A Companion to Evelyn Waughs Brideshead Revisited
Et in Arcadia ego
Autumn in Oxford - dinner with Rex Mottram and supper with Boy Mulcaster - Mr Samgrass - Lady Marchmain at home - Sebastian contra mundum
101 start the new year in autumn
Since students in the middle ages were needed at home or on college lands to help with the harvest, the long vacation was fixed in the summer. It was natural to start afresh afterwards.
One of the two abbreviations for Monsignor. The other is Msgr.
101 sent down
i.e. expelled from the university. He could be readmitted under certain strict conditions, to be negotiated.
101 League of Nations Union
a student organisation formed to support the principles and actions of the newly formed League of Nations, which had its headquarters at Geneva in Switzerland. The League of Nations suffered at that time from the not inconsiderable disadvantage that the United States, the Soviet Union and Germany did not belong.
see this note to page 23
101 Cadena café
one of a chain of cafés. This one in Cornmarket Street, apparently, is popular with students. Many older people will remember the wonderful smell of coffee which drifted down the streets from the Cadena cafés. The chain was taken over by Tesco in the late 1960s and the cafés were closed. This one is now an HMV store. Roger Fry was employed to design decor for the Cadena Cafés.
101 Boars Hill
see this note to page 28
i.e. the college at Oxford created by supporters of the great High Church theologian John Keble (1792-1866). It had perhaps an unwelcome reputation for excessive earnestness.
capital of Bavaria, the state that is furthest south in Germany. Munich was then the power-base of the Nazi Party, and indeed in the following month (November 1923) Hitler and his colleagues attempted a right-wing putsch. Blanches policeman might easily have been heavily involved in helping to maintain order.
This term is used only at the University of Oxford. It is the name for the final examination for a B.A. degree in classical studies (i.e. of Ancient Greece and Rome). It was the culmination of a four-year course of study, the students having studied ancient Greek and Latin literature for two years and then the history and philosophy of those ancient civilisations (Litterae Humaniores) for two more years.
102 public mischief
EW always thought (and Charles too appears to think) that the less government there is, the better. Unlike anarchists, who thought the same, he recognised the necessity of having a government, but believed that it should interfere with peoples lives as little as possible. Jaspers entry into public service could only mean for Charles that he was embarked on a career of interference and insolence.
102 beta minus
a grade for an essay paper. The three main grades are alpha, beta, and gamma, with alpha as excellent and gamma as mediocre. The grade could be shifted up by adding plus and down by adding minus. Beta minus is a satisfactory result. (The grades are the first three letters of the Greek alphabet.)
Collections were examinations at the beginning of a term set by ones college tutor (rather than by the subject faculty) and therefore not as important as ones degree examination, but the student needed success in order to stay in the college for the rest of that term.
102 History School
i.e. the Faculty of History
103 Ruskin School of Art
John Ruskin founded this school (full title : Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art) in Oxford in 1871. Ruskin was then the first Slade Professor of Art at the University, and his influence was still strong in the 1920s.
103 daughters of north Oxford
North Oxford was originally a suburb developed in the Victorian period on land owned by St Johns College, which therefore became very rich. North Oxford quickly became associated with houses needed by dons, who from 1877 were permitted to marry without forfeiting their fellowships. This area is still called North Oxford though it is now fully part of the city rather than a suburb and Oxford spreads far to the north of it.
103 Ashmolean Museum
Oxfords Museum of Art and Archaeology founded in 1683; it was Englands first museum.
a reference to the novel Trilby by George du Maurier (1834-1896) which was published in 1894. Trilby is an artists model who falls under the spell of the hypnotist Svengali but who is nevertheless turned into an accomplished singer.
104 launched in Society
Charles (or EW) is here thinking of the young men and women of the same age and class who go out into the world at the age of 17 or 18. The men go to the Universityor into the armed forces; the girls to the activities of their debutante year.
104 adolescent Englishmen
Men grew up less quickly in 1923 than they do now (physically at least), but even so it seems strange to us to call twenty-year-old men adolescent. But Ryder and Sebastian had been brought up mainly in the all-male environment of the public school; they had a considerable portion of their education and their sexual development still to complete. In that sense they were adolescent. EW made no secret of calling his period at Oxford his adolescence. In his autobiography Old Men Forget, published in 1953, Duff Cooper (husband of Lady Diana) gives the chapter dealing with his life from the age of 17 to the age of 23 the title Adolescent.
William Hogarth drew wonderful scenes from London life (especially low life) which fixed the appearance of eighteenth century London firmly in the minds of later generations. Narrow streets, dark nooks and crannies, and teeming masses all seemed inseparable from a riproarious if dangerous life-style.
105 St Ebbs and St Clements
districts of Oxford not commonly the haunts of students. (St Ebbs is usually spelt St Ebbes now.) A list of the public houses that Charles and Sebastian visited follows. An important point to know is that undergraduates were then forbidden to go into pubs at all. Many did, of course. St Ebbe's Street was one of the shortest streets in Oxford, but it had at least five pubs for many years.
