“…his days in Arcadia were numbered.”
A certain somebody requested that I draw ‘people snuggling’…so this happened. Nothing says ‘warm and tender’ like everybody’s favourite tragic Oxonian queers, right?
‘I remember the dinner well - soup of oseille, a sole quite simply cooked in a white wine sauce, a caneton a la presse, a lemon souffle. At the last minute, fearing that the whole thing was too simple for Rex, I added caviar aux blinis. And for the wine I let him give me a bottle of 1906 Montrachet, then at its prime, and with the duck, a clos de beze of 1904…
The cream and hot butter mingled and overflowed, separating each glaucous bead of caviar from its fellows, capping it in white and gold… The soup was delicious after the rich blinis, hot, thin, bitter, frothy.
‘We ate to the music of the press - the crunch of the bones, the drip of the blood and marrow, the tap of the spoon basting the thin slices of breast.’
‘I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his. By chance I met this same wine again, lunching with my wine merchant in St James’s Street in the first Autumn of the war; it had softened and faded in the intervening years, but it still spoke in the pure, authentic accent of its prime, the same words of hope.’
From Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The book was written during the Second World War, at a time of rationing and great shortage, and Waugh later observed, with a little distaste, that as a consequence that it is laced with a ‘kind of gluttony’
Personally I wouldn’t have it any other way! The book’s excesses are a big part of its charm and this section has always stuck in my mind. Along with the book, the film and TV adaptations, I also have the unabridged audiobook read by Jeremy Irons and often listen to it falling asleep. No matter if I go to bed full, hearing this passage while half asleep is guaranteed to make me hungry again!
George Orwell said that Evelyn Waugh was about as good a novelist as one could be while holding untenable opinions and that last paragraph about the wine pretty much epitomises this for me; it’s a perfect example of the sort of romanticised conservatism that pervades the book, the contempt for the ‘modern world’ that all too often translates into hideous snobbery, but it’s just so perfectly written, every time I find myself drinking in every word, a literary glutton in every sense of the term…
(The image of the duck dish is ‘borrowed’ from a blog called Jet City Gastrophysics, in an excellent post about recreating the recipe.)
I can’t afford a silk shirt; the only liquors at my disposal have ‘Smirnoff’ on the label; and the last time someone vomited on me, the gravest sin I ever imagined doing to them was ‘first-degree murder.’ But it’s the thought that counts. Considering how deeply unglamorous Waugh’s own Oxford career was, I would like to propose a little celebration of our own earnest, varyingly successful attempts to live as members of the Flyte-Ryder brigade.
What: Do you have a bear-shaped eraser named Aloysius? Do you lie in quiet contemplation of your Forever 21 blazer collection? Have you ever swirled cheap rum thoughtfully around a secondhand wine glass? Have you become an old hand at the question, “Evelyn Waugh…. remind me what she wrote?”? If you’re not enough of an aristocrat to beat ‘em, you might as well… post about it in the “You Triedshead Revisited” tag! That means pictures, anecdotes, and whatever else you have to document your quasi-Waugh efforts.
Who: Anyone who would like to be a Harold Acton, but ends up most often an undergraduate Waugh. (i.-likely-e., only me.)
When: Now- infinity. There’s no party like an “I had a best friend once until I let him descend into tortured alcoholism and leave me all alone with with my Catholic guilt” party.
That tag’s looking pretty desolate: As the rooms at Merton Street. That’s why you should post in it.
Questions and nastily disbelieving anons might be addressed to me.
Love or what you will.
One of my favourite moments in the mini-series, and a rare moment where, although the series stray from the book, I love the addition.
In the event that Charles needs some musical accompaniment for sobbing into his moustache… here is a Brideshead Revisited mixtape.
