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This article is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

Revisiting Brideshead: a re-introduction Frederic Raphael

In the epigraph to his longest (and only first personal) novel, Evelyn Waugh promises us that 'I am not I; thou art not he or she; they are not they'. It is more than a writer's routine, more or less honest, disclaimer; the author may have been immunising himself against charges of mere reminiscence, but he was also announcing a revision of his experience and, more particularly, the representation of himself as someone else: Charles Ryder is more comely, more sane and somewhat duller than egotism might have contrived, just as the retrospective view of the pre-war world is more luxurious, more confident and much more complacent than history could warrant.

Art and vanity are compounded in the cosmetic which the middle-aged author applied to his youth and its circumstances. When he began the novel, Waugh was on indefinite leave from a Commando unit which had found his particular form of belligerence surplus, to requirement; it was said that he was barred from further active service for fear that his men would take the opportunity to shoot him before turning to deal with the enemy. Literature was the beneficiary of an ostracism which certainly wounded, but at least did not kill, its object. Keeping in step was not his vocation.

The author was only in his early forties, but felt -and announced himself -an older man. His novel is both a celebration and a lament for a pampered paradise which he now took to be ...

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