My wife sent me a link to this article, from the Guardian (of course) entitled ” The real blame for England’s 20th-century decline lies with the snob who wrote Brideshead Revisited”. The guy basically says that it is Waugh’s fault that British people became sentimental about the aristocracy of their country with its old houses, etc., so that when the ordinary blokes of Britain got an education and a decent job, they were somehow prevented by this nostalgic mental obstruction from forming “a truly classless society”. He also says that Waugh blames the decline of Britain on the rise of the lower classes. I responded as follows:
This guy doesn’t get it, really. This review is about his own class anxiety. He should move to the States.
Everybody who says Waugh was nostalgic about the aristocracy is so wrong. He depicted them as ineffectual, often stupid, and doomed. He loved their buildings, paintings, furniture, lawns. They were the unworthy inheritors of something beautiful they did not make, did not deserve, and were about to lose. Charles Ryder, not an aristocrat, is the only person in the book who appreciates Brideshead for its beauty. The people who live there don’t see it. The people who turn it into a barracks don’t see it. The only man who can appreciate it cannot have it. Or, he could have had it, but he rejects the chance since sin is worse than losing the woman, the mansion, the paintings, the trees, the land, and (for that matter) everything in the whole world.
Waugh did not blame the decline of England on the rise of working class and middle class people. That is utterly stupid. He despised these people, sure. But Waugh’s schtick was to despise everybody, pretty much, especially himself or the character who is “him” — Guy Crouchback, Basil Seal, Charles Ryder. His whole corpus of work is a suppressed scream of anger at people who refuse to face reality and live up to their obligations. England is full of aristocrats who don’t take act like leaders in society, schoolteachers who don’t teach or who are child molesters, scholars who are ignorant and arrogant, soldiers who don’t know how to fight or who run away or who are barking mad if they are brave, priests who mouth platitudes and lack any faith, artists who have no taste or talent, bureaucrats who live in utter ignorance of the real world or the consequences of their actions, philanthropists who love animals and despise people. Etc. To single out loutish parvenus because you are one or your Dad was is to miss the entire point. Waugh’s world is one in which good or beautiful or true people or things or even thoughts are precious and scarce and fragile and worth preserving, though this rarely happens. It is a world of Christian pessimism saturated with an awareness of the consequences of original sin.
These stupid socialists see such a two dimensional world. They can live there if they want to, but leave Waugh out of it.
(The biggest influence on my interpretation of Waugh is Douglas Lane Patey’s biography.)