1. You Made Me Love You- Harry James (C Company Lament)
2. The Lark Ascending- Vaughan Williams (The Peculiar Splendor of Meadowsweet)
3. Un Héros Très Discret- Alexandre Desplat (Matriculations)
4. Hummingbird- George Winston (The Most Conspicuous Man)
5. Did I Remember?- Billie Holiday (A Time of Economy and Instruction)
6. La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin- Claude Debussy (Bloomsbury Strikes Again)
7. Ain’t Misbehavin’- Fats Waller (Catalogue of Sins)
8. La Notte (Allegro)- Vivaldi (The Injury Grave)
9. Lullaby- George Winston (Very Near Heaven)
10. They Can’t Take That Away From Me- Billie Holiday (The Painted Parlour and I)
11. First Self-Portrait Series- Rachel’s (October Arrived and Aloysius Forgotten)
12. Fly- Ludovico Einaudi (The Loneliest Man in Oxford)
13. Gymnopédie I- Erik Satie (We Talk of Nothing But)
14. Theme- Jon Brion (A Very Beautiful Place)
15. Good-Bye- Benny Goodman & His Orchestra (Quomodo Sedet Sola Civitas)
Did you think I was lying about the Waughotopia on Level A of the library?
September is all about banned books here at PEN American. We reached out to writers, editors, literary illuminati, and PEN staff to write about the banned books that matter to them most. Today’s post comes from Jasmine Davey, Membership and Literary Awards Coordinator at PEN American.
“…I don’t believe Our Blessed Lady cares two hoots whether I put my gym shoes on the left or the right of my dancing shoes.”
—Cordelia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited
You could make a case for a kind of parallel between the events of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and the fact of it being challenged in Alabama schools for having a “gay protagonist.” With both, the best intentions lead to harm. Lady Marchmain only wants to help her son Sebastian. But clouded by principle, and piety, and tradition, she can’t seem to see what he needs and only increases his unhappiness and speeds his decline. The Alabama legislation that led to the Brideshead challenge was also meant to protect youth from harm and had its roots in principle, piety, and tradition.
It’s silly to point out the particulars of how wrongheaded it is to challengeBrideshead on these grounds. The author, after all, refers to homosexuality as “mortal sin.” Sebastian suffers for his sin—he can’t find happiness, he is alienated from himself and his family, and Kurt with his pus-filled foot is hardly attractive. Book banning is wrongheaded on principle and even if the idylls of Sebastian and Charles did not come to an end, if Sebastian did not suffer, it wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, in justifying a book by pointing out its themes and defending its virtues, one has in a sense gone over to the other side. Because this kind of reductionist thinking is what a novel, in its essence, works against. “The novel’s only morality, “ Milan Kundera writes, “is knowledge.” The knowledge of a novel is the knowledge of possibility—a possible vision of what human life can be and “where moral judgment is suspended.” A place where the particulars—strawberries and wine in the shade—count for everything.
Charles Ryder, a committed agnostic, undergoes a surprising conversion inBrideshead that’s founded in particulars, in an experiential truth. His love for Julia, in fact his intimacy with the whole Flyte family—Cordelia and her six black Cordelias in Africa, pious Bridey’s support for the conviviality of wine though can’t drink himself, Sebastian’s profound innocence and charm, little talks with Lady Marchmain, Lord Marchmain’s self-imposed exile and return, and the great beauty of their home at Brideshead—makes him in a moment (and maybe only for a moment) believe that “perhaps all our loves are only hints and symbols” of a much Greater Love.
But if, as a reader, you can’t believe this moment of conversion, if Waugh’s vision of religion founded in aesthetics and nostalgia doesn’t make sense, if Julia pales in comparison to her “forerunner,” if Celia’s Art & Fashion and Rex’s Politics & Money don’t “shrivel your bowels,” if something else seems to be bleeding through these pages and it’s not God, then this only shows the slipperiness of a novel’s truth—it’s morality of possibility uncurtailed by ideology—in that sometimes it can not even be contained by its maker.
Jasmine Davey studied English and French at the University of Vermont, where she won the Albee Award for Writing, 2000, and Eastern Washington University. She works as Membership and Literary Awards Coordinator at PEN American.