I have been taking notes as I read through this book and will uncover some of the plot in this review, discussing my own reactions as the story unfolds. If you want to read this without knowing what happens, please come back and read this later. I would love to hear my readers’ comments.
The title of this book was so mysterious to me. I love going to a movie or picking up a book with an enticing title, the plot of which I know nothing. And so I started off reading this selection with an eagerness of discovering where it was going. A non-Catholic had also said to me, “You haven’t read Brideshead Revisited? You really should. It’s all about your religion.” I was curious about what it had to say about Catholicism.
The book starts with a forward during which an officer is traveling with his infantry to some unknown location. When he gets there he finds they are in the neighborhood of Brideshead and he reveals that he has been there before. Then he goes back twenty years to revisit his memories that the place invokes. Hence the title.
Captain Charles Ryder reminisces to his first year at Oxford, where he fell in with a “bad set” and thoroughly enjoyed it. One of his bosom buddies is Sebastian, of the infamous Brideshead family, and he spends a good part of the summer vacation at his home of Brideshead Castle. He accompanies him to Paris before starting the next year at school.
I must confess that, although I admired the detail, which was both impeccable and revealing, I could not take too much of it at one dose. Like in Great Gatsby, there are no truly admirable characters. The characteristics of the time and place are shown in the behavior and language of the various people introduced, which are many.
Sebastian and Charles “shake off” their old friends and stick to themselves during the second year, trying to clean up their act. They get into a bit of trouble with drinking and driving. They hang out with some girls and my thoughts are finally clarified as to their sexual inclinations. There is quite a bit of talk of how much they love each other and they address each other as “my dear”, so I had my doubts for a while there. (Later in the novel I would discover that some of their set actually were gay, although clearly not Charles.)
Charles discovers that Sebastian has a real drinking problem – separate from the binge-drinking-for-fun typical of many college students. He is drinking to escape his family and acting sad and withdrawn. His family has Sebastian go live with a trusted friend of the family, a priest, and Charles decides to drop out of their current school and attend art school.
At this point I started to suspect that Charles will have his own dreams deterred in some way, as we all know he ends up a Captain in the Army, truly a non-artistic career choice. I also wondered if Charles was truly an unimportant character, a story device such as the narrator in Great Gatsby, standing helpless as he watches his friend destroy himself.
Then, halfway through the novel, he goes into great detail on the love life of Julia, Sebastian’s sister, whom he had previously largely glossed over. We are told that he was, in fact, in love with her at that point. In the preface we were told of his six-year-old marriage that had been on the outs while he was away with the army. I had to wonder if he did marry Julia and, if so, would there be a remedy to their present problems.
Once he gets onto the storyline of his relationship with Julia and the deteriorating relationship with Sebastian to the rest of the world, Sebastian drifts farther and farther out of the story. Charles and Julia have an affair and initiate divorce proceedings. What is most disturbing to me is that Charles seems to have no relationship whatsoever with his children.
When Julia’s father Lord Marchmain is dying in the hospital, he refuses to see a priest. He says he hasn’t practiced Catholicism for many years and it would be a farce. His son Brideshead has one come anyway, and for that is taken out of the will. Charles, an agnostic, doesn’t see the point, and tries to persuade Julia not to force the issue. But right before Marchmain’s death she tells the priest to go in, and her father accepts the blessing.
They both see that this is the end of their relationship, because she sees she must embrace her faith, the same faith that Charles cannot understand. The prologue returns him as Captain, going through the Brideshead mansion to set up camp for his troops in the lower rooms of the building.
I saw the entire novel as an anti-Catholic treatise. None of the characters are likeable and the conversation is pretentious. The lifestyle is all surface, as is the practice of Catholicism, which is all on the surface. Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the same time, I saw none of my true faith reflected in this novel.
At one point, speaking of architecture, Charles says that he can say a building is good although it is not to his taste. That is my opinion of this novel.
On a side note, on July 4 the Sci-Fi channel was playing a Twilight Zone marathon and there was an episode entitled “Deathshead Revisited”, obviously a play on this title.