Thursday, May 25, 2023

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh -- WHAT ARE THEY READING?


Authors tend to be readers, so they often create characters who like to read or stick real books into their stories. I always like it when a real book gets a shout out in the book I'm reading. 

How do you think an author picks the books the characters read? I usually assume the characters' choice of books reflects the author's tastes or, maybe, what the author was reading at the time. But sometimes a character's reading material is a clue to the character's personality or is even a part of the story.

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I first read Brideshead Revisited in high school, after watching the tv miniseries with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Edwards on Masterpiece Theater. I read it again in 2004 when I was working my way through the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century. I got a lot more out of it reading it in my 30s than I had as a teenager!

Recently, I read it again and loved it even more. Part of my enjoyment came from reading it with my ears this time. Jeremy Irons narrated the audiobook and did a terrific job. I think I also enjoyed it more now because I've read many other Evelyn Waugh books and had a better sense for his humor and the cultural references.

Which is probably why I noticed more which books the characters mentioned. There were several, but the two that I remember are Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey and Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley. 

Eminent Victorians was published in 1918 and is one of the few books the protagonist Charles Ryder took with him when he started college at Oxford. It contains biographies of four leading figures of the Victorian Era, Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold and General Charles Gordon.  Because it was irreverent, witty, and debunked the pretensions about Victorians, the book was highly popular and made Strachey famous. 

Antic Hay is a comic novel by Aldous Huxley, published in 1923, which made it a new-release when Anthony Blanche was reading it in Brideshead Revisited. Blanche described his reading experience to Ryder over drinks:
"Picture me, my dear, alone and studious. I had just bought a rather forbidding book called Antic Hay, which I knew I must read before going to Garsington on Sunday, because everyone was bound to talk about it, and it's so banal saying you have not read the book of the moment, if you haven't."

I haven't read Eminent Victorians, but now I want to. I read and enjoyed Antic Hay, but all I remember now are a lot of beautiful young things running around post-WWI London, day drinking and talking about sex. 


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