Lives of privilege and melancholic musings with E.W.

Following up on my SMART goals for LENT, I have finished the last of my pile.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh**



I decided to read this after watching the recent movie made about the novel and being intrigued by the hints of faith in the film.

I wish in all honesty, however, that I hadn’t put Brideshead Revisited on my bedside table before Lent so I wouldn’t have to write a lame review about a famously popular book I didn’t really enjoy reading.

It might be Lent or my headspace but when I read fiction I just need a bit of light relief every now and then.

Something like Lad a Dog by Terhune would perhaps have been a better option (even though this is actually not fiction)…

Such a study of the fallen human condition in the midst of an entire liturgical season focusing on this was a bit more than I could handle.

I found the characters very difficult to connect with, which is my problem, not the authors.  Being so privileged and snobby goes with the territory in this story.  It was a habit of Waugh’s to write about the British nobility and their lives of excess, so perhaps this was as good as any other of his works dealing with this matter.  Narcissistic disdain and hedonistic pleasure-seeking make comfortable bedfellows as the sad lives of those who have no meaning unfolds.

I am glad they all seemed to somehow find a measure of peace in the end perhaps, but it was such a joyless existence to start with, and no one really lived happily ever after.

I know I shouldn’t just be looking for stories with happy endings but I like to think that making positive changes will lead to some form of joy.

The melancholy  tone of the novel meant that much of the more beautiful pieces of writing in this book were a bit lost to me because of the general joylessness of many of the characters.

Perhaps this was deliberate on the part of Waugh in an attempt to get many of his peers to see through their shallow lives.  To find the good, true and beautiful sometimes means revealing the bad, false and ugly.

It was like wading through the Slough* of Despond in Pilgrim’s Progress, except you pretty well just stayed there going in circles.  There are many years of pleasure-seeking diversions where no one actually works in a day job, or seems to interact meaningfully with others, or be joyful about anything  (not just happy in a momentary sense, but joyful).

**SPOILER ALERT to the one person in the world other than me that didn’t know the ending**

It ends up that one character lives abroad as an alcoholic gardener in a monastery, one by an utter miracle somehow shows a sign of final repentance for his life of hedonistic pleasure, another condemns herself to a life of miserable celibacy, and another is forced into lonely exile while cruelly revisiting the only place which acutely reminds him of his heartbreak.

The only character who did seem to have a measure of happiness was the nanny, who despite saying virtually nothing, was the one who seemed to love the presence of others, and always seemed to see the child in each of the flawed adults.

I hope you enjoy or enjoyed this more than I at this time, and please be understanding with me if this is the most amazing book you have ever read or if Waugh is your favourite ever author and just can’t believe someone wouldn’t like this novel.   If you had read anything less melancholy of his, and could recommend it, I would be very happy to hear about it.

Thus ends my melancholic musings!


* My husband and I have an ongoing debate about the pronunciation of “Slough”.  He was saying “sluff” as in tough, I was saying “slou”  as in plough, but it’s really “slew” as in through (although the plough pronunciation is acceptable too in some cases apparently).

**Until recently I actually thought Evelyn Waugh was a woman, because I just couldn’t believe someone would call their son such a feminine name.  It even begins with the biblical “Eve”.  I just hope it was some sort of fad at the time so that he wasn’t subjected to merciless abuse in the playground by other boys.




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