Bored by a book on calculus, an engineer revisits Brideshead Revisited
My wife gave me a copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh for my birthday the other day. It was mainly because we caught some of the episodes of the UK TV series on Aussie TV recently, and I almost always prefer reading the book to seeing the movie.
However from what I did see, the TV series was pretty true to the book. My usual gripe is that irreverent directors either leave the best bits out, or change the plot to their own wild fantasies (usually both). I loved reading Lord of the Rings but hated the movies. There’s a two-hour film of Brideshead as well, but I’m not sure I’d want to see that for that reason The TV series did the book in 11 episodes which does give the time to include most of the book, and the Brits are superb at doing this sort of thing, so much so that I was moved to get the TV series DVDs off Ebay . A bargain at $16 US!
I have always found the book a satisfying read. In fact, I think the Waugh brothers are both good writers. I have the “Wines and Spirits” volume from the very old Time-Life series on Foods of the World by Alec Waugh and it’s a joy to read. Apart from being a mine of information on a fascinating subject, it has a lot of anecdotes and personal reminiscences all written so engagingly that by the end you feel as if you know the author personally.
Brideshead is darker and more meaty. The more times I read the book, the more I wonder what Evelyn Waugh is getting at. At first, it seemed to be about the contrast between life in war and peace, and the decline in the fortunes of the British aristocracy between the two wars. But a comment in the foreword, about the book being concerned with “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters” prompted me to delve deeper. The book spends a lot of time bagging the Catholic church, but then everyone seems to wimpily come back to the fold in the end, even the narrator Charles Ryder, who started off a non-Catholic and the biggest skeptic of all.
And when you consider that Evelyn Waugh himself converted to Catholicism in mid-life you wonder even more. It has certainly piqued my curiosity, which is what a good book should do. Having read up a bit more on the man, it’s possible to see a strong autobiographical vein running though the book. But as a confirmed agnostic, I’d agree with a comment from Henry Green, one of Waugh’s contemporaries, on Lord Marchmain acknowledging his religion on his deathbed, after years of lapse: “…all through the deathbed scene, (I was) hoping against hope that the old man would not give way, that is, take the course he eventually did."
That aside, it’s a thumping good read and I’d recommend it and/or the TV series. It held my attention a good bit longer than Teach yourself Calculus, which I picked up about the same time at flea market, thinking it would be a good refresher. Although the later would be far more applicable to engineering pursuits.
David Ashton is an Australian engineer. To this day he says he has a name for taking ownership of problems, which he says he doesn't regard as particularly praiseworthy, it's just how he is.