105 Gardeners Arms ... Nags Head ... Druids Head
... Turf in Hells Passage
These were real pubs in Oxford in the 1920s (and now, some of them), but not fashionable ones. EW mentions three of them in ALL. Hells Passage was named in the 18th century after a gambling hell or gambling house. The Turf Tavern dates back to the fourteenth century and is still popular though very small.
i.e. Brasenose College, then (and later) renowned for its sporting rather than its academic prowess. The name (brazen nose) comes from the nose of the original sanctuary knocker, which was in the shape of an animals head and possibly hung on the door of the original Brasenose Hall when it was sited at Stamford in Lincolnshire in the 13th century. (See an account at the Brasenose College website.)
105 Michaelmas term
the name for the autumn term at Oxford. The Feast of Saint Michael & All Angels (as many call it now) is on 29th September.
105 Mons and Passchendaele
two battles of World War I. Mons was the scene of the first British encounter with the German army in August 1914; the British retreated in face of superior numbers. Passchendaele (July-November, 1917), also known as the third battle of Ypres, consisted of a massive British and Canadian offensive. They pushed the German lines back only five miles in four months; each side suffered over 250,000 casualties.
106 a young history don
This character is certainly based on Maurice Bowra (1898-1971, knighted in 1951), already a don and beginning to create a wide circle of disciples when EW went up to Oxford in 1922. Bowra himself ruefully admitted that in Mr Samgrasss speech EW had caught his exact manner of speaking. Bowras distinguished academic career included being Warden of Wadham College, Oxford (1938-70), Professor of Poetry (1946-51), Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University (1951-54), and President of the British Academy (1958-62).
archives which contain legal documents, generally to do with property rights
a person who studies the history of families and therefore the intricacies of ancestry
a person who believes in the principle of rule by inheritance, i.e. monarchy and aristocracy
a Catholic service (separate from the Mass) in which the Blessed Sacrament is adored. It used to be a very popular service.
lace scarves covering the head and shoulders
106 a dictaphone
a small hand-held tape recorder, i.e. the latest technology. (EW has brought this up to date; in the original edition of BR he had written concealed typewriter!) Dictaphones, of what we would now consider to be immense size and clumsiness, were first made with the intention of providing businesses with the ability to record and reproduce sound in office settings as early as 1888. The name dictaphone was first trademarked in 1907.
a long, heavy, loose overcoat. It was made by the Ulster Overcoat Company of Belfast and was made famous in literature by being worn by Sherlock Holmes.
a family that also appears in four other EW novels. Since most of his novels dealt in some way with high society he made a habit of recycling characters : even main characters sometimes turned up in other novels as minor ones. The ill-starred Agatha Runcible, a leading light among the Bright Young People who dies after a car crash in Vile Bodies, was the daughter of Lord and Lady Chasm.
107 the Prince of Wales
In 1923 the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, was 29 years old and already the centre of society in a way his father George V never attempted to be.
William Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook (1879-1964). Beaverbrook was the owner of the Express Group of London newspapers and a prominent and influential man in politics and society. All his friends and colleagues called him Max.
F.E.Smith (1872-1930), just created earl of Birkenhead, lawyer, statesman and wit. He had as Lord Chancellor just finished taking part in the negotiations for Irish self-government which resulted in the creation of the two entities, the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. His son Freddie, later the second Lord Birkenhead, was a friend of EWs.
107 Gertie Lawrence
Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952), famous actor, singer and comedy star. Almost all her greatest successes lay ahead of her in 1923, including her conquest of America, but she was already well-known in London high society.
107 Augustus John
Fluent society portraitist of great prestige (1878-1961); he painted Angela Lynes portrait in EWs novel Put Out More Flags. He is now considered inferior as an artist to his sister Gwen. To his credit, John himself thought this before anyone else did.
Georges Carpentier (1894-1975), French boxer of great personal charm who had just been World Light-Heavyweight Champion and had fought a famous (but unwise) bout with Jack Dempsey for the Heavyweight title in 1921. He was later to compound the folly by fighting Gene Tunney.
Military Cross, a distinguished award for officers in the Army
aide-de-camp, i.e. assistant to a senior officer
108 the City
i.e. the City of London, Britains financial centre
109 charity ball ... a dinner party for it
For all well-attended private and charity balls it was customary for there to be several preliminary dinners in other houses beforehand. A charity ball might not provide much in the way of food, in any case.
a large bottle of champagne holding four times the amount of a standard bottle, i.e. three litres. There are several larger sizes going up to the 27-litre Goliath.
109 Old Hundredth
a nightclub, with some of the characteristics of a brothel. EW based it on The 43 in Gerrard Street, owned by Mrs Meyrick (who here becomes Ma Mayfield). The Old Hundredth also appears in EWs novel A Handful of Dust.
