Sorry–I started to write a reply last weekend, then saved it and forgot I hadn’t posted it.
The book is more subtle and more complicated than that. What are the reasons why any alcoholic drinks too much? Charles says that Sebastian drinks to escape. What’s he escaping from? His family, for one thing. His one fear when he introduces Charles to his charming, charming family is that Charles will become their friend and not his friend alone, and begin to be on their side. (IMO, that’s why Charles gives Sebastian money to buy drinks on the day of the hunt, to prove whose side he’s on.) Sebastian especially hates his mother–but what you have to keep in mind is that the Lady Marchmain of the book, and as played by Claire Bloom in the miniseries, isn’t the same overbearing, snobbish religious harpy that Emma Thompson plays in the movie. She’s a lovely and gracious woman; if she’s considered a saint, it’s of the martyr type. She can weigh her children down with guilt years after her death without an overt word of reproach.
And then there’s Sebastian’s impossible position of being gay and Catholic. This is never made explicit, but I see it as an unstated, understood thing whenever Sebastian’s drinking is discussed. Another quote from Charles, to Bridey after Sebastian leaves Oxford: “It seems to me that without your religion, Sebastian would have the chance to be a happy and health man.” I believe that’s what he’s alluding to.
Yes, that’s all correct. Julia is only a peripheral character during the early part of the novel, until Charles meets her again 10 years later on the ship. His marriage is loveless and his wife was unfaithful before he went off on his South African trip (another unstated thing, but Charles’s utter indifference to the baby his wife had while he was away suggests to me that he doesn’t think it’s his). Julia’s marriage to Rex has likewise crumbled; he’s still seeing his mistress from before his marriage, and Julia had gone to America to pursue a romance of her own that didn’t turn out well, so she’s headed home. Charles and Julia are together mostly at Brideshead for about 2 years before Bridey drops his “living in sin” line on them.
Charles, on his love for the brother and sister: “I had not forgotten Sebastian. He was with me daily in Julia; or rather it was Julia I had known in him in those distant Arcadian days.”
The two are described as being much alike. It’s obviously the same elements Charles sees in both that he’s attracted to, but whether he fell in love with Julia because she reminds him of Sebastian, or Sebastian was "the forerunner’ to prepare him for loving Julia, I couldn’t say.
Someone who is actually Catholic could probably deal with this aspect of it better than I can. I was brought up Catholic, but never got as far as confirmation. Waugh was writing as a convert to Catholicism. The whole story is Charles’ first-person narrative, much of it internal, and his view of religion does change over the course of the novel until we come to the ending at the chapel. There are humorous scenes about Catholic belief and rituals–Rex’s conversion always strikes me as very funny–but it isn’t mean-spirited. While their personal lives wind up miserably, the main characters do get something spiritual out of it which Waugh sees as worth the sacrifice of their happiness.
From everyone I’ve talked to since this movie came out, it seems that the more familiar they are with the novel, the less they like the movie–but people who don’t know the original story love it.
As you say the novel is ambiguous; and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in those days, to make it any less so would have been a violation of some law or other. Per Wikipedia the author is thought by many to have been gay, but that doesn’t prove anything. On the other hand, some minor plot points suggest it regarding Charles Ryder. For instance, during the first summer break he pines away when he doesn’t receive any letters from Sebastian, and when a letter finally does come, but contains mostly nonsense, he sulks. You’d almost assume nowadays that he was romantically attracted to Sebastian–but here again, it’s a different era with different standards. People wrote far more letters than now, and even wealthier people don’t seem to have used the phone all that much. I suppose all one can do is appreciate the mystery for what it’s worth, and leave it at that.
Also, as I meant to mention, keep in mind that Charles, broke and stuck under his needling father’s roof for the summer, is desperate to find a way out. Sebastian, at this stage, represents the carefree, pleasure-filled life of Oxford, and that suggested by the brief first tour of the family castle.
This is from Selina Hastings’ 1994 biography of Evelyn Waugh:
Waugh met Graham at Oxford in the early nineteen twenties.
The author doesn’t mention the word ‘gay’ in her book and, as far as I’m aware, neither does Martin Stannard in his biography of Waugh. However, I am left wondering what constituted gayness in those times and in that society.
