A Companion to Evelyn Waughs Brideshead Revisited
Et in Arcadia ego
I meet Sebastian Flyte - and Anthony Blanche - I visit Brideshead for the first time
23 Et in Arcadia ego
I too am in Arcadia (Latin). Arcadia was celebrated in ancient times (by the Roman poet Virgil, among others) as a rural paradise where one could find innocence and true understanding. This meaning persisted throughout western civilisation until modern times. The original Arcadia was a central area of the Peloponnese in Greece. It is actually a mountainous and dangerous region but a people who exhibited generosity, simplicity and contentedness supposedly inhabited it in ancient times.
The point of the motto Et in Arcadia ego is that Death is speaking it. Even in the happiest times, Death is saying, decay and disaster are not far away. It seems that the phrase dates back to the early Renaissance (the fifteenth century) as it has not been traced any earlier; but it had a lively existence in many paintings and writings of that period.
Perhaps the mottos most celebrated appearance is in a painting of 1655 by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), where various puzzled Arcadian characters are tracing the barely-visible words on a tomb. Poussin had earlier (1627) painted an even more explicit version of the theme in which a skull can just be seen on the tomb. An earlier painting still (1622), and attributed to Giovanni Francesco Barbieri known as Il Guercino (1591-1666), shows two shepherds looking at a skull on a stone pedestal on which the words are inscribed. Charles soon comes to possess such a skull or memento mori - what his cousin Jasper calls a peculiarly noisome object. It has the motto inscribed on its forehead.
in England, a tall odoriferous plant of the rose family with white flowers. It likes to grow on damp soils, and so in meadows and ditches.
23 Eights Week
a period of five days in the fifth week of Oxford Universitys Trinity (summer) term, usually in early June, devoted to rowing and social events. Not only young women but parents, graduates and distinguished guests like to attend. Some of them are interested in rowing.
a legendary country which in Arthurian times connected Cornwall with the Scilly Isles and later was overwhelmed by the sea. (The date of this inundation is amazingly precise in some accounts : it happened on 11th November 1099. One man alone survived.)
Lyonnesse was the native land of the hero Tristram. Some people who consider themselves authorities in the matter postulate that it is the real Atlantis.
a picture produced by etching a copper plate in a sophisticated system of acid applications of varying lengths of time, each one biting more deeply into the unprotected areas of the ground, which are varied on each repetition (generally reduced) to give the required effect. The result is areas of varied tints similar to a watercolour wash. EW is emphasising the subdued but beautiful shades and tints of Oxford at that time.
23 Newmans day
The Venerable (Cardinal) John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was the most prominent scholar and clergyman in Oxford until his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. Since at that time the University was open only to members of the Church of England, he had to leave Oxford. His day was therefore the 1830s and early 1840s.
The broadly triangular extension to the top of the wall of a building formed by sloping roofs is called the gable or gable-end. Its shape and decoration can give great aesthetic pleasure.
small domes on roofs
23 the soft airs of centuries of youth
In the first edition of BR, EW wrote the soft vapours of a thousand years of learning. He was criticised for making Oxford University older than it was. He might have been amused to learn that recent research has shown that considerable learning was undertaken at Oxford in the eleventh century, long before the charter which recognised the universitys status in 1214. In any case, University College claims to have been founded by Alfred the Great (849-899, king from 871)!
23 cloistral hush
Cloisters were the covered walkways built by monks around an open courtyard adjoining a church or monastery. EWs phrase reminds readers that the ancient universities were church foundations and that these ecclesiastical origins persist in the architecture of Oxford.
23 claret cup
an iced summer drink made principally from claret, brandy, citrus, and sugar. A typical recipe of the time was :
1 quart Bordeaux wine, 2 tablespoons brandy, half a cup of Curaçao, sugar to taste, 1 quart mineral water, mint leaves, a third of a cup of orange (or orange and lemon) juice, cucumber rind, 12 strawberries. Mix all the ingredients except the mineral water, using enough sugar to sweeten to taste. Stand on ice to chill, and add the chilled mineral water just before serving.
The original idea was to hand the cup round with a clean napkin passed through one of the handles, that the edge of the cup may be wiped after each guest has partaken of the contents thereof. (Mrs Beeton)
A punt is a long, narrow, flat-bottomed boat with squared ends which is propelled along a river by a man wielding a long pole which he thrusts against the river bed. The operation requires some skill if it is to appear sufficiently elegant. It is characteristic of Oxford and Cambridge life in summer to while time away in such a manner.
23 college barges
Many Oxford colleges had their own moored barges from which to view the events on the river. Often they were beautifully decorated. Sadly, they have nearly all departed; their place has been taken by college boathouses on the river banks. Existing barges are often to be found elsewhere on the river, attached to hotels, for example.
founded in 1892, one of two long-lasting Oxford undergraduate magazines and here, presumably, of the offices. The other is called Cherwell (pronounced at that time, and often today too, as Charwell). EW wrote and illustrated for both, and for a short-lived magazine called The Oxford Broom founded by his friend Harold Acton. When he wrote for Isis, EW at first adopted the nom de plume of Scaramel.
The river Thames at Oxford is known as the Isis. Oxford is built on the neck of land formed by the Isis and a tributary of it called the Cherwell.
The Oxford Union, founded in 1823, is the premier forum for debating issues, great and small, in the University. It now attracts the very best speakers in the country and often the world, but in 1923 the speakers, with a few exceptions per year, were all students. The Union is also a centre for socialising.
23 Gilbert-and-Sullivan badinage
The operettas of Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) were and remain extremely popular. His librettist was Sir William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911); such was the power of his lyrics that, unusually, his name is joined with that of the composer. Gilberts words are fluent and witty in a manly, Victorian way; they are most characteristic, perhaps, when they are cruel and bumptious.
23 peculiar choral effects in the College chapels
EW was notably unmusical except in his writing. It is not clear whether he thinks that all the music in chapels is peculiar in intention or effect, or that choirs make a special effort to mock their visitors during Eights Week. In any case many colleges had chapels where services were said or sung every day.
a university lecturer or teacher. The word derives from the Latin word for master, dominus.
24 Natural Sciences
i.e. Science that deals with what is observable in nature (as opposed for example to Mathematics)
Generally, students rooms in colleges had two doors at their entrance. One was the normal door which opened into the room; the other was a thicker door known as the oak which was in the same frame but opened outwards into the passageway. The student indicated his desire to be undisturbed by closing this outer door and thus sporting his oak.
a male servant in an Oxford college, generally responsible for the cleaning and maintenance of a group of rooms. A relationship bordering on deep friendship sometimes developed between the students and their scouts.
i.e. Commemoration. Commemoration Services and Balls commemorate the foundation of the college and/or its founders. They are usually held at the end of the Trinity Term (in the summer) and so can be said also to commemorate the departing newly-rewarded graduates. Smaller colleges often have them every year; larger colleges, where there might be as many as 2500 guests, hold them biennially or triennially.
i.e. the Masonic Hall, which organised events like dances but would be out of bounds to students in the evening
Discipline inside the colleges was a matter for the colleges themselves. Discipline in the University as a whole and especially in the town was the province of the proctors. They were two officials, a Senior Proctor and a Junior Proctor, appointed annually by the University to supervise the behaviour of the students. A proctor performed the rounds of the town accompanied by assistants nicknamed bulldogs who were virtually university policemen and actually called marshalls. The proctors could recommend sanctions to the appropriate college authority (or in serious breaches, the University itself) for enforcement, but in general themselves imposed fines or a sentence of gating on undergraduate defaulters. A student who was gated had to remain in his college after 9.10 p.m. (see my note to Great Tom on page 31).
24 white crêpe de Chine
a light smooth silk fabric, used to make delicate articles of clothing
a haberdashers of great distinction founded in 1838, still extant. The shop is in the Place Vendôme in Paris.
25 Château Peyraguey
Two châteaux in Sauternes bear this name, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey and Château Clos Haut-Peyraguey; both produce a superb white wine, generally but foolishly considered a dessert wine. Until 1879 the two châteaux were one, but then a family quarrel divided them. Clos Haut is sometimes known simply as Château Peyraguey, but we know from his Diary that EW drank 1924 Lafaurie-Peyraguey on 19th November 1937 - Delicious wine he commented. After a period in the twentieth century when the wines produced were relatively unimpressive, connoisseurs today generally prefer Lafaurie to Clos Haut, but both retain the premier cru classification awarded to the united domain in 1855.
It is conceivable that Sebastian has brought along a true Château Peyraguey, i.e. one made before the split in 1879. (We learn later that there are plenty of old wines at Brideshead that need drinking up - on page 81 we read that there are vintages that are fifty years old.) It could even be pre-phylloxera wine, since French vineyards were slow to combat the invasion of this devastating pest. The Peyraguey that Sebastian and Charles drink would have aged nobly and would probably not be past its best.
Now supposed by dictionaries to be purely a formal term for an automobile in England, it is surprisingly hardy. I still hear the phrase quite frequently. Car is certainly much more common.
The Morris automobile works were at Cowley near Oxford. They opened in 1912 and by 1923 they were already very successful and the district was well into the process of industrialisation that was to end Oxfords reputation for serenity, at least until modern policies of pedestrianisation and exclusion came into force.
The Morris Cowley was produced from 1915 to 1926 especially for the British and Empire markets, which it dominated by the mid-1920's. It was distinguished in its appearance by its prominent, rounded radiator, which soon inspired the nickname Bullnose. Unlike the Ford Model T with which it competed, the Bullnose was at first built out of bought-in components, though as the business grew, these were gradually moved in-house or the suppliers were taken over. Its inventor, William Morris, later Lord Nuffield (1877-1963), wrested supremacy in the British market from Ford UK by a policy of cutting prices to the margins so that by 1925 a Cowley cost only £162.
25 teddy bear
The name teddy bear was invented in late 1902, though Steiff were producing jointed bears a year or two earlier in Germany. The toy was named after President Theodore Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919, 26th president of the United States 1901-1909), who enjoyed hunting the real article. The nation was enchanted to hear that the President had refused to shoot a tied-up and exhausted bear, and two Brooklyn shopkeepers Morris and Rose Michtom were spurred on to make the first American teddy bear in his honour. They went on to make their fortune with their Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. The bear used in the television series of BR was an Ideal bear.
It is generally considered that EW picked up the idea of having a student carry round a teddy bear from his younger friend John Betjeman, the poet (1906-1984), who carried a bear named Archie around with him when he was at Oxford, but it seems that many Oxford undergraduates did something similar. Beverly Nichols had a toy rabbit named Cuthbert and Keith Douglas (not the poet but a musician and colleague of EWs on the undergraduate magazine Cherwell) displayed a bear in public a little earlier than did Betjeman.
25 St. Marys
Saint Mary the Virgin, the Universitys own church in the High Street
25 the wrong side of the High Street
In England this means he was cycling on the right, since all traffic should travel on the left. This eccentricity is a survival from a more leisured age when it did not much matter where you cycled. In ALL, EW states that even in 1922-3 he doubted that there were thirty cars in the university owned by dons or undergraduates.
A carfax is a central crossing of four roads. The Carfax at Oxford is perhaps the most famous in England. In 1923 it looked like this.
25 Botley road
Botley is a village just to the west of Oxford on the road to Swindon and Bristol.
25 Well, I did tell him ten.
In this light, flippant way we are introduced to Sebastians adroit reliance on deception. We are forewarned very early.
a major industrial (and then a railway) town. Here Sebastian turned south into rural Wiltshire.
26 dry-stone walls
field walls which have been made without mortar. They require considerable skill and occasional maintenance.
26 ashlar houses
Ashlar is now used to describe thin slivers of stone that are used to cover houses with a false facing, the intention being to give an effect which is not the original one. Thus one can have a Derbyshire stone cottage apparently but incongruously erected in lush rural Kent, if one wishes. In the eighteenth century in particular, Wiltshire houses (and houses in many other counties) which originally had walls made of rubble were converted into elegant residences by the use of ashlar, often the local limestone.
There are now few English elms left in Britain owing to the ravages of Dutch elm disease. Thirty (and therefore eighty) years ago elms were an important feature of Englands landscape. Christ Church College had a notable elm walk.
the process in British universities by which a student is admitted. Nowadays it is entirely formal, the student already having qualifications, but in the twenties it might have involved an examination.
A rectangular court, with a grass garden, formed by having buildings on all four sides. This design is characteristic of the older university colleges. The one Ryder lived in is almost certainly the Old Quad in Hertford College, which was where EWs rooms were.
Colleges at Oxford employ various terms for their head. Warden is used by several of them; other titles include President, Master, Principal, Dean, Rector and Provost. As EWs own college, Hertford, has a Principal and not a Warden, one assumes at first that Charles Ryder did not go there. Later in the novel (in his walk to Sebastians rooms in Christ Church) it seems that he did! Consistency to real life in such points is perhaps not a vital element in a novel.
a gentlemens club in Pall Mall, London. Its members are prominent in the arts, sciences and public service. Its membership is select.
26 Etruscan notions of immortality
Mr Ryder is interested in esoteric, not to say obscure, scholarly topics. All that is known of Etruscan religion is its use of divination, its belief in gods similar to those of the Romans, its human sacrifice, and its belief in a golden age which returns regularly.
26-7 extension lectures for the working-class
The idea of universities running schemes of education for the working-class was already decades old in 1923. (Lady Bracknell mentions them with some asperity in Oscar Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest.) Mr Ryder has no intention of talking about them.
27 but it all comes out of capital, you know
One would naturally expect Mr Ryder to say and it all comes as if it is a regrettable matter. He appears to be implying that Charles is only wasting his own inheritance by agreeing to such a large allowance.
This is the fictional name of the Ryder family seat. The hints given by Mr Ryder and Jasper seem to suggest that the Ryders were in origin a fairly well-off landed family with an easy, moneyed, honoured lifestyle. Charles is not therefore a poor lad taken up by a rich friend.
27 a tall hat
i.e. a top hat
27 rowing blue
recognition of the highest status in the sport in the University. Jasper had been on the short list of candidates to row in the famous annual Boat Race against Cambridge University. If he had raced, he would immediately have been awarded his blue. The term comes from the colours sported by the Universities, Cambridge light blue and Oxford dark blue.
a University political and debating society named after George Canning (1770-1827), Foreign Secretary in the Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic eras, and briefly Prime Minister. In his biography of Monsignor Ronald Knox, EW states that its members met to read and discuss papers on political questions to the antiquated accompaniment of snuff-box, silver punch bowl, and churchwarden pipes. This silver, according to EW in ALL, was lost during the war.
Junior Common Room, the chief organisation for the undergraduates of a college. It would have had some recognised powers in the running of college activities.
27-8 Fullers walnut cake
Fullers was a tea-shop in Oxford whose cakes were proverbially delectable : Nancy Mitford also mentions its walnut cake as an expensive delicacy in Love in a Cold Climate. Like Lyons Corner Houses, Fullers Tea Rooms were to be found in many towns and cities. There was a middle-class ambience, partly because their waitresses dressed in black.
a chair made of wickerwork or cane
28 The very worst is English literature
EW himself held this opinion all his life, though one of his daughters studied the subject. It was reinforced from the 1930s by his distaste for the approach adopted at Cambridge University by Dr F.R. Leavis (1895-1978) and his disciples. Leavis believed that literature should be closely related to criticism of life and that critics should examine an authors moral position.
28 Modern Greats
a subject combination at the University. As EW says in ALL, it is now called P.P.E., i.e. Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He calls it a disreputable school which was for publicists and politicians. A faculty with this name was created in Oxford in the 1920s.
28 first ... fourth
classes of honours degree. A first is supreme, a sign of the highest talent and application; a fourth is the lowest pass and indicates at least considerable idleness. (A pass degree was lowest of all and did not count as an honours degree.)
28 good second
likewise a class of degree. At this time second class degrees were not split into two divisions (known as 2-1 and 2-2) as they are today. So a student would have known that his second was good only if his tutor had told him, no doubt with pitying condescension, that he had nearly got a first.
28 Arkwright on Demosthenes
Demosthenes (384-322 B.C.) was the great Athenian orator who opposed the Macedonian menace. His speeches have inspired writers, orators and politicians down to our own day. Arkwright was clearly a don whose lectures on Demosthenes were profound, informative and entertaining, though unfortunately I have not discovered if he actually existed.
Jaspers strictures are intended to help Charles maintain a high standard, even if he goes into debt for a time. Ordinary students would wear tweed coats and flannel trousers because they were cheaper.
a Conservative political and social club with rooms in George Street, Oxford, to be distinguished in its importance from the major one in London though it attempted to sustain the atmosphere of a London club. EW was a member.
i.e. the Gridiron, an exclusive dining and drinking club in Oxford
Another political discussion society, named after William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham (1708-1778). It had no site of its own but met in various college rooms. EW belonged to it at Oxford and states in ALL that they met over mulled claret.
28 Keep clear of Boars
Boars Hill was a village to the south-west of Oxford. Many dons lived there. It was supposed to contain young females who were always on the lookout to entrap eligible young undergraduates into devotion, engagement and marriage. But a more likely explanation of Jaspers aversion is that a number of ladies (e.g. Lady Keeble) maintained literary salons in Boars Hill which encouraged a stifling rather than liberating air of intellectual seriousness. These might on the other hand be sufficiently attractive to inveigle students away from their books to the delights of intelligent social discourse.
