In 1959 Evelyn Waugh reflected on his 1945 Brideshead Revisited in the preface to the re-issue. There were, he admitted, "many small additions and some substantial cuts" and it had been written during "a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster — the period of soya beans and Basic English — and in consequence, the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language, which now with a full stomach I find distasteful."
He had written an elegy for both the English country home that he considered "our chief national artistic achievement" which he believed "were doomed to decay and spoilation like the monasteries in the sixteenth century." It did not seem then, in 1945, that the English aristocracy would survive. Yet by 1959, the "cult of the English country house" had resulted in the opening of these homes to trippers. He imagined Brideshead as one of these now with "treasures rearranged by expert hands and the fabric better maintained than it was by Lord Marchmain."
He ended the preface by saying that "it would be impossible to bring it [the novel] up to date without totally destroying it" and much of the book was a "panegyric preached over an empty coffin."
Panegyric is one of those words you'd expect to find on a college entrance exam; it means a formal public speech that highly praises a person or thing. It is an elaborate eulogy without criticism.
I cannot, however, give high praise to director Julian Jarrold's film, Brideshead Revisited, with screenplay by Jeremy Brock. The book's actual title is Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. From the beginning, the topic is love and the title introduces the concept of the sacred and religious.
In the prologue, Ryder comments, "When I reached 'C' Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning... I reflected now that it had no single happy memory for me. Here love had died between me and the army."
We soon learn that he is 39 and he "began to be old." He has lost something and seems to have no friends or family. Instead he "felt stiff and weary in the evenings and reluctant to go out of camp" and "went to bed immediately after the nine o'clock news."
Taken to an unknown destination, Ryder is surprised to find he is at an old country estate called Brideshead and recalls how he had been brought there 20 years earlier by Sebastian when both were students at Oxford.