Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.

Current book: Brideshead Revisited
Pages read: 68-148

I was right about Sebastian's salvation of Charles, which he neatly accomplishes by breaking a bone in his foot and calling for Charles to aid and entertain him while he's laid up in bed. It doesn't take long, of course, for Sebastian to be up and about, and the two young Oxford lads spend the summer drinking the Earl of Brideshead's (Sebastian's father's) wine, reading poetry to each other, and conducting decorating experiments. After a month or so, Sebastian takes Charles to Venice, where the Earl of Brideshead lives with his mistress. Charles has a lovely time sightseeing on the Brideshead dime, but eventually the two must head back to school.

Their mutual sophomore year is much different than their freshman year, in that their old circle of friends disappears and the two are almost always alone together. During various vacations and holidays, when Charles nearly always goes to Brideshead, it becomes apparent that Sebastian is rapidly becoming both an alcoholic and an outcast from his family. Because Charles is so often around the family, but clearly Sebastian's friend, he finds himself in the awkward middle territory of being called on by Sebastian to stand with him against his family and the world, and being called on by the family to influence Sebastian for the better. Charles tries to avoid the issue as well as he can, and though he and Sebastian are, at one point, arrested for drunkenness, things continue fairly uneventfully until Sebastian reaches the nadir of his alcoholism, and is found drunk, in middle of the afternoon, by his 10-year-old sister. Sebastian's sent to live with a supervising priest at Oxford, while Charles decides he should go to a European art school and learn to paint.

The things that make this book so remarkable are Waugh's humorous and incisive style and his uncanny realism of characterization. I honestly don't know how he does it. It doesn't even seem like it should be a particularly memorable story, and yet I find myself captivated by it, simply because Waugh's prose gives me no choice in the matter. Ah, if only I could write as well.

There are some interesting homosexual threads through the text, too, which it would be hard not to incorporate into such an important series of male relationships. When Waugh acknowledges the possibility of male-t0-male attraction, he does so matter-of-factly, not as though it's not important, but rather as though it's simply a matter of course. (Then again, Britain is the home of Eton and prefects, so I guess it makes sense, after all.)

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