Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)

Hello.

Someone somewhere told me once that Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited in an eye-rubbingly improbable couple of months or so. It takes me that long to still not get around to cleaning my bathroom.

Couple of delightful morsels for us. Batty thoughts and some diamond dialogue.

[Lady Julia Flyte, while driving, asks Captain Charles Ryder for a snout. They’ve just met.]

“Light one for me, will you?”

It was the first time in my life that anyone had asked this of me, and as I took the cigarette from my lips and put it in hers, I caught a thin bat’s squeak of sexuality, inaudible to any but me.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bat squeak. Do they? Well, it’d be fairy-faint.

But if you re-engineer back to the description of Julia just before this exchange you know that Charles sure heard it alright and Waugh helps us hear it too:

She wore a bangle of charms on her wrist and in her ears little gold rings. Her light coat revealed an inch or two of flowered silk; skirts were short in those days, and her legs, stretched forward to the controls of the car, were spindly, as was also the fashion. Because her sex was the palpable difference between the familiar and the strange, it seemed to fill the space between us, so that I felt her to be especially female, as I had felt of no woman before.

Hear it? Me, too. A sort of synaptic spark jumping the gap. (The absurdly sexy Diana Quick as Julia in the Granada Television’s 1981 series slam dunks it as well.)

It’s still with Julia that we get to blink through some smart, rapid-fire dialogue. Waugh’s staccato sentencing senses her thoughts – and emotions – tumbling out, jostling, all trying to get through the door at the same time.

[Charles has just told Julia that his wife Celia was unfaithful and so he felt it alright to dislike her.]

“Is she? Do you? I’m glad. I don’t like her either. Why did you marry her?”

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. (Besides, and by the by, it clears the air for a good bang the next day too.)

Oh, go on then – just one more…

Here’s how to languidly pack and shrink-wrap hundreds of years of aristocracy, breeding, privilege, luxury, education, civility and charm into one sentence of dialogue. This time it’s Cordelia, Julia’s younger sister.

“I say, do you think I could have another of those scrumptious meringues?”

Damn it. I’ve sold it to myself and going to have to read it again.

Thanks for being here.

Buy Brideshead Revisited (free delivery, cardboard wrapping)

Follow my I’m reading… blog: