Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English

Department

College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Rachel Carnell

Subject Headings

British and Irish Literature, Language Arts, Literature, Modern Literature

Abstract

Critics have frequently commented on the nostalgic tone of Brideshead Revisited. Their assessment has been largely negative, with most considering Brideshead too sentimental about England’s aristocratic past. This current characterization fails to recognize Waugh’s critiques of such thinking in Brideshead, wherein he upends the nostalgic tropes of popular Oxford novels, illustrates the dangers of both insulated upper class living and thoughtless presentism through his depictions of various characters, and proposes a greater metaphysical drama through memory is at play in the novel. Brideshead offers nostalgia as an enlivening force which allows Charles Ryder to maintain a vibrant understanding for who he was and who he is now as a result, and consequently empowers him to move forward into an uncertain future. Waugh sees the past as a method for making sense of the present with memory bridging the gap between the two, while simultaneously rejecting any pretensions to preserve the past in its entirety. This theory is built into the narration of the novel itself, which is presented as an extended remembrance. Decoding the nuances of this narration reveals a shift in the narrator’s consciousness after interacting with his memories. By the epilogue, Charles as narrator has become inexplicably hopeful, which Waugh suggests is due to remembering, even that which must give Charles pain. Ultimately, I propose that Waugh’s nostalgia manages to be both melancholic and realistic, and as a result the elegy of Brideshead is more complex than critics have previously allowed.

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