There is a splendid and famous view of Oxford from Boars Hill.
baggy trousers gathered and fastened just below the knee, worn mainly for golf, hunting and other pastoral pursuits. The name comes from the extra four inches of material needed to allow the over-hanging at the knee band.
28 Leander tie
Leander is a rowing club based at Henley, the members of which have been invited to join and so are a select band. In those days they were invariably university men. Its tie is in the club colours, pink.
members of the Church of England who consider their church to be a full member of the Catholic Church and therefore accept all the doctrine and ritual of the Roman Catholic Church. The splendour of the ceremonies they arranged, which in general outshone those of the Romans, did attract showy homosexual males, but Jaspers condemnation is no doubt excessive.
A certain number of dinners had to be eaten in college, in the dining hall. Some men would have had them all there - it was often cheaper to do this than to dine out at restaurants. The dinner was a formal occasion for which all the diners would have worn their academic gowns.
an old name for flowers of the pink or carnation family (pronounced jilly-flowers), with sweet-smelling scents reminiscent of cloves. (In England there was some confusion because the name was sometimes given to stocks and wallflowers also; these were often called stock gillyflowers and wall gillyflowers.)
In the passage that follows, Charles wishes he had displayed a more mature and sophisticated taste when first at Oxford. In later life he develops a love for older, even Victorian objets dart, and he wishes he had done so at university instead of following a modern taste that was not his own.
29 Morris stuffs
Wallpapers and materials with designs by William Morris were still very popular with many people in 1923, but were losing ground with youth.
29 Arundel prints
Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1595-1646) was the first great English art collector. He amassed a vast collection of art objects. Many classical statues and sculptures he excavated in Italy are now to be seen at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He was particularly fond of Flemish, Dutch, German, and Italian paintings of the sixteenth century, Dürer and Holbein being especial favourites.
In his honour a society was formed in 1848 which had the aim of reproducing works by famous artists in order to promote public interest in art. It was wound up in 1897 but seven years later the Arundel Club was started to print reproductions of works otherwise inaccessible in private collections. The prints produced by both initiatives became popular with the art-loving general public.
29 French novels of the second empire
The Second Empire lasted from 1852 to 1870 and had one ruler, Emperor Napoleon III. The novels he means are probably literary efforts by Hugo, the young Zola, Flaubert, Dumas père and fils, and the Goncourt brothers. In the circumstances they are unlikely to be the possible alternative, lighter and racier efforts of general appeal and no special distinction, the kind that were hidden behind cushions when unexpected visitors arrived.
Though Russia was for over a century the major world producer of high quality leather, Russia Leather was the term given to a soft kind of leather, made originally in Russia but later elsewhere, which has a characteristic odour from being treated with an oil obtained from birch bark. It was and is much used in bookbinding, as it is not susceptible to mould and resists the attentions of insects.
There are several ways of making watered silk. A design can be printed on the warp before weaving so that, when finished, the silk looks as if it has been dampened. These days it is generally passed through a set of rollers as a fabric finishing process, to give the surface a moire pattern.
29 Van Goghs Sunflowers
the most famous print of all, though perhaps not in 1923; Charles is soon going to reject it
29 Roger Fry
He was an art historian, critic, and painter (1866-1934), who played a vital role in introducing modern art to the British public. His predominant attitude may be detected in his statement : The corruption of taste and the emotional insincerity of the mass of the people has gone so far that any picture which pleased more than 10% of the population should be immediately burned (Vision and Design). As he was both a champion of early Modernism, especially through the two Post-Impressionist exhibitions that he organized in London in 1910 and 1912, and a member of the Bloomsbury Group, Fry was doubly antipathetic to EW, though he did read Frys books. Frys own painting was certainly second-rate at best.
29 Provençal landscape
Provence is the most south-easterly of the provinces of France, a centre of high culture throughout much of the Middle Ages and for a time a kingdom in its own right. It is famous for its sun-soaked landscapes.
29 Omega workshops
Roger Fry founded these in Fitzroy Square, London, in 1913 to produce decorated furniture, pottery, clothes, etc., according to his own aesthetic principles. (The site at number 33 is now the London Foot Hospital & School of Podiatric Medicine.) The artefacts created here displayed the influence of Post-Impressionism, Bohemianism, and African folk art and were simple in design and brightly coloured. World War I and Frys autocratic temperament prevented the natural growth of the venture and it foundered in 1919.
29 McKnight Kauffer
Edward McKnight Kauffer (1891-1954) was a talented American designer. He made his reputation in England designing posters in the 20s and 30s, e.g. for London Transport (to be displayed on hoardings and in stations) and for Shell Oil. McKnight Kauffer was also a prolific and striking book illustrator and attempted stage design with some success.
29 Rhyme Sheets from the Poetry Bookshop
illustrated sheets of favourite poems, extremely popular with everybody. The Poetry Bookshop also published collections in book form of the popular poets of the age as well as of classics, often with decorative detail and illustrations by leading practitioners of the art including Claud Lovat Fraser, whom EW much admired.
The Poetry Bookshop, which flourished in Devonshire Street, London, from 1913 to 1935, was opened and run by the poet Harold Monro (1879-1932) and in later years by his widow Alida. While it existed, the Poetry Bookshop was a natural centre for writers in London : Edward Thomas, Robert Frost and Wilfred Owen (among others) actually lived on the premises for a time.
29 Polly Peachum
a leading female character in John Gays ballad opera The Beggars Opera. She was a favourite subject for English porcelain figures, especially in the early years of the twentieth century.
29 Vision and Design
Roger Frys most influential book, published in 1920. It expressed his admiration of strong design in art, especially cubism in painting. For him, form took precedence over content : that is, how a work looks rather than what it is about. He thought that artists should use colour and arrangement of forms rather than the subject to express their ideas and feelings. Works of art should not be judged by how accurately they represent reality. Clive Bell thought much the same (see below). Despite Ryders strictures, Vision and Design is not a meagre and commonplace book.
