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Friday, September 09, 2005


Escape - To the pages of an old favorite and to a Big Piece of Rock

"Brideshead Revisited" and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Perhaps it was the movie, "The Constant Gardener" that JHL and I watched on Labor Day. Perhaps the ongoing clamour about Hurricane Katrina in which I,too, added my two cents that made me seek shelter in a book about another country in another time. I am one among the millions who were not directly affected but felt the suffering, the inequities of our system that nurtured the miserable conditions in which a large percentage of New Orleans' blacks lived, and a sense of outrage at the failure to provide timely aid to the people in the area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

I felt that I had enough. Easier said than done. Katrina and its ghosts will continue to be with us for a long time. Politicians will do what they are good at doing, talk....a lot. Committees and sub-committees will be formed. Tons of reports will be generated. The uprooted will eventually find a new place. For them, the memories will remain alive.

It was Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited" , a book that I first read many years ago and went back to a few times that I picked out from the book shelf. And, for good measure, I decided to join a group of friends and go to Yosemite to climb Half Dome on Saturday, September 10th. I ascended it in 2001. I was younger and my muscles were stronger then. It would give me personal satisfaction to be able to do it again.

But first a few words about "The Constant Gardener". Based on John LeCarre's novel of the same name, most of the story takes place in Africa. Fernando Meirrlles has done a great job as director; the movie is better than the book. Jeffrey Caine deserves applause for the screen play. Meirelles was complemented by the superb acting of Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in the leading roles. The greed of multi-national corporations, complicity of politicians in their unethical ventures, and the exploitation of the poor comes through loud and clear. So, there are common elements between the people of New Orleans and the Africans in the movie, and I am not taking about color of their skin.

Evelyn Waugh was discharged from the army in 1943 on medical grounds. "Brideshead Revisited" was published in 1945.

The following is from a review of the book in The New York Times by the incomparable John K. Hutchins (1905-1995).

"But even those to whom Mr. Waugh and his work were only slightly familiar must have wondered what direction his talent would take during the climactic war years since "Put Out More Flags." "Brideshead Revisited" tells them, in a fashion more mature and ultimately more satisfying than even his admirers could confidently have predicted.

Here, again, is the post-World War I England, but in very different focus; the story seen not through the eyes of Paul Pennyfeather or a William Boot, comical character devices of earlier Waugh books, but told in the first person by a sensitive and intelligent observer, one Charles Ryder, architectural painter, captain in the British Army, looking back from middle-age at his youth. In the scheme of "Brideshead Revisited" that change in focus is all-important, the frame in which the story is set between prologue and epilogue lending it perspective and narrative flexibility, the enchantment of experience recalled and sifted. The emotional tone and content of "Brideshead Revisited" are accordingly heightened beyond any Mr. Waugh has achieved before. He has elsewhere conveyed a muted poignance--the death of the boy in "A Handful of Dust" and the ingenious, nightmarish conclusion of the same book. In "Brideshead Revisited" the emotion is unwrapped, so to speak, and sent from the heart.

In the beginning it is gay enough--an affectionately ironic picture of Oxford in 1923, the sunflower estheticism, plovers eggs and getting drunk at luncheon, the lively, small banter, the happy irresponsibility, "Antic Hay." It is there that Ryder meets Lord Sebastian Flyte and forms a romantic friendship with him; Sebastian, the brilliant, charming "half-heathen" second son of an old Catholic family that is verging on dissolution which, Mr. Waugh seems to suggest, parallels England's change from the old order to the new. Then, the story's arrival at Brideshead and its baroque castle, the tone changes to a somber hue as the themes develop: the love story of Ryder and Sebastian's sister Julia, of which Ryder's and Sebastian's friendship had been a spiritual forerunner; the Church giving haven to the soul-torn, drunken Sebastian and reclaiming Julia and even the Byronic father who comes home at last from Italy to die."
Now, time for a brief hiatus.

"Hast thou named all the birds without a gun ?
Loved the wood-rose , and left it on its stalk ?"
---Emerson "Forebearance"

I'm going to see "The Constant Gardener" tonight! I read the book some time ago. I'm glad to know that you think the movie is better!
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