The Book Meme Challenge: A Book that You’ve Read More than 3 Times
This could refer to all manner of books, but I’m thinking Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited fits best here. Unlike several other books I read in high school, Brideshead did not suffer for being under the intense scrutiny necessary for what literary analysis I was then capable of doing, such that I enjoyed it well enough when revisiting it in a British literature course, and re-read it before watching the 2008 film, and again last summer as part of a discussion group.
What keeps drawing me back to this book is the first section, Et in Arcadia Ego, with its descriptions of Charles meeting Sebastian, what mischief they get up to in and out of Oxford, the Brideshead Estate, and the rest of the Marchmain family. It is perhaps the best example of the aforementioned Kingfisher Days, and Melpomene has mentioned how educational Charles and Sebastian are vis-à-vis drinking wine. There is, of course, nothing quite so fun as drinking lots of cocktails while imitating Anthony Blanche. Nor does it hurt that I’ve gotten to visit Oxford, all too briefly, and thus can envision Anthony Blanche “being put in Mercury” at Christchurch, or the Turf in Hell Passage, or the various winding roads. The narrative is just rich with detail, and has a golden luxurious feel that I quite enjoy – though it’s been noted that Waugh himself, in later life, found the book “infused with a kind of gluttony…which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful.” We shall see how well I like it in later years, I suppose.
But the halcyon days hardly comprise the whole book, which is named by the frame of the story, wherein Charles, a middle-aged army man who has lost all love for army life, comes with his regiment to Brideshead, and remembers all the days spent there before. The golden days of college (alas!) could not last; as Sebastian feels more and more constrained by his mother’s Catholic faith and the watchful eyes of Mr. Samgrass, he sinks further and further into alcoholism. The old circle of friends breaks up, Charles and Sebastian drift further and further apart, while Charles and Julia drift closer together.
Ultimately, the book is about the operation of grace, though it would take a good deal more space to illustrate that (nor do I want to spoil the book utterly for the neophytes). Were I a better reader or a better person, that would draw me back more than the youthful days presided over by Aloysius. Cordelia’s quotation of Father Brown sums it up best: “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.” Read on, and hark how “him” can refer to any sinner. Then, should you ever be old or ugly or miserable, read it again and remember.