Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on

A reflection on the pre-WWII English upper class and of Oxford University, Brideshead Revisited follows captain Charles Ryder as he and his battalion are sent to Brideshead Castle in Wiltshire during the final years of the war. Returning to Brideshead provokes the memories in Ryder that make up the content of the book.

The main bulk of the story follows Ryder at Oxford, where he is befriended by a young aristocrat, Lord Sebastian Flyte; their relationship introduces Ryder to the Marchmain family at Brideshead and their way of life. In the intervening scenes, Ryder maneuvers the Catholicism of the Marchmains (Ryder is an agnostic), the homosexuality of Sebastian’s eccentric friends, and Sebastian’s alcoholism, as well as the romantic prospect of Sebastian’s sister Julia. Throughout, Ryder negotiates his own beliefs and desires with those around him, and he discovers, often after the fact, the roles that friendship, art, and religion can play in adding beauty to one’s life (though it’s not as cliche as I probably just made that sound).

To be honest, I don’t think I got all I could out of the book, so I’m hesitant to say more than this brief summary. The close male-male friendship of Charles and Sebastian — which has homoerotic overtones and arguably provokes Charles’s initial love for Julia — was one of the best articulated aspects of the book. For better or worse, Charles becomes a part of the Marchmain family, and their reliance on him in dealing with Sebastian’s addictions, as well as the discussions on Catholicism (a consistent motif) that result from his pursuit of Julia really drew me into the relationships of the characters. Being a remembrance, the book consistently has an elegaic tone, which Jeremy Irons brings out excellently in the audiobook version.

Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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