I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, first published in 1944. [For those who know nothing about this author, he happens to be a man, despite that first name.] This was an elegantly written novel, with a few prosaic lapses near the end. But it made me want to read more, so I checked my shelves and see I have two others to get to: Decline and Fall (1928, illustrated by the author) and Scoop (1937/38). Waugh garnered tremendous reviews and blurbs—for these novels and many more.
I found a few items worth quoting from Brideshead Revisited, the first comes from one of the novel’s minor characters, boastful Rex Mottram (“One quickly learned all that he wished one to know about him . . .”):
Of the University he said: “No, I was never here. It just means you start life three years behind the other fellow.
As a former university professor, I had to laugh at that. (But I wonder if the word “here” is a misprint for “there”?)
The author’s portrait of the protagonist’s rather detached father had its humorous moments, too, including this dialogue:
“I shall miss you, my dear boy, but do not hurry back on my account.”
One wonders if he remembers the boy’s name!
And here’s Waugh on the tendency to rewrite the past:
It is easy, retrospectively, to endow one’s youth with a false precocity or a false innocence; to tamper with the dates marking one’s stature on the edge of the door. I should like to think—indeed I sometimes do think—that I decorated those rooms with Morris stuffs and Arundel prints and that my shelves were filled with seventeenth-century folios and French novels of the second empire in Russia-leather and watered-silk. But this was not the truth.
As for religion, the protagonist (Charles Ryder) has this to say:
The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it; religion was a hobby which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the province of “complexes” and “inhibitions”—catchwords of the decade—and of the intolerance, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed to it for centuries.