29 the Medici Press edition of A Shropshire Lad
Almost certainly EW means the Medici Society edition. Philip Lee Warner and Eustace Gurney founded the Medici Society in 1908 to bring artists work to the appreciation of a wider public. Their publications were elegant and attractive, and the Society exists to this day. It was the Riccardi Press, created in 1909 to service the Medici Society, that actually printed this volume, in 1914; it was in fact a reprint of an 1896 edition.
A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman (1859-1936) was by 1923 an extremely popular book of poetry with the public; it had first been published in 1896. It contains poetry with a unique blend of folk ballad and classical structure whose main themes are thwarted love, despair and failure and whose main mood is melancholy. In poetic circles the reaction against Housman was setting in by 1923, as can be seen in the following parody by Hugh Kingsmill (though he should have used the word lad) :
What, still alive at twenty-two
A clean upstanding chap like you?
29 Eminent Victorians
a book of biography by Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) published in 1918. The four biographies (of Cardinal Manning, Dr Thomas Arnold, Florence Nightingale and General Gordon) were written with the intention of displaying flaws. He did not easily let truth get in the way.
29 Georgian Poetry
the Georgian poets were the English poets who came to middle age in the period 1910-1920 (the first years of King George Vs reign). Their poetry was generally conventional in form, lyrical in style, and safe (not to say banal) in subject. Its influence was swept away by the impacts of modernism and World War I. The Poetry Bookshop published the first of five volumes of Georgian Poetry, dealing with poetry of the years 1911-12 and edited by Edward Marsh, in 1913. Later volumes dealt with the years 1913-15, 1916-17, 1918-19 and 1920-22.
29 Sinister Street
a novel by Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) published in 1913. EW loved it as a young man and so did I; in his diary for 24th June 1920 he wrote, It is incomparably good and I am quite delighted. Book Three (Dreaming Spires) is set in Oxford near the turn of the 20th century. Cyril Connolly, one of EWs contemporaries at Oxford, says, however, that the book is a work of inflation, important because it is the first of a long line of bad books (Enemies of Promise). John Betjeman on the other hand says that that section is a classic in itself, where Oxford novel-writing is concerned (An Oxford University Chest : Notes on Some Oxford Novels).
29 South Wind
a novel by Norman Douglas (1868-1952) published in 1917. It has undoubtedly dated, despite its humour. Cyril Connolly : a book, which ... remains a flower of the intellectual school (ibid). EW himself thought it the only great satirical novel of his (Douglass) generation.
a man who went to school at Winchester College (pronounced Wickam-ist). The name comes from the colleges founder William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester (1324-1404). Wykehamists were considered serious, clannish and ambitious.
Until EWs generation came to Oxford in about 1923 the aesthetes were merely pale shadows of famous figures like Oscar Wilde from what was then the distant past, the last thirty years of the previous century. Their leading figures were untalented loafers who gave the impression of mooning about Oxford to no effect. EWs friend Harold Acton set out to develop a new kind of aesthete, an actively creative person of taste and wide culture. In doing this, perhaps not inadvertently, he saddled his followers with that oddity of dress, Oxford bags, i.e. exceptionally wide-legged trousers.
29 Iffley Road ... Wellington Square
places in Oxford where cheaper lodgings could then be found. In his Isis article on Harold Acton EW wrote : There was a grim pipe-smoking intelligentsia who lived in Wellington Square. The squares charms have not been increased in recent times by modern building, including the University Offices.
29 sixth form
In independent and many grammar schools, this was the final stage of a pupils educational career before going on to university. Usually it was for youngsters of the ages of 16, 17 and 18. This stage is now known as Years 12 and 13.
30 Significant Form
an artistic theory first promulgated by Clive Bell (1881-1964) in his book Art (1914). He asserted that the relationships and combinations of lines and colours were the most important elements in works of art. The aesthetic emotion aroused in the viewer by a painting, he states, derives primarily from his apprehension of these elements (which Bell called its significant form), rather than from his understanding of its subject matter.
Collins is arguing that if the subject of a painting is not important in understanding it, then there is no basis for judging it to be sentimental and so condemning it as worthless, as was often the practice especially among those who supported Bell.
Charles understands the issues better when, soon after, Sebastian rejects one of Bells arguments. Bell believed that created forms (a cathedral, a painting) were superior to forms created in nature (flowers, a butterfly) because a perceptive and aesthetic mind used to manipulating formal patterning had produced them.
EW thoroughly detested the views of modern critics such as Bell and Roger Fry. Though he cannot be considered a lover of nature in a regular mould, he did like to detect in art a similarity to real life. Indeed he developed, much against prevailing fashion, a taste for Victorian genre painting in which there was a strong narrative and realistic element.
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), great French Post-impressionist painter, whose works and ideas were influential in 20th-century art movements
Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), British painter best known for his paintings of animals
a barbers shop in Oxford
30 Lord Sebastian Flyte
as the Marquesss second son, Sebastian is formally titled Lord Sebastian Flyte. If he had later had a son the boy would have been a commoner and would not succeed to a lordship. In this way the British aristocracy kept itself small in numbers, a characteristic not found in most of the rest of Europe, where all sons had titles and often rights of inheritance. Thus British aristocrats retained large estates while many continental ones were reduced over time to owning nearly nothing. (NB later Lord Marchmain will bequeath the whole Brideshead estate to Julia. His sons could not even by legal action prevent him from doing this.)
The most notable person to demonstrate this jettisoning effect at the time of writing is the Queens grandson, Mr Peter Phillips, who is a commoner though his mother is the Princess Royal and he is tenth in line of succession to the Crown.
