Brideshead Revisited. Seductive Nature of the Extract.
An analyse of Brideshead revisited
To a certain degree the both critics maintain that considering the post war Britain setting Bridehead revisited is overly lavish to the extent that it is deemed a ‘snobbish scam’. However, I would agree with the first critic who further states that the ‘seductive’ nature of the extract seems to induce sympathy and pathos towards Sebastian, thus creating a ‘damnably readable’ extract. Nonetheless the notion that the novel shows a ‘mystical veneration of the upper classes’ seems somewhat misplaced, indeed, the emotional repression and denial towards an apparent alcohol dependency negate any idea that the reader experiences any degree of worship towards these somewhat dislocated characters, particularly due to the Waugh’s linguistic choices that appear to deny emotional depth. The undertones of the remains of the roaring 20’s where indulgence such as ‘a cocktail tray’ and ‘manicure things’ were common appearance seem to be rejuvenated in this extract however, they are at odds with the development of social equality due to the rise of the first labour government. This makes the aristocratic ideals seem superficial and perhaps further negates the notion that they formed an ‘alternative religion.’
Critic A cites the existence of ‘overblown metaphors’ which are deemed to ‘move and charm’. The presentation of the Brideshead is enhanced through one of these aforementioned metaphors ‘grim rock-crystal face’ this conveys an almost oxymoronic image of this aristocratic figure. Both ‘grim’ and ‘rock’ suggest a severity and impenetrable exterior that is indeed ‘agnostic’ however, ‘seductive’ presentation of this character is perhaps conveyed through this contrast with ‘crystal’ which exudes wealth and it alluring and enticing. This is further compounded by the noun ‘mask’; whilst his appearance is a disguise it becomes a subject of intrigue. This seems to link to the remains of the roaring 20’s, that was perhaps a wistful memory to the contemporary reader following the recent devastation of the WWII, this imagery inspires memories of masquerades, wealth and festivities that pervaded the 1920’s. Whilst this could suggest a ‘veneration of the upper classes’, as critic B suggests, an alternative viewpoint would be that the structural layout of the extract denies this image enough build up for it to be maintained as accurate instead it agrees with the equally oxymoronic quote from critic A that the extract is ‘damnably magical’. As the extract progresses, the reader becomes more aware of the ‘drunk’ dishevelled appearance of Sebastian. This interpretation is revealed through the active verbs ‘slopped’ and ‘squinted’ and lexical fields ‘clumsily’ and ‘awry… hair on end’. Furthermore, Sebastian is given a childlike tone that is conveyed by the monosyllabic lexis and simplistic sentence structures ‘Not with nanny.’ indeed, the idea of a nanny is rarely reserved for an adult man. Alternatively, this staccato speech is not a representation of his childish state but rather an indictment of his drunkenness. However regardless of these two contrasting interpretations, Waugh has created a presentation of incompetence and the upper classes uses alcohol as a mere toy despite its costly nature and detrimental consequences; this augments the idea that veneration of the upper classes is not apparent. Particularly due to the increasingly labour environment of this period where this display of extravagant ‘cocktails’ and ‘footmen’ rendering the moneyed population to a juvenile state, which would have induced disgust opposed to sympathy or seduction. This is enhanced through the deceptive and naïve presentation of Lady Marchmain. Even by the culmination of the extract she is still unaware of her son’s alcoholic tendencies, instead she believes the lie that ‘his cold is worse’ not only this show lack of insight into her own son but also her referral to an outsider to discover if ‘there is anything he wants’ shows a lack of connection. her deferral to someone else and blind belief in what she hears is far from admirable instead it is somewhat satirical highlights her emotional limitations and contradicts the assertion that ‘only the upper class can be taken seriously’. In reality her reading of ‘The Wisdom of Father Brown’ is somewhat ironic considering her own actions being far from wise, this satirical undertone created by Waugh further negates the aforementioned statement of Critic A.
