25 November 2009

Brideshead Revisited, Revisited

The pages of my copy of Brideshead Revisited have yellowed. I’m unsure just how long it’s been since I last read it, nor do I know what whim it was prompted me to draw it from the shelf, and set to re-reading it.

“I have been here before,” I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were white with fool’s-parsley and meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer . . . .
. . . first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago . . . I read this again, and then turned to the title page, on which I had inscribed the date when I first finished reading this volume: 10.ix.89 – a bit more than twenty years ago.
I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?
— Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.
But, my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.
— Can’t I?
I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.
— Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.
But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.
— But I do. That’s how I believe.
There is probably some reason (maybe more than one) why I should re-read this. Waugh’s wicked satire has always amused me, but his more obviously satirical books are as fountains in a park, while Brideshead is a large, still lake. It is rich, it has an engaging yet not entirely comforting gravity, and when it is at its most charming, I feel almost a suspicion that I ought to weep. I’ve always enjoyed the book too well to bother with any screen adaptations of it, not that I have anything against Jeremy Irons. It is a romance, which I only now realize resonates with a book I came to half a decade later, Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance. Both books stir me with not-quite-governable musical impulses (though I don’t know that I shall write any resultant music related to either).

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