• Gail Wilson Kenna

On Watching Brideshead Revisited after almost 40 years…

I have "keyed" the following words from my copy of Brideshead Revisited, a 1945 Modern Library edition of Evelyn Waugh's novel. The sub-title is: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. And last night I heard Jeremy Irons, as Ryder, read from the novel's prologue when narrator Charles compares the army to a failed marriage.

Here at the age of thirty-nine I began to feel old….

"As I lay in that dark hour, I was aghast to realize that something within me, long sickening, had quietly died, and felt as a husband might feel, who, in the fourth year of his marriage, suddenly knew that he had no longer any desire, or tenderness, or esteem, for a once-beloved wife; no pleasure in her company, no wish to please, no curiosity about anything she might ever do or think; no hope of setting things right, no self-reproach for the disaster. I knew it all, the whole drab compass of marital disillusion; we had been through it together, the army and I, from the first importunate courtship until now, when nothing remained to us except the chill bonds of law and duty and custom. I had played every scene in the domestic tragedy, had found the early tiff become more frequent, the tears less affecting, the reconciliations less sweet, till they engendered a mood of aloofness and cool criticism, and the growing conviction that it was not myself but the loved one who was at fault. I caught the false notes in her voice and learned to listen for them apprehensively; I recognized the blank, resentful stare of incomprehension in her eyes, and the selfish, hard set of the corners of her mouth. I learned her, as one must learn a woman one has kept house with, day in, day out, for three and a half years; I learned her slatternly ways, the routine and mechanism of her charm, her jealousy and self-seeking, and her nervous trick with the fingers when she was lying. She was stripped of all enchantment now and I knew her for an uncongenial stranger to whom I had bound myself indissolubly in a moment of folly."

What a passage for anything in life that comes to a disillusioned end! And what wonderful nostalgia to begin watching this series again, shown on British television in 1981 and on PBS in the USA, two years later.I remember being at an Air Force party at Travis AFB (California) in 1983 or 84 and sneaking out to get home to watch the next installment of Brideshead Revisited. No way to tape for later viewing then, not with the television we had. It all comes back, this series based on a novel I loved.

Anthony Burgess in his short review of Brideshead Revisited, said he had read the novel at least a dozen times and "have never failed to be charmed and moved, even to tears. It is, appropriately, a seductive book. Even the overblown metaphors move and charm. The comedy is superb.

….And the evocation of pre-war Oxford and Venice…is of great brilliance. This is one of those disturbing novels in which the faults do not matter….It is a novel altogether readable and damnably magical." I couldn’t agree more.

Next week: Further words on Evelyn Waugh

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