

I rather seem to have come at this from the opposite end. I read Vile Bodies last year though I seem not to have said much about it, and now reading Brideshead Revisited I have trouble taking this one entirely seriously. It certainly has many moments of fanciful, wistful, slightly purple prose, which could be a mockery but I think, perhaps, aren't. According to Wikipedia it was written in the six months following a parachute accident in 1944, and as such the author's circumstances are rather similar to his narrator's--enough so that I suspect Charles Ryder's wistfulness for old times contains a lot of Waugh's wistfulness for the times he used to satirize. Certainly his later dislike of the book would be in line with this idea, the instinctive pushing away from a work containing the kind of nostalgia he would usually not indulge in.

I'm about a third of the way through the book, and have yet to be entirely certain what it's about. Not that it lacks focus in any way, but I couldn't tell you what its main point is yet, which I think says something for how little it follows a formula. Brideshead Revisited can certainly be called a classic, but it is one that is so without having a universally known plot, as many classics do. In some ways classics like this are the ideal book--with all the good writing but retaining the element of surprise. I'm looking forward to that surprise, as I get further into the book.

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