intense sensations

We possess nothing certainly except the past

Posted on: August 17, 2013

Brideshead RevisitedBrideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, this book is sensational! Sensational and sad. At first I was suspicious of its sadness. The sentimental, drunken Sebastian, suffocated by privilege and mired in wealth, was not someone I could feel sorry for. Charles Ryder, who becomes besotted with Sebastian and the vast estate of Brideshead Castle that Sebastian calls home, was a bit lacking in judgement, I felt. Those snooty English upper classes don’t deserve our pity, I wanted to tell him.

But the whole point of reading is to broaden one’s horizons, and mine were in need of broadening. For this book is a work of profound and sophisticated intelligence, engaging the full scope of the human imagination and the very best of all our feelings.

“My theme is memory,” Charles tells us, “that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of wartime. These memories, which are my life — for we possess nothing certainly except the past — were always with me.”

Memories can, indeed, be profound but it is seldom that a writer can bring them alive on the page as vividly and with such compelling credibility as Evelyn Waugh does in this deeply moving novel.

I worry that perhaps the novel is overshadowed by the television series and the films that have been made of it. A flickering image on the screen has more influence and stirs us more deeply than words that have to be read. But I heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves literature because it is more subtle and more sophisticated than the films and because Waugh’s integrity and conscience resonate within it. It is a work of very great beauty by a writer who, when he writes of things that matter to him, cannot tell a lie. I was moved by it and it made me see Waugh very differently from the image I had of him after reading a few of his more satirical books.

This book will be in my mind on my journey back to China. I am already seeing my journey differently after reading it. I wonder if my parents and my home and the surroundings that were once so familiar to me will ever seem the same again.

I will certainly never look upon a stuck-up Englishman in quite the same way again. But I’m not yet ready to become a Roman Catholic. Sorry, Evelyn. Five stars, though. Perfect job!

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4 Responses to "We possess nothing certainly except the past"

You hit the nail on the head! I’ve never been able to bring myself to read that book for exactly the same reasons that kept you from it. I hate that snooty English thing, it is probably more profound to me as an Englishman from a working class background than it is for you, but maybe I’ll try and give it a go sometime. Thanks for reminding me that it is about literature not class.

Yes, Brian. For me it is about sincerity and depth of feeling which, if I’m not mistaken, can cut across class.

Wonderful write up, as always, Vanessa. I enjoyed the TV series, the original and the remake, but have not thought of reading the book just yet. Now I certainly will, thanks to you.

Enjoy your family reunion – be prepared for a little culture shook in China, as I never failed to experience during my ‘homecoming’ :).

Ah yes, those interminable relatives. Haha. Thank you for your kind comments, Junying. Even though I am many miles distant, I will be thinking of you, as I will be immersed in the Trials of Life.

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