Top positive review
39 people found this helpful
Et in Arcadia Ego
on 24 April 2007
First, let me get the myths out of the way: Charles and Sebastian have a very close friendship, and much has been made over whether or not they were lovers. I think not, but that is quite ancillary to the point of this book.
According to Waugh himself, the book was intended to show the operation of Divine Grace - 'that unmerited and unilateral action by which the Lord draws souls to himself.' This book is no second-rate miraculous conversion experience story - it is not a badly redone version of the Road to Damascus. But this is a religious (not a merely spiritual) book, and to take it as something else is to refer to a different text.
Other reviewers have stressed (too much, perhaps) that this is a social elegy, which it is. Waugh wrote B.R. during WWII, a time of great privation, and he describes in mouth-watering detail the luxuries which were denied him in combat. (He did see military action.) This book mourns the passing of an age of "Great Houses," for lack of a better term - an age of remarkable splendour, and of Roman beauty. Say what you like about its merits vis-a-vis the world which replaced it, after the war - no one can deny that it was beautiful.
That, in turn, leads to perhaps the strongest affirmation which can be made of this book. It is one of the most singularly well-written novels to grace the English language. To call it prose is to do Mr Waugh a disservice. His famous description of Oxford - the meals, where the very tables must groan beneath the weight of the food - his remarkable evocation of Brideshead itself - and perhaps above all Julia's truly haunting break-down in the garden, where she vividly remembers her own childhood and Christ's Passion - these are scenes which will sear themselves in a reader's memory, and which lose none of their luster for the passage of years. They glitter like diamonds on the page.
To conclude, Brideshead Revisited is a story about the Catholic faith, which in England, at least, has always had a unique story to tell, given its own 'fall from grace' and the rise to dominance of Protestant Anglicanism. That is said not to turn away non-Catholic readers: perhaps they will be given a truer portait of this ancient faith by reading such a sublime account of its practitioners. The Marchmains, however, are not saints. They are bracingly sinful, sometimes stupid, and often irreligious. Waugh gives the Church no quarter in this book - no angels appear in any dream, and no holy hermit chastises a sinful character into repentance. To Waugh at least, the Church did not need such tricks to support herself: she had converted him, at least. Though he denied it, Brideshead is in many ways his autobiography - the story of a convinced agnostic who falls in among ordinary Catholics, not saints, and is forever - forever - changed by the experience.