Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Can't Get Enough of This


Jonathan (A1 DC 04) said...

I know I'm in the minority with this, but I found Cordelia to be the only likable thing about "Brideshead". I haven't seen the new film, and I would probably slip into a coma if I tried to watch the 50-hour miniseries.

There's nothing about the novel aside from a few outstanding passages that could convince me to relive that story. Those few passages are indeed very good, and they are the ones paraded out by Catholics to defend their love of the novel, but the rest impresses me as dull, nostalgic boredom.

I would read any of Waugh's satires in a heartbeat, but reading BR was just painful. It's as though Waugh was trying to untangle the threads that drew him into the Church. It would be fascinating matter for an extended essay, perhaps, but not for a novelist whose best talent was mockery. Can you imagine Stephen Colbert in twenty years writing a serious screenplay about his return to orthodox Catholicism? I hope I never have to. But I'm sure it would end up on all those Amazon lists of "Great Catholic Films."

Sue said...


Boy Mulcaster wasn't hilarious.

Anthony Blanche wasn't fascinating in a weird, disturbing way. (You know, like Satan.)

Charles' seduction by the world of Brideshead wasn't at all touching. Nor was his exquisite, palpable loneliness.

The passage- consisting of a single sentence- that describes the first time Charles and Sebastian got roaring dunk on Brideshead wice wasn't a masterpiece.

You didn't want to strangle Mr. Samgrass. Heck, why bother- none of the characters were at all real.

An attempt to "untangle the threads that drew [one] into the Catholic Church" is a lousy basis for a novel.

And yes, I think I can imagine Mr. Colbert writing something of the sort. It might even be pretty good.

Good to hear from you, J!

Jonathan (A1 DC 04) said...

I realize I'm in the minority on this book, among religious and secular readers alike. I don't deny that Waugh has a skill for prosaic portraiture, but I disliked the novel in spite of it. Sebastian's disintegration, for instance, is expertly portrayed, but I find it largely unenjoyable. Like watching Nicholas Cage dissolve his liver in "Leaving Las Vegas," that sort of slow suicide is something very real, but not something I particularly want to watch happening.

Also, the "untangling" motive is not an entirely bad one for writing a novel, but it's tough to pull off. How can you dramatize the work of the Holy Ghost? The line between grace and deus ex machina can get really fuzzy in storytelling, and it's unlikely to be edifying to anyone but a choir member. But I guess that is worth something, since even the choir needs good sermons.

Smarter people than I love and defend this book, people with far better taste and judgment. I still cringe at the time lost reading the novel, but I wouldn't be surprised if I were to pick it up again in a decade and find it absolutely enchanting. But as it is, or as I am, now, the mere mention of "Brideshead Revisited" sends me into a dull stupor which can only be counteracted with a shot of "Decline and Fall" or "The Loved One."

Sue said...


Dramatizing the work of the Holy Spirit is what fiction is all about.
If a writer isn't even going to try to figure out how to do that, he's in the wrong business.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful little clip, DIH!
Brideshead Revisited is a very subtle novel. Cordelia is the most likable character--indeed, lovable--because she comes nearest to being a genuine saint. Remember what Charles says about her--that to Cordelia, the verb "to love" has no past tense. And she has the name of the only child who faithfully loves King Lear in Shakespeare's play. The more I think about Brideshead the more deeply impressed I am. (Also, the more disgusted I am by what I've heard about the new movie.)