From the book and the miniseries, we know that Sebastian and Charles would sunbathe naked on the roof at Brideshead, and it’s not difficult to imagine Alastair and Evelyn doing the same at the Graham family home in Barford, given that Alastair would send nude photographs of himself to Evelyn. Like Sebastian and Charles, Alastair and Evelyn were virtually inseparable for two or three years during which they experienced a time of ‘complete emotional and sensual fulfilment’. On the rare occasions they were apart, contact was maintained by letter. There are other parallels in the respective relationships.
If we assume the Sebastian and Charles ‘emotional friendship’ faithfully replicates that of Alastair and Evelyn, and this is not necessarily the case since situations can be embellished or diminished in meaning at the author’s whim, it’s easy to imagine them naked together in the same bedroom (off-page or off-camera). Whether they kissed, caressed, stimulated, or went the full distance with each other must be left to the imagination, and how gay each activity was (or is) regarded is not my call to make.
In Waugh’s unfinished A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography (1964) Alastair Graham merits barely a page. It might be argued that Waugh, rather than downplay what Graham really meant to him, preferred to say little or nothing about him (he does describe Alastair as ‘the friend of my heart’). Any hint of male physical love in the book would still have caused a problem in 1964.
A thousand pardons to Miss Mapp for contributing precisely nothing to her OP. I haven’t even seen the movie in question and I’m not sure I will. For me, the miniseries remains a television masterpiece and I’ve read the book many times.
I’m not sure 2 hours would even do full justice to the three set-piece meal passages contained in the novel.
That was my thought; how could they cram this into a regular movie when it made a 12-hour series? Well, some people don’t want to sit through all that, but my goodness, a lot must have had to get cut. I also was disturbed that the previews seem to be riding the Atonement coattails–a forbidden (male-female) relationship…
This is a major deviation from the original – Charles loved Sebastian right back. It’s possible, though, that their love was not physically manifest, perhaps because neither of them was ready for a physical relationship or because physical love just wasn’t part of it. The book seems to be describing a different category of relationship – different from friendship, different from a full-on physical love affair. They were both in love with each other. We can’t really answer the question “Is Charles gay or bisexual?” with confidence, and, anyway, it doesn’t seem to matter.
The book, in fact, was a celebration of Catholicism, to which Waugh was a convert. One of the themes of the book is that following the religion might be difficult and it might cause you pain, but in the end it’s better than anything else, because … (I don’t know, God stuff). In the end, the book portrays Lady Marchmain as having been the true hero by setting a proper example of right living.
This is a problem that doesn’t exist in the original. There was no imbalance between Sebastian and Charles’s love for each other. They were in love with each other. Period. The “but I’m not gay” thing never arose.
They just drifted apart because of Sebastian’s alcoholism. Charles’s relationship with Julia was never an interference because it came much later.
It’s meant to be sincere, I believe. Or that’s at least how all the other characters take it, including Ryder.
In the novel, by the time of Lord Marchmain’s death, Charles wasn’t fighting Julia’s faith any more, although, I’m not sure whether he had decided that he was a Catholic by that point.
You’ll be rewarded with some really good writing and character studies.
It’s never entirely clear except that it seems that it is something that was always within him. In real life, does someone need a trigger to become an alcoholic? He just was that way.
This is a complicated question. Essentially, the original does show that the people suffer for Lady Marchmain’s faith, but in the end she was still right, because all that’s really important is god’s grace.
No pardons necessary! I thought my poor little thread had died two weeks ago, so I was very happy to see it come bouncing back up today. I haven’t read the Hastings biography; I’ll have to hunt it up.
I’ve recommended to a couple of friends that love the book and/or miniseries but were doubtful on whether or not they wanted to see this new movie that they wait until comes out on DVD. Then they can watch the first part with Charles and Sebastian, which is all right, and beautifully filmed (and, if you’re familiar with Oxford, it’s amusing to follow the circuitous path Charles and Cousin Jasper take around the city while Jasper gives his advice). Then skip over the next few scenes once they go to Venice–or proceed at their own risk, since this is where things begin to get irksome to the Waugh purist–before continuing to the highly compressed ending.
Brideshead heads might be interested in this feature by Christopher Hitchens from this morning’s Guardian. It does contain a short review of the new movie towards the end (he doesn’t like it) but there are several choice items of Waugherama prior to that, some of which are new to me.
The movie strikes me as the work of people who HATED everything about the book, which makes me wonder why they bothered to adapt it.
Look, if you want to make an anti-Catholic movie, there are plenty of anti-Catholic novels and plays you could choose to adapt. Why take a novel that embodies what you hate and try to turn it inside out?
It would be like making a movie version of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” that celebrated laissez-faire capitalism.