Brideshead Revisited (reread, audio)

bridesheadI first read Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited back in college. It’s one of those books that I know I liked but that didn’t stick with me. The excellent miniseries, which I watched four or five years ago, refreshed my memory—but only temporarily. When the 2008 movie version was released, I realized that it was time for me to revisit Brideshead.

In Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder tells the story of his long relationship with the Marchmain family, particularly the youngest son, Sebastian, and his sister, Julia. But more than that, it’s the story of how God keeps tugging at the hearts of his children, trying to bring them back home. For some readers, this constant tugging may feel like oppression, as when Lady Marchmain closely monitors Sebastian’s alcohol intake. For me, however, it’s a moving story of how we’re never too far gone for God’s grace even though God may ask us to put aside other idols.

One of the best things about this book is the complexity of the characters. Waugh himself was a Catholic, and I suspect that he generally sympathized with the more devout characters in the book. But this sympathy does not cause him to make them perfect. For example, Lady Marchmain’s efforts to curb Sebastian’s drinking sometimes seem misguided and even counterproductive. Waugh’s Catholicism also does not prevent him from creating sympathetic characters who are outside the faith. Charles Ryder, an agnostic, is likable, and his point of view frequently makes very good sense to someone who does not share the Marchmain’s Catholic faith, and perhaps even to some who do.

The audiobook that I listened to was read by Jeremy Irons, who played Ryder in the 1981 miniseries. I love Irons’s voice, and having seen the miniseries, it was easy for me to picture him as Ryder. He also handles the voices of the other characters well, giving each one’s voice a distinct quality without hamming it up too much. An excellent audio experience.

I am curious about the new film version. The reviews I’ve encountered have been decidedly mixed, and leaning negative. I’ve gotten the impression that it takes an anti-Catholic stance, which is troubling to me. I think it’s possible to see this book as not particularly pro-Catholic, but an outright anti-Catholic reading seems wrong. I wonder, however, if some of the criticism comes from people who wanted it to take a “hooray for Catholicism” tone rather than something more nuanced. If you’ve seen it, let me know what you thought.

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4 Responses to Brideshead Revisited (reread, audio)

  1. zawan says:

    I don’t know, the movie looks good. Sometimes you just need to see it for yourself…
    I haven’t even read the book, but perhaps I’ll pick it up.

    I just wanted to know, do you enjoy listening to audiobooks? I’m thinking of giving it a try.
    Do you listen to it on your ipod, while looking at the book? Just wondering!


  2. Jenny says:

    This book makes my top 10 list for most beautiful prose. I try to re-read it as often as I can just for that, let alone the loveliness of the theme. (Plus the scene where Charles’s father obliquely pretends to be American makes me laugh so hard the neighbors come out.) I’m sure it makes a wonderful audio book.

  3. Teresa says:

    zawan: The movie does look like it might be good as a movie, but if it contradicts the spirit of the book, I doubt that I’ll enjoy it. (I sometimes wish filmmakers who do loose adaptations would just change the title and all the names so their version can stand as a new story.)

    Jenny: The prose is beautiful—and it’s especially beautiful when read by Jeremy Irons (*wistful sigh*).

  4. Teresa says:

    Zawan: I do enjoy listening to audiobooks, although I find that some books work better in audio than others. For me, rereads work well, and fairly simple stories with a strong plot. I get audiobooks on CD from the library and listen in the car. I got in the habit when I had a long commute and it stuck with me when I moved closer to the office.

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