Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: A Book Review

evelynI learned this novel from one of Thomas Merton’s biographies. Then, I became curious why this novel had an impact upon his religious and spiritual journey.

Since Evelyn Waugh is said to have converted to Catholicism, I got confused about his real intention why he wrote such novel. There are some parts of the dialogues which appear to be inconsistent. Did he intend to channel his religious devotion in order to convert readers to Catholicism? Did he intend to differentiate between “believers” and “nonbelievers”? (Sighs!)

If an avowed atheist or agnostic like me reads it, without bias, there are some parts of the dialogues she /he will take an exception to:

(a) Sebastian Flyte’s and Charles Ryder’s characters. In the novel, Charles Ryder, the openly agnostic protagonist, is emotionally empty despite being financially comfortable, unsure of what he wants to do in his life. Did E. Waugh intend to symbolize him that life is “hollow” without religion? How sure E. Waugh of that (all) agnostics and atheists in general have these kinds of feelings? On the other hand, Sebastian Flyte is an alcoholic who gets astray since he ignores his deeply religious mother’s advice that he, if I’m not mistaken, enter an institution to rehabilitate himself. Eventually, he will abscond somewhere in Africa and become an object of charity under the auspices of a monastery. But he will still struggle for his alcoholism. What did E. Waugh intend to drive at?

(b) The ambiguous ending. Its ending is a little “lack of substance in plot”. In other words, it is not convincing for me that Charles Ryder converted himself in the end on account of Lord Marchmain’s concession to his (Lord Marchmain) daughter, Lady Cordelia’s suggestion that he he ask forgiveness for all the sins he has committed through the blessing and prayer of a priest. In fact, Charles Ryder insisted that Lord Marchmain could die or live to the other life, if there is one, without the blessing and prayer of a priest. Charles Ryder has more logical reasons, doesn’t he? Would E. Waugh reason that it could be the “Divine Grace”? Hmmm…it is another atomic collision between Religion and Science.

(c)The frustrating attitude of the religious characters. There is a scene that one of the characters made for the confession room, but was ignored. Another one is the Marchioness of Marchmain and her son, Bridey ‘s prejudice against Sebastian’s alcoholism as well as Lady Julia’s love affair with Charles Ryder; let alone Rex Mortamm’s insincere conversion. These plots are befuddling me. Should E. Waugh have characterized them positively? If she had done it, the story could be of use? Well, they must be the archetypes of religious upbringing. E. Waugh may have wanted to disclose the holier-than-thou in church.

Whatever Waugh‘s real intentions were, well, kudos to him! This novel is the product of his religious devotion- its content is creative, deep, and meaningful. I guess the panelists who included it in the list of the TIME’s 100 Best Novels of All Time could have been subjective.

I could be as subjective as the said panelists may have been, it is nevertheless compelling because of the intimate relationship between Sebastian and Charles Ryder. I wish E. Waugh meant to picture that homosexuality was repugnant at that time. Or I wish he were not that since their said relationship has been unsure and debatable among the readers whether both had a secret love affair. In my opinion, they had. ^^

To be enlightened, I read Evelyn Waugh’s biography in Wikipedia, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I am more intrigued by his religious viewpoints. I hope to read his other works.

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: A Book Review

  1. I tried getting through this book a few years ago for the same reasons you did, but I just couldn’t! I ended up renting the old movie adaptation with Jeremy Irons, and was just as frustrated about the ending.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s