Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brideshead Revisited

Hmm, this might prove a challenge for me to write a review about. When I think of what I have read I mostly try to convey some emotion, from which words and explanations tumble. Not this time though.

Brideshead Revisited is a very queer little novel, set in a day and age when plenty was the rule and YOLO might have been invented and proven more accurately than today. A self-centered society where it was equally important to be seen as it was to not be impressed.
A decadent, guilt-ridden and nervous lifestyle overcompensating the loneliness of trying to give meaning to one's life again. Maybe after the tremendous loss of the Great War, people were afraid to get close to one another again, wherein they mistake physical intimacy to be graver than emotional suffering.
It's indeed sensible to call this ' A Lost Generation', because too young to have fought in the war, but old enough to grieve its viciousness, they are lost within themselves. They seek companionship away from intimacy which probably resulted in more prominent relationships between men, which in today's morals might wrongfully be labeled homosexuals, I believe than in that short time between the two wars, men only tried to find meaning in life any way possible. They might have loved each other more ardently than is socially acceptable these days between mere friends, but I think this love is rooted in a common loss, rather than in a desire for each other.

Nevertheless homosexuality is a theme lightly trod upon in Brideshead Revisited with one particular colorful character, Anthony Blanche, but in such a way that it's almost a caricature of what the author thought of homosexuality, in its own way painting a guideline to set the relationship between Sebastian and Charles against. I don't believe that Charles and Sebastian though of themselves as lovers, more like survivors in a maelstrom society. Sebastian knew he was slipping and Charles merely acted as a lifeline. Shouldn't anyone grip onto that rope with both hands, promising to never let go?

Another major theme in Brideshead Revisited was that of religion. The Marchmains, Sebastian's family, are Catholics, which is seemingly not as common in England as you might think. This theme is strewn across this novel, sometimes helping the novel along but more than not it bothered me why it needed so much explaining. Being brought up Catholic myself, it's odd to read of one's best known religion to be thought of as peculiar. I tend to think of religion as a Live and let Live kind of thing, which can be useful sometimes, but will never be a guide for how to make choices for myself. Of course over the years I found out I was truly more agnostic instead of catholic and the only times I see the inside of a church is regretfully at someone's demise. The main protagonist, Charles, is dead set against this religion and is only once tempted to take on the faith, that I was convinced that the author Evelyn Waugh had followed the same path as me. You can believe my surprise when I read the author's biography and learned that he had taken this path the other way around. This actually did strength my believe that Charles was meant to be disliked.

No matter what he did in the novel, he remained emotionally distant. Is this because the writer at the time of creating this novel was already fighting in the second war and therefore unable to infuse emotion in this novel? Was he somehow already affected by the immense cruelty he must have seen and heard of?
His own explanation is that he was convinced that the day and age he grew up in, was soon to be vanished and he just wanted to give one last tribute. His own words..

It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language.
 I'm glad I read it. It wasn't the easiest book, but the effort it took to read it, paid off tremendously. It might not be as amazing and stunning as Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald, it still packs quite a lot of suppressed emotion that it zings rather than fades away.