As part of my ongoing project to Become a Man of Letters I recently completed Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Completed is tricky sleight of hand because I got fed up with it languishing on my shelf half finished. I decided to stop procrastinating and just declare that I wasn’t interested enough to complete it. I sauntered through the first third, read the second in a single sitting and couldn’t bring myself to sag through the last.
First, Evelyn is also a mans name, at least in England. That’s the first surprise here. The second surprise is finding out that the entire book is mostly a winding justification for Waughs conversion to Catholicism. My lifetime has seen the precipitous decline of the church and I don’t personally find suffering as a means towards the divine a very compelling topic. Less compelling is the argument that Waugh puts forth. I, like many, actually found that Catholicism made almost all the characters in the novel miserable. From alcoholism to bullshit marriages to unrequited manlove to last minute quasi-redemptions, the novel was a slow burn shit show that, likely against the authors intention, illustrates the utter failings of Catholicism both as a spiritual path and a social force.
Brideshead Revisited is a book of astonishing prose with truly amazing observations on life but…not with any consistency. They are buried in a haltingly paced story about the travails of an upperclass English Catholic family. If you were a wine snob in the 50s I’m sure the pages of Brideshead Revisited are stuck together. The books main conflict is the self destructive existential angst that comes from being insanely rich and how to resolve it with faith in Catholicism. If the book had a twitter tag it would be #AristocracyProblems. There are a lot of winding monologues about nothing in particular and I think the book could have been redeemed if Waugh had just cut out 100 pages.
Depending on where you’re at, this is either Waughs best book or his worst. I also think I would be remiss to mention that I was sure this whole book was a treatise on the main character’s battle with repressed homosexuality. Sebastian, the friend of the main character is gay (without it being directly stated), and the whole book seemed to me to be about their unrequited love. I was super surprised that never really got resolved and was just kind of swept under the table.
Thanks to Jefferey for letting me borrow a copy on our adventure in Arizona.