The first of my reviews for books from adulthood. Just. I read Brideshead the summer after I turned 18 in preparation for my year of intensive English Literature study. We got a list of suggested reading over the summer for our upcoming study of Modernism so I went to the college library to have a look at which ones I fancied reading. I went for this one after opening Ulysses and running a mile from its impenetrable text (I shall have to tackle it at some point as it is No.78 on the list).
I loved this book because, as with all my favourite books, the world Waugh creates is all consuming. You are completely transported to the 1920s and the hedonistic lifestyle of the English upper classes. It rather openly, for its time, explores homosexuality; both in a sexual and romantic sense. Although nothing is explicitly said there is no doubt in your mind that Charles is in love with Sebastian and you would have to be down right naive to miss the ‘sodomy’ that is rife at Cambridge.
Brideshead also deals heavily with religion in a rather un-Modernist way. Many writers and many people at the time were struggling with loss of faith after the atrocities of the First World War. Yet in Brideshead there is a finding of faith, a return to Catholicism while the rest of the world was searching for new ideas, new beliefs. Waugh was a convert to Catholicism himself and he not only explores the difficulties of being a Catholic in a society with so little moral principle but also historically and somehow he manages to do it in a way which I can only describe as ‘non-preachy’. It is a very intimate, personal story, elements of it are almost certainly biographical, and the religious struggles feel just as personal; they hardly effect the reader at all except to create empathy.
There is also an element of being on the outside looking in to the story. Charles doesn’t really belong at Cambridge, he doesn’t really belong at home with his family and then he finds Brideshead but he doesn’t really belong there either, nor can he. The story at times feels like Charles is studying the people around him to make a record of them before their species becomes extinct but unlike Waugh’s other work this is not a satire. It is almost a tribute to a world that burned furiously until there was nothing left.
Would recommend to: People who feel that they don’t belong.