|Among Aristocrats. Rethinking Memory, Identity and Faith in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited|
|Evelyn Waugh’s ambitious novel, Brideshead Revisited. The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, was published in the winter of 1945. During the preceding years, many of England’s great stately homes had been used for military purposes. After the 1960s, the country house, having entirely lost its function as a social institution, was bound for rapid museumising. It became reinvented as part of the national architectural heritage and as a monument to the vanished glory of the nation. Today, English country houses, surrounded by parks and gardens, are above all sites of memory, of aesthetic experience and of recreational tourism. The eleven episodes of Brideshead Revisited, produced by Granada TV in 1981, were the paradigm of similar screenings of English heritage.
Waugh’s novel is a long flash-back of the life of Charles Ryder who, born in a wealthy, highly educated bourgeois family, during his Oxford years (the early 1920s) befriends the eccentric, good-looking, heavily drinking Lord Sebastian Flyte. One day, Sebastian shows Charles his family’s ancestral estate Brideshead. It belongs to the old noble Marchmain family, who also own an impressive London townhouse. The atheist Charles, who aspires a career as a painter, feels attracted to this aristocratic family recently turned Roman Catholic. Early in the novel Marchmain, whose devoutly Catholic wife refuses divorce, is living with his mistress in Venice. Brideshead revisited has three main themes: the friendship between the narrator Charles and Sebastian, Marchmain’s younger son, the love between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia, and the influence of their Roman Catholic education on the lives of Lord and Lady Marchmain’s four children. The author claims a theological Leitmotiv for his novel: ‘the operation of Grace, (…) the act of love by which God continually calls souls to himself’. This interpretation in part answers critics who characterized it as snobbish, sycophantic upper-class nostalgia, sentimentalism and religious propaganda.