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Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

SPLENDORS AND MISERIES OF EVELYN WAUGH

THE NEW NOVEL by Evelyn Waugh--Brideshead Revisited--has been a bitter blow to this critic. I have admired and praised Mr. Waugh, and when I began reading Brideshead Revisited, I was excited at finding that he had broken away from the comic vein for which he is famous and expanded into a new dimension. The new story--with its subtitle, The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder--is a "serious" novel, in the conventional sense, and the opening is invested with a poetry and staged with a dramatic effectiveness which seem to promise much. An English officer, bored with the Army, finds himself stationed near a great country house which has been turned into soldiers' quarters. It is a place that he once used to visit--his life, indeed, has been deeply involved with the Catholic family who lived there. The story reverts to 1923, at the time when Charles Ryder was at Oxford and first met the younger son of the Marchmains, who became his most intimate friend. This early section is all quite brilliant, partly in the manner of the Waugh we know, partly with a new kind of glamor that is closer to Scott Fitzgerald and Compton Mackenzie. It is the period that these older writers celebrated, but seen now from the bleak shrivelled forties, so that everything--the freedom, the fun,

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