Mini classic review: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

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.

“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.”

Bridehead Revisited seems to be one of those books were you either love it or dislike it, and unfortunately I fall into the later category.

The book follows a young man named Charles as he falls in with the aristocratic Marchmain family, particularly with the eldest son, Sebastian. As the story progresses and eventually leads to World War II, Charles and Sebastian form an intense relationship which is complicated by Sebastian’s family.

Waugh’s writing is quite sensors and lyrical — he’s able to vividly depict what aristocratic life was like before the war, even in a satirical way, and before that life was destroyed.

However, I was still incredibly bored by this novel. It has all the elements I love in a book: queer characters, evocative writing, depressed settings … and yet I found the plot quite slow and uninteresting. Most of it revolves around Charles’ obsession with the Marchmain’s and a desire for the life they lead, but I was just rolling my eyes — I couldn’t care less about how sad it is that rich people lose their wealth and status with the upcoming war. I find the life of aristocrats in Britain quite interesting most of the time, but Waugh’s constant whining about them was infuriating.

Brideshead Revisited is a complicated novel. I struggled to gain some kind of theme from the book and settled on that it urges the reader towards religion, specially Catholicism. As someone who is profoundly bored by religion in books, this is yet another reason I was bored by this novel.

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