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Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, published 75 years ago, and considered a modern classic, remains as acclaimed as it has been enduringly popular.
The novel opens during World War II, when the British Army Captain Charles Ryder is unexpectedly bivouacked at a surprisingly familiar place—Brideshead, the home of the Flyte family, which he first knew more than 20 years before, as an undergraduate at Oxford. Ryder and his C Company arrive at night, and from the darkness soon arises the lost world of Brideshead, memories of Ryder’s love for the doomed Sebastian Flyte, and his complicated grief at the disappearance of an England, and an English Catholicism, then passing into history.
Bill Goldstein will discuss the novel’s sometimes sentimental but often angry nostalgia, and the religious, cultural, political, and sexual themes suggested by Waugh’s subtitle. “The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder.” He’ll examine Waugh’s shifting ideas about the book. In 1950, he wrote to his friend Graham Greene, “I re-read Brideshead Revisited and was appalled.” In 1959, he wrote in a preface to a new edition, “It was impossible to foresee, in the spring of 1944, the present cult of the English country house.”
That cult endures, amplified by the 1981 ITV-PBS adaptation of the book that, 40 years later, is still considered one of the greatest television shows of all time. He will examine how the adaptation, and more recently the popularity of Downton Abbey gave new life to the cult Waugh long ago feared, has shaped, or misshaped, expectations of, and conclusions about, what many consider Waugh’s masterpiece.
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Bill Goldstein reviews books for NBC’s Weekend Today in New York and was founding editor of The New York Times books website …
Bill Goldstein reviews books for NBC’s Weekend Today in New York and was founding editor of The New York Times books website. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Goldstein received a PhD in English from City University of New York Graduate Center. He is writing a biography of Larry Kramer, to be published by Crown. His book, The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year that Changed Literature, was published in 2017.