30 Marquis of Marchmain
A marquess is second in rank only to a duke in lay precedence in the House of Lords. It ranks above earl, viscount, baron and all other inherited titles outside the royal family. In general speech he would be called Lord Marchmain.
It is notable that EW did not choose to spell the title Marquess. In a letter to Anthony Powell (31st May 1956) he gave as his justification the fact that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India and nearly Prime Minister, had preferred Marquis. Nearly all others of that rank, however, prefer Marquess, the exceptions being Scottish marquises whose titles were created before the Union with England (1707).
30 Earl of Brideshead
A peers eldest son is entitled to take his fathers second title as a courtesy while his father is alive. It must rank below that of his father. Likewise, the peers third title, lower ranking still, can be taken by his eldest sons first son.
Sebastians teddy bear has a remarkable name (pronounced al-oo-ish-us). He is almost certainly named after Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591), a young Jesuit who died shortly before ordination while nursing plague victims whom he refused to abandon. Saint Aloysius was, and still is, the patron of youth. He is also the patron of the Roman Catholic parish in Oxford.
the George Inn in George Street, now demolished. EW thought its food expensive and bad but often ate there. In ALL he calls it a wretched restaurant which was the fashion. John Betjeman in An Oxford University Chest (1937) writes, however : There is no really good restaurant in Oxford, the nearest approach to one being The George where Madame et Monsieur Ersham as host and hostess are known to generations of undergraduates. (Chapter 4)
The works of the psychoanalyst Siegmund Freud (1856-1939) were making rapid progress in Britain at this time. EW was dubious about his theories but interested in them.
31 mulled claret
a delicious drink when prepared well, and most welcome on winter evenings. The simplest preparation is to put a red-hot poker fresh from the fire into a tankard of wine, but most recipes insist on additions : spices, sugar, lemon, etc. My advice is to underdo the spices as much as possible. EW himself volunteered a recipe to As We Like It : Cookery Recipes by Famous People, a book published in 1950, which stated :
Take 6 bottles of red wine (it would be improper to use really fine Bordeaux, but the better the wine, the better the concoction). Any sound claret or burgundy will do. One cupful of water; 2 port glasses of brandy; 1 port glass of ginger wine; 1 orange stuffed with cloves; peel of 2 lemons; 3 sticks of cinnamon; 1 grated nutmeg. Heat in covered cauldron. Do not allow to simmer. Serve hot and keep hot on the hob. Should be drunk at same temperature as tea.
a division of philosophy concerned with the nature of reality and existence
The House is the common nickname for Christ Church College, which is Sebastians college. It derives from its Latin title, Aedes Christi (House of Christ).
31 till Tom stops ringing
the large bell at Christ Church College is known as Great Tom. Its most famous tolling is 101 strokes at 9.05 p.m. Since it was distinctive and could be heard all over Oxford, the proctors used this signal as the time by which gated students had to be back in their college. By the last stroke of midnight all students of Christ Church had to be in the grounds of the college.
In ALL EW states that the Hertford College gates were closed at 9 p.m., after which time no-one could go out and no visitor was allowed in. Students already out could return to college normally until 11 oclock, but if they returned from 11 to midnight their names were taken and they had to pay a small fine. After midnight nobody was allowed in, which meant that climbing walls and roofs was necessary.
31 he was sick
Anthony Bushell, an Oxford friend of EWs who became an accomplished actor (he played Sir Andrew Ffoulkes in the 1934 film of The Scarlet Pimpernel), stated that EW was himself the victim of such an unwelcome intrusion in his ground-floor rooms at Hertford.
a former pupil of the prestigious independent school Eton College, which is situated near Slough. Sebastian Flyte is an Etonian.
32 five shillings
A shilling was a coin in the currency which was legal tender in Britain until the early 1970s, when decimal currency replaced it and the name disappeared. 20 shillings made up one pound (£) and 12 pence a shilling. Five shillings was therefore a quarter of a pound (or 25p in modern terms).
32 conté crayon
a hard drawing crayon made of clay and graphite named in honour of a French inventor, Nicolas Conté (1755-1805)
32 Whatman H.P. drawing paper
among the best art paper, a fact of which Sebastian is either unaware or careless. It is particularly suitable for fine watercolour or pen and ink work. Whatman paper has been used by English artists back to Gainsborough and Turner. H.P. stands for Hot Pressed; the paper has a very smooth surface which is achieved in the manufacture by pressure between heated surfaces.
cheap food supplied by the college (e.g. bread and cheese), eaten away from the college hall
32 enchanted garden
The theme of an enchanted garden was powerful at this time because of the popularity of books such as The Secret Garden (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) and The Enchanted April (1922) by Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941), not to mention Alice in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll (pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 18321898). The growing dehumanisation of industrialised and urbanised society encouraged such thoughts of escape to natural beauty and contentment; the similarity to Arcadia is notable.
33 Meadow Buildings
Meadow Buildings had been built in the Venetian style in the middle of the 19th century and were in the general estimation of the period the ugliest in Christ Church College, which otherwise had splendid Renaissance and neo-classical architecture. They are not considered so ugly today. EW puts Sebastian there because this is where his friend Harold Acton chose to domicile himself as a deliberate act of homage to mid-Victorian values.
33 plovers egg
a rare treat, not often seen today. Indeed in Britain plovers are now given protection to prevent extinction.
33 Dolbear and Goodall
Oxford chemists shop
a small organ given voice by bellows operated by the players feet. We do not discover whether Sebastian is truly musical.
33 gothic case
The Gothic period of art and architecture lasted from the 12th to the 15th centuries. The case for this harmonium would have been built in a style suggested by gothic themes. Artistic effects would be created by a suggestion of pointed arches, vaulting and columns and the use of such Gothic emblems as fleurs-de-lys, quatrefoils, chevrons and embrasures.
the world-famous porcelain produced from 1756 at the factory near Paris
Honoré Daumier, French caricaturist (1808-1879), famous for his drawings criticising politics and society
33 London hostesses
these are the great ladies of London high society who ask the latest sensational young man to grace their dances. Some of them would be looking for husbands for their daughters.
