How sweetly it hurts: why ‘Brideshead Revisited’ still resonates

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How sweetly it hurts: why ‘Brideshead Revisited’ still resonates

As we too mourn the loss of one world and advent of another, Waugh’s elegy feels very right, very now – 75 years later

Hannah Betts

Brideshead, the name of the great house in Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel – and a name so familiar that it heralds “a multitude of sweet and natural and long-forgotten sounds” – is more resonant than those of our own modest abodes. It is a literary home in which we can find a seat for our emotions.

As the late Christopher Hitchens once wrote: “It comes as a shock to discover that Waugh nearly called Charles Ryder by the surname of Fenwick, and almost gave Cordelia the first name Bridget. Such is the power of a great novel to make us feel that we own it almost as private property, as it were, and must resent any intrusion on our intimacy with it.”

To know Brideshead Revisited is to hold it fast, whether we know it through reading and rereading, that languorous 1981 TV series, or the Audible version read by Jeremy Irons, the nation’s Charles Ryder of choice. As the book turns 75 this Thursday, BBC Radio 4 Extra is repeating its radio version, Castle Howard – where the film and TV adaptations were shot – will be hosting a Twitter webinar to discuss the house’s relationship with the novel, while legions of callow youths will doubtless sally forth bearing strawberries, bottles of Château Peyraguey – and teddy bears...

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