Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh

Yeah, so what is "Brideshead"? Brideshead is a geographical locale (i.e., the headwaters of the Bride River), an English manor house, and the first name of two characters (neither one the protagonist)! The sense imparted by the novel's title probably has the most to do with the manor house—a physical place one can visit, desert, and revisit. And voila, you have your title. OK, but what is the book about?? Religion and alcoholism, marriage and divorce, war and infidelity...(perhaps even in that weighted order). The book tackles these heavy issues on the backdrop of Oxford, WWII, and the events that you might imagine transpiring in a young man's life between those two periods (career, loves, etc.).

The only other Waugh I've ever read was A Handful of Dust (right after my mother died), and the two books are strikingly different! One reviewer has said that the author treats the characters in Brideshead Revisited with uncharacteristic (for Waugh) compassion. I must agree. Brideshead Revisited is a much more somber book with sober pacing, where A Handful of Dust is scathing and impossible to put down. I have to say I prefer the latter, when it comes to Evelyn Waugh, but this is not to say that I didn't like Brideshead Revisited. It's just that if you were to read both, you wouldn't guess the author was one and the same. ("Dust" was written about ten years prior to "Brideshead.")

Favorite parts: Evelyn Waugh has a way of making the reader root for certain characters to come together—even though their union spells infidelity. In a lengthy chapter near the end, the author crafts a sex scene between the main character and something of a long-lost love of his, though both are married to others. He unites them on a stormy trans-Atlantic cruise by making them two of the only people aboard who do not get seasick. Clever! If I tell you that the sex scene contains the words, "swallow," "loins," and "entry," but is only a paragraph long and is otherwise written in the veiled language of the forties, and then I tell you it was hot, it would have to be read to be believed...