33 They always lay early for her.
The first mention of Lady Marchmain is remarkable. Sebastian implies that she is so dominating that even birds obey her wishes.
34 lobster Newburg
a dish in which chunks of lobster are presented in a sherry and cream sauce
i.e. football, probably rugby. The idea of Anthony Blanche playing rugby football is ludicrous.
34 from Cherwell Edge to Somerville
This phrase means among the women undergraduates of Oxford. Cherwell Edge was a convent-hostel for Catholic women undergraduates in the east of the city, in the care of the Holy Child Jesus sisters and Jesuit priests. It was situated near the River Cherwell, naturally, and is today the site of Linacre College. Somerville College was until the 1990s a college for women only.
Megaphones had some cultural currency at this time. EWs Oxford friend Harold Acton used to recite poems, not just The Waste Land but his own and those of the Sitwells, through a megaphone. Crooners with weak voices used them on pier heads, beaches and even the stage. In 1923, in the entertainment Façade and to the music of William Walton, Edith Sitwell recited her own poems through a megaphone (actually a Sengerphone) inserted into a decorated traverse curtain.
34 The Waste Land
The great poem by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), just published in 1922. The lines that Blanche quotes come from Part 3, The Fire Sermon, and in particular the section dealing with the loveless coupling of the typist and the young man carbuncular. Though EW was by 1944 generally unsympathetic to modern art in all its forms, Eliots poetry seems to have had a fascination for him from the time Harold Acton introduced it to him; in his Diary he called the poems incredibly good (13th January 1926). The title of EWs novel A Handful of Dust is taken from The Waste Land.
34 Grace Darlings
a reference to a great heroine of Victorian times (1815-1842). In 1838 she and her father William Darling, the keeper of the Longstone lighthouse on the Farne Islands, managed to launch a small boat and row a mile through a storm to rescue four men and a woman clinging to a rock. This effort was all the more remarkable because she was consumptive; she died four years later.
the liqueur from France made chiefly from orange peel, from both sweet and bitter oranges. It has been made since 1849.
34 Home they brought her warrior dead
The words are from The Princess by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). The great composer Gustav Holst set these words in 1905, but the song is more likely to be that by Lily Teresa Strickland (1887-1958), whose setting had recently been published. The lugubrious nature of the song can be judged from the first verse :
Home they brought her warrior
She neither swoond nor utterd cry:
All her maidens, watching, said,
She must weep or she must die.
35 stick you full of barbed arrows like a p-p-pin-cushion
This statement seems so unmotivated and violent that it has attracted much attention. Perhaps Sebastians exquisite control of situation and manners has irked Blanches sense of his own unique impressiveness in company. In any case he has chosen a famous image from art and martyrology to express his ambivalence towards Sebastian : he is referring to the manner of the death of Sebastians sainted namesake : Saint Sebastian was used as a target for archers.
Some see in this reference a homosexual meaning. Saint Sebastian, in one legend, was killed for refusing, out of Christian righteousness, to admit the sexual advances of a superior officer. Perhaps, they think, Blanche is alluding to a refusal by Sebastian to accommodate his passion for the epicene beauty (page 33) that Ryder also notices in his friend.
35 Botanical Gardens
The University has its own botanical garden on the High Street opposite Magdalen College. It was founded in 1621, when it was known as the Oxford Physick Garden.
Merton claims to be the oldest college in the University. It possibly is, though University College claims to have been founded by King Alfred in 872! Sebastian and Charles are obviously walking down Merton Street rather than the busier High Street, which is parallel.
35 another hour
The timing is revealing. They left Oxford at nine oclock and drove for two hours, leaving Swindon behind them before stopping for wine and strawberries. They then drove for another hour (three in all so far) and then dined at the farmhouse inn. They drove on after an unspecified lunchtime and for an unspecified period before arriving in the early afternoon. They can hardly have driven for much less than a total of four hours. On the roads of that time they could not have averaged much above 20 m.p.h., which puts Brideshead at (say) between 60 and 100 miles from Oxford.
36 old house
17th/18th century, as we learn later.
Much of the description of Brideshead is reminiscent of Castle Howard which the splendid television production actually used for the exteriors. That great house, however, is in Yorkshire. EW took some details of the chapel from his memories of Madresfield Court, the seat of his friends the Lygon family. Madresfield is not far from Malvern, a few miles from where the Warwickshire/Worcestershire Avon joins the River Severn. Later we find out that Brideshead is not in Yorkshire, Warwickshire or Worcestershire.
36 in London
In high society, June is the height of the season. The London season lasts from early May to early August, when the opening of the shooting season drives sportsmen and their families to their country estates.
36 Nanny Hawkins
A nanny brought up almost every child born into a well-off family at this time. She was employed full-time to take care of the children, living in the family home and often developing a closer relationship with them than did their mother. After their childhood the nanny would sometimes stay on as a favoured retired servant, as Nanny Hawkins does here.
the famous Renaissance château in the Loire region of France, built 1519-1547 for King Francis I
the circular supporting structure under the dome. It is usually designed to provide more rooms.
one of the Greek-style buildings in the grounds, probably circular in shape. It would have no religious significance at all. It became a craze among English landowners in the eighteenth century to build such neo-classical structures on their estates.
a memorial column, based on Egyptian models or (more likely here) originally from Egypt even if transported first to Italy, as often happened. Obelisks were long, thin, four-sided shafts with a pyramid at the top. In ancient Egypt, pairs of them often flanked temple entrances.
a set of devotional beads customarily found among Catholics (see my note to page 90)
37 Conservative Women
The Conservative Party has been one of the two main political parties in Britain since the 1830s; before that it was called the Tory Party, as by common usage it still is. The ladies group forms a strong element in every local political party. They would meet for an afternoon at least once a month for discussion and tea.
i.e. the Agricultural Show, which takes place at Brideshead once a year. (It is described on page 85.) The farmers, landowners and land workers would meet to discuss the state of agriculture, see the latest developments and compete for prizes for the best produce and animals.