Furthermore, ‘the implication that only the upper classes can be taken be taken seriously’ can be deemed as void through the revelation that the narrator is not omniscient and instead is unreliable despite embodying the image of a member of the upper class hence the use of the first personal plural pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’. Structurally it is not until the termination of the extract that the narrator reveals that the extract was written ‘even at twenty years’ distance.’ This narrative device conveys the narrator as untrustworthy and the reader feels deceived particularly as the late expose of this reality means that they have to question the accuracy of the information that have already been presented with. Indeed, this agrees with the quote from critic A that Charles is an ‘agnostic narrator-hero’. This unreliability of the upper classes is further enhanced by the over exaggerated use of language; ‘mourning’ is an active verbs used surrounding death thus it is somewhat self-indulgent and absurd to employ it to describe a self-induced drunken nature. This is further shown by the dramatic assertion that ‘a chill spread over us’, with the retrospective knowledge that this is a personal account of a distant memory, it seems dubious as to whether the narrator has the authority or insight to use the inclusive pronoun ‘us’. The imagery of a ‘a chill spread’ suggests that a fear is pervasive throughout the whole room, however, it seems highly dramatized and out of place with the reality that the narrator’s sense of ‘foreboding’ is only in relation to a drunk friend. Waugh’s use of an unreliable narrator which makes the reader distrust the information they are presented with seems to connect to the socio- contextual of the contemporary times. The gap between the rich and the poor was decreasing and the rich were no longer believed to be uniformly superior, instead the election of the first labour government in 1924 showed the growing desire to address this unequal power and status distribution. Therefore, Waugh’s employment of a member of the upper class to deceive the reader into thinking them to be an omniscient narrator perhaps is designed to convey the faults and weaknesses of some of privileged and is thus supporting the contemporary frustration towards their extortionate wealth and influence.
Another theme referred to by both critics is the importance of religion in Waugh’s extract. Critic B believes on the presence of ‘endurance of faith in a broken world’, meanwhile critic A states that the extract ‘breathes a theological certainty’ with the family being ‘haunted by the God of Catholics’. It could be maintained that these two views are synonymous and that ‘Mrs Marchmain’s practice of… visit to the Chapel before bed’ supports the critics’ views about the influential presence of religion. Indeed, the verb ‘practice’ implies repetition and a pious nature that is committed to a religion existence. Alternatively, this evidence can actually only be used to support critic B; faith is to some degree attempted to be abided by and the evident alcoholic tendencies of Sebastian combined with the contextual knowledge of the upper classes being in demise and the devastation that WWII left behind, do support the assertion that it is a ‘broken world’. Nonetheless, critic A’s claim that the family is ‘haunted by the God of Catholics’ seems negated by the evident primary theme of alcohol, which are from being solely reserved for Sebastian’s but is a dominant presence in the whole family’s life. Structurally it is the first focus of the extract as the reader is presented with ‘the normal practice for a cocktail tray to be brought into the drawing-room’. The use of alcohol goes against catholic discipline because it is believed that it implies a lack of control and indulgence, therefore Mrs Marchmain’s claim that her alcoholic son ‘had better have a glass of hot whisky’ evidently contradicts catholic doctrine. The word ‘better’ expresses certainty however its homophone also implies that the whisky, which is goes against ‘theological certainty’, will heel Sebastian. Whilst it can be argued that Sebastian’s use of alcohol is a rebellion against the pervasive ‘endurance of faith’ in his family, it is not viable to support the claim that Mrs Marchamain is truly pious considering her repression of reality and monosyllabic lexis shown in the line ‘we can talk about this in the morning.’ Not only does she support the use of alcohol but also she is dismissive of her son who is need of attention which is further separation from the Catholic tendencies to offer aid to those in need.
Therefore, to conclude it could be asserted that Critic A’s claims regarding religion are flawed and that instead Critic B’s views maintain more merit. Waugh seems to present an almost satirical presentation of his presention which is enhanced by the unreliable narrator, this fits the contextually situation in which the upper class were losing their status. Therefore, this denies the claim that the extract conveys a ‘mystical veneration of the upper class’ instead what appears apparent is that Waugh has created an extract that is to a certain degree a ‘snobbish sham’ but is carefully crafted to show the ‘implausibility’ of the power of the upper classes, there flaws are revealed for the audience to revel at. Although it is seductive extract this is perhaps done expressly in order to convey how easy it is to support this class system without questioning its value.
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