Imagine my delight, then, when I found this unabridged reading by Irons himself! My delight was rewarded. Irons' perfect reading of this book opened up a whole new world for me. This time, I heard and felt the absolute poetry of Waugh's words--his ability to take his reader from sultry ... summertime to the slums of the Casbah to a storm at sea that is the perfect metaphor for the turmoil to come. Waugh never wasted a word. Never said more than he had to say. Never helped the reader by sugarcoating the story. And the result was breathtaking.
Maybe because I was listening this time rather than reading, I paid much more attention this time to the book's main theme, religion versus humanity. Can one exist without the other? Does one destroy the other? How far can one stray when bound by the "invisible thread"? Waugh's very personal and moving tale of upper-class Catholics in a Protestant country is a brilliant affirmation of faith, and at the same time, a bitter acknowledgement of the price that faith can exact.
I cannot say enough about this recording, which brings all the best of Waugh to the fore even more so than the written word.
Waugh admitted that he wrote the book as "a panegyric preached over an empty coffin", and it certainly reads as such. Through the eyes of the narrator, Charles Ryder, the reader is taken on a nostalgia ride through Ryder's days as a student and his later connections with the aristocratic Flyte family. The main tone is regret - at lost youth, lost love, and a lost class. The future is looked forward to with dread - Ryder regards the soldiers he commands in World War Two with something approaching contempt:
"The history they taught [Hooper, an officer under Ryder's command] had had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change."
Ryder (and Waugh) knows that the national effort demanded by World War Two will mean that the old order will have to change after the war ends to accommodate the aspirations of the people as a whole.
The melancholy tone of the novel will surprise readers who are familiar with Waugh's more satirical works. It reflects an enduring theme in English culture which looks back to a idyllic rural past (a very powerful, yet totally mythical past) and reflects a deep unease with the Industrial Revolution and social change. The irony of it all is that Waugh's lamentations over the demise of the aristocracy greatly underestimated the (continued) adaptability of that class, and the sustaining power of that rural myth throughout English society as a whole. The funeral rites were premature.
I first read "Brideshead Revisted" some years ago and decided to reread it, having read a lot of Waugh's other works.Read more ›