38 bringing out ... débutante
When a girl from a good family reached the age of 17 she was introduced into society, often to search for a husband, by attending a ball arranged in her honour. This was called coming out; their mothers were bringing them out. At this time there were also a Debutantes Ball and a ceremony at court at which they were all formally presented to the King and Queen. For the rest of this first season of their adulthood they were known as debutantes. The newspapers followed the whole series of events closely.
38 cut her hair
By 1923 the craze in fashion for young women to look like young men was well advanced. Short hair was mandatory.
the earliest form of colour reproduction. It involved preparing a separate stone by hand for each colour to be used and printing one colour over another. It was the most popular method of colour reproduction until the end of the 19th century.
38 Sacred Heart
a picture then seen in almost every Catholic home, representing Jesus with his heart red, prominent and radiantly shining, though circled by thorns. The picture was an expression of a characteristic Catholic devotion not entirely unknown today. I still see oleographs of the Sacred Heart in the houses of older Catholics.
38 damascened silver
silver objects which have engraved lines on them as decoration, often wavy
an object made out of decorative mineral stone from Derbyshire. The name comes from the blue streak which the stone contains. Now that the veins of Derbyshire blue-john are as good as exhausted, larger objects made from the stone are rare and highly prized.
38-9 All my life theyve been taking things away from
This is a clue to Sebastians deep-seated unease.
39 Queen Alexandras Day
Soon called Alexandra Rose Day, this was an annual day of charitable giving created by Queen Alexandra (1844-1925), wife of King Edward VII, to raise money for hospitals. The family opens Brideshead to the public on this day. In modern times the Alexandra Rose Day organisation co-ordinates the efforts of many small charities to raise money on this day.
a decorative moulding down the corridor (or around a room) where the walls and ceiling meet. This one has been gilded for increased magnificence.
39 coved ceiling
A ceiling was coved if there was a curve to the top of the wall where it joined the ceiling.
Fresco is the art of painting on wet plaster, a technique which reached its peak in the Sistine Chapel under Raphael and Michelangelo.
Scagliola is an artificial material which imitated marble but was made out of plaster of Paris coloured by the addition of pigments. The early Italian examples of scagliola imitated marble all the more successfully because they did contain a surface created partially with marble dust. It was of course far cheaper than marble though the process for making it is skilled and time-consuming.
shallow columns projecting out of a wall, apparently holding the wall and ceiling up but often merely decorative
39 art nouveau
an ornamental style of art that flourished between about 1890 and 1910 throughout Europe and the United States. Art Nouveau (which means the new art) is characterized by its use of a long, sinuous line which is more important than other pictorial elements such as form, texture, space, and colour. Themes and ornamentation are usually taken from nature.
a passageway formed by two rows of columns with a roof above
39 water stoup
In all Catholic churches and chapels there is by the entrance a basin, often of stone, containing holy water. Catholics dip the tips of their fingers in and make the sign of the cross as they enter and leave.
Sebastian dropped onto one knee (possibly while making the sign of the cross) and then rose again. This is a common Catholic mode of acknowledging ones presence before God in a church.
39 arts-and-crafts style
The Arts and Crafts Movement was an English aesthetic movement of the second half of the 19th century. It was the beginning of a new appreciation of the decorative arts throughout Europe. In 1861 William Morris, disgusted by the artistic banality of modern domestic arts, founded a firm of interior decorators and manufacturers dedicated to recapturing the spirit and quality of medieval craftsmanship. Morris and his companions produced handcrafted metalwork, jewellery, wallpaper, textiles, furniture, and books. This movement influenced Art Nouveau, but is not to be confused with it.
Brideshead chapel is a good example of it, and is a pretty accurate account of the chapel at Madresfield Court. The angels painted on the walls at Madresfield are portraits of EWs friends as children.
40 Celtic script
i.e. a nineteenth century handwriting script developed out of the study of medieval Irish manuscripts, of which the most famous is the Book of Kells. Such scripts had a vogue then and influenced the modern Irish script one sees on public notices in the Republic of Ireland today.
40 saints in armour
In Madresfield Court chapel there is a painting of Saint George in armour, carrying a lance and a white shield bearing the Red Cross.
an altarpiece in three parts placed side-by-side (pronounced trip-tick). When the outer ones are closed they exactly cover the middle panel (and usually reveal a fourth painting on their backs). This triptych has obviously been carved and painted.
a childrens modelling material, usually available in several colours
40 sanctuary lamp
In Catholic churches, where the Blessed Sacrament (the body of Christ under the appearance of bread) is nearly always present in the tabernacle, a red light in a hanging lamp usually signifies the fact. At this period the lamp would have been an oil lamp.
almost certainly a Silver Ghost, which began production in 1906
an independent country when Austria-Hungary forced war on it in August 1914, so beginning World War I. Admiration for the Serbs was widespread in Britain. From 1919 it was a constituent part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, a political entity forced on the South Slavs by the peacemakers which, known as Yugoslavia from 1929, had a precarious unity for seventy-three years.
41 Red Cross
the international voluntary relief organisation, already nearly sixty years old in 1923
a publication that gives full details of the aristocratic families of Britain and Ireland
41 Godstow ... Trout
The hamlet of Wolvercote lies on the river Thames north-west of Oxford. Nearby are the ruins of Godstow Abbey and a lock. The Trout Inn was constructed from one of the ruined buildings in the 17th century. There is a splendid view of Oxford from its grounds. The Trout Inn was one of EWs favourite drinking-places; it has achieved more eminence recently as a location for one of the episodes in the T.V. series Inspector Morse (as indeed have several Oxford pubs).