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Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead

Hardly 3. Hardly revolutionary. With that niggle out of the way, this works as a biography of Waugh about whom I knew little not least the fact of his middle-class family home in Golders Green, of all places! The early sections on Waugh's education at a minor public school then Oxford almost seem to reverse the life-fiction equation: I was often brought to questions whether Byrne wasn't so much reading Waugh's fiction through his life as re-constructing his life via his fiction.

There are places, for example, where she imagines Waugh's life as a version of Charles Ryder's, down to descriptions of tea-tables lifted from the novel honey-buns and anchovy toast. I don't think there's any doubt that Waugh drew on aspects of his life and the people he knew for his fiction, but his characters seem to be more composites than straight one-for-one duplicates.

It's interesting to learn more about the Lygon family, for sure, but this book itself slightly undermines its own premise by commenting on other aristocratic families with whom Waugh seemed to have fallen in love e. Overall, then, this is less innovative as a biography than it claims - there are no 'secrets of Brideshead' to be revealed.

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Very readable, all the same: 3. This is perhaps less a review of this book than a reflection on Brideshead Revisited. Brideshead Revisited is one of those odd books: I don't think it can really be read now. Or at least, read and understood the way Waugh meant it to be understood. You need a religious sensibility that has long since been lost to the world: a belief that God wants you to deny yourself pleasure; that in denying yourself earthly pleasures, you accrue merit in Heaven.

And that that love for God is better and more This is perhaps less a review of this book than a reflection on Brideshead Revisited. And that that love for God is better and more important that any corrupt in the old sense of the word , ephemeral joy you might get in this material world. I can just hear the chorus now: No, no! You got it all wrong!

So speaks the secular 21st century mind. Actually, so speaks the religious 21st century mind--Waugh would have spat on the Prosperity Gospel. If you're reading this, you've read the book. So consider then, this passage where Lord Marchmain accepts God at the end: Suddenly Lord Marchmain moved his hand to his forehead; I thought he had felt the touch of the chrism and was wiping it away. Then I knew that the sign I had asked for was not a little thing, not a passing nod of recognition, and a phrase came to me back from my childhood of the veil of the temple being rent from top to bottom. I said a prayer, an ancient newly learned form of words , and left, turning towards the camp Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame--a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem.

It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones. I quickened my pace and reached the hut which served us for our ante-room. And if the text of the book itself doesn't convince you, read this book. Or maybe don't: you might want to cling on to your own reading of Brideshead Revisited instead.

What Others Thought The Guardian : Since its publication in , a vast amount has been written about the novel and about the striking similarities between two families, the fictional Flytes and the real-life Lygons. The parallels seem almost infinite--between Lord Beauchamp and Lord Marchmain, Hugh Lygon and Sebastian, and the two great houses, magnificent Brideshead and Madresfield, the Lygons' moated manor house in Worcestershire Paula Byrne is the latest to explore the people and the story that inspired the book and she does so with acuity and panache.

Her stated aim is to portray Waugh through his friendship with the Lygons, and in the process reveal some substantial new information about the high-society scandal that in electrified the country. Byrne understands very well the powerful enchantment that Madresfield, or "Mad" as the girls called it, cast over Waugh. The beauty of the place, the limit-less freedom, the traditions of centuries juxtaposed with childish high spirits and silliness, all proved irresistible to the penniless young man from Golders Green. Byrne entertainingly summarises his career up to this point--the childhood, the schooldays, the melancholia and debauchery of Oxford, the schoolmastering and the first published works--and layers in with this the story of the Lygons, of Lord Beauchamp's early life, and of those of his wife and children.

Essentially, what Mad World provides is a lively introduction to Waugh and to Brideshead , and to the rarefied social world in which much of the novel is set. To this is added a small amount of new material, to which, understandably, much emphasis is given. Much as I admire Mad World , I do have some reservations: source notes, disgracefully, are almost non-existent and the index is virtually useless. View 1 comment. Mar 16, Jenny Brown rated it did not like it. A tedious, excruciatingly detailed portrayal of the lives of a group of people about whom I really wish, now, I knew less.

If you had have respect left for the British ruling class, this book will rid you of it. Wealthy, selfish drunkards whose path in life was smoothed for them thanks to the connections they made in the public schools and University where a culture of sexual predation flourished, they dabbled in a kind of homosexuality that did not blink at sexually abusing boy prostitutes, and, A tedious, excruciatingly detailed portrayal of the lives of a group of people about whom I really wish, now, I knew less. Wealthy, selfish drunkards whose path in life was smoothed for them thanks to the connections they made in the public schools and University where a culture of sexual predation flourished, they dabbled in a kind of homosexuality that did not blink at sexually abusing boy prostitutes, and, though they shuddered with horror at the idea of consorting with the middle class, did not drive from their ranks a man who ran over its members when driving very drunk, twice, getting off easy because of his political connections.

So one of them wrote some good books, for which we are supposed to overlook the toxic culture he exemplified and wallowed in. The only additional understanding I came away with from reading this book is the thought that Waugh must have become such an enthusiastic Catholic and then Catholic apologist, because no other Church is as tolerant and forgiving of pederasts.


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Throughout the book I got the feeling that the author thinks we should excuse the behavior of wealthy older men who sexually prey on children, servants, and the poor because homosexuality was illegal at the time. But the portrait she paints of the homosexuality of the period is filled with the kinds of cliches that are what has stood in the way of gay people having rights until now. The author apparently doesn't get that an anecdote about a schoolmaster who "enjoys" himself with a young boy at a school picnic is not funny, and that sexual orientation and sexual predation are two different things.

Most disturbing, too, is the way the author thinks we should feel sorry for Lord Beauchamp because his wife finally had enough of his constant rogering of handsome footmen he'd hired on for just that purpose, which he did, obsessively, in the home where she had borne him 7 children. Apparently the fact that she wasn't as cheerful a person as her husband makes her the villain in this story. I came away wondering why she hadn't poisoned him after producing the heir and a spare. View all 3 comments.

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Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (TEXT ONLY) - Paula Byrne - eBook

Nov 12, Ivan rated it it was amazing. I freely admit to an aversion to most biographies; those half ton tomes stuffed to overflowing with regurgitated facts that so often represent the flotsam and jetsam of the life in question as opposed to actual milestones and achievements. As we trek along we are treated to brief portraits I freely admit to an aversion to most biographies; those half ton tomes stuffed to overflowing with regurgitated facts that so often represent the flotsam and jetsam of the life in question as opposed to actual milestones and achievements.

The pace quickens and never flags once Waugh enters Oxford, where he quickly develops friendships with the likes of Harold Acton and Brian Howard, and embarks upon a series of homosexual relationships, the most profound and lasting with Hugh Lygon, second son of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, and the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte.

Byrne has painstakingly researched her material, and though her finished text is rich in detail and critical observances, it seems never heavy handed or in the least tedious. Nov 19, Terry rated it it was ok Shelves: non-fiction. I really wanted to like this book. I didn't.