Mrs Meyrick, also known as Ma, was an interesting individual. She was not Cockney, but an Irish woman. She married an English doctor who separated from her in 1919 leaving her to look after their eight children. She did this by opening dance and night clubs as fast as they were closed down by the magistrates. She became the undoubted night club queen of London, sent her sons to Harrow and married four daughters into the nobility. Before she died in 1933 she published an interesting account of her career entitled Secrets of the 43 Club though it must be admitted that she betrays ingenuousness in her assertions of innocence and victimisation.
110 Sink Street
There is no such road in London.
110 Leicester Square
a real location. Gerrard Street (and therefore Sink Street) is actually just off Leicester Square.
110-111 dearie ... duckie
characteristic terms of address in London. Neither necessarily indicated acquaintanceship or affection.
110-111 ten bob ... a quid
(slang) i.e. 50p and a pound in modern terms. Very large amounts then.
a name commonly given to male homosexuals in Britain at this time
111 six bob
i.e. 30p. This is expensive for the period. Everything is charged high here.
113 Two policemen quickened their stride and approached us.
This incident is based on one EW had in real life. On 6th April 1925 he was out on a pub-crawl (prior to a party!) with Matthew Ponsonby, son of a recent government minister and grandson of Queen Victorias private secretary, when the car Ponsonby was driving was stopped by the police in Oxford Street attemptng to go the wrong way round a traffic island. The two of them and Olivia Plunket Greene were arrested and put in the police cells for several hours. Ponsonbys father bailed his son out but did nothing for EW, who had to sober up before being released; he was charged with being drunk and incapable. The following morning he was fined two pounds at Bow Street but Ponsonby, the driver, was brought to trial. EW feared his friend would be jailed but he too escaped with a fine, of £21 9s, and disqualification from driving for a year. EW offered to pay half of Ponsonbys fine but the incident cooled their friendship terminally.
EW was peeved by certain aspects of the case, in particular the descriptions in the newspapers that stated he was far the more incapable of the two, using as evidence the fact that he claimed that the case of drink in the car was his. It was, but it was also drink that he was taking to the party. Nevertheless, he possibly was the more incapable of the two, for at that time and for much of his life he drank very heavily.
113 I reckon she pays you a nice retainer
These words are remarkably unwise but, unfortunately, were likely to be true. In 1928 a Sergeant Goddard of the local vice squad was convicted of accepting large sums of money from night-club owners for protecting them from and warning them of police raids. One of these owners was Mrs Meyrick, who was subsequently jailed for fifteen months. One of the thought-provoking aspects of the case was that Goddard had been commended no less than 91 times for his devotion to duty; and another that an honest sergeant who had accused him of corruption seven years before had been forced to resign from the force. This ex-sergeant was at least given compensation.
114 Home Secretary
The minister in government whose responsibility is good public order. Mulcaster, who is a compound of self-importance and unawareness, is foolishly trying to wield influence that is certainly unjustified. The Home Secretary at this time (probably November 1923 - see my Chronology) was William Bridgeman, a now almost unknown politician whose chief claim to fame is that he turned down the pleas for clemency that flooded into the Home Office on behalf of Edith Thompson, sentenced to hang for inciting her lover to murder her husband.
115 Havana cigars
then plentiful despite their excellent quality
then an expensive fur fabric made from the curly black fleece of lambs from Astrakhan, which borders the Caspian Sea in southern Russia. There is still a fabric called astrakhan; it is made from acrylic fibres.
a splendid-sounding word for Mulcaster. It means sick from drunkenness, however.
115 magistrates court
the court of initial justice. Sometimes in trivial cases the legal process finished here with a fine or a short sentence. If the case were more complex and needed lawyers to be briefed, it might be adjourned to a fixed date, which is what happens in Sebastians case. He is differently treated because he is the drunken driver; the others are mere passengers. If the magistrate were to find the case too important for him to deal with, he would transfer it to the judges courts or assizes (now called county courts). The defendant could also ask for this to be done.
a chemists shop in Mayfair. The draught is no doubt a pick-me-up or hangover cure.
the famous London barbers in Curzon Street, owned and managed by George F.Trumper (died 1944)
116 The Star
The Star was one of the evening papers of the period in London; it later merged with the London Evening News.
117 Bow Street
site of a famous court and a famous police station. The Bow Street Runners, an early police force, operated from here in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It is the only police station in Britain to have a white lamp outside instead of a blue one; when she came to the area, Queen Victoria objected to the blue lamp as it reminded her of the blue room in which Prince Albert had died.
117 Gunters in Berkeley Square
a restaurant in a very fashionable part of London. An Italian pastry-cook, Domenico Negri, founded it in 1757 as a tea-shop at numbers 7 and 8. He advertised it as making and selling all sorts of English, French, and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats and the place became popular as a rendezvous for ladies and gentlemen to meet members of the opposite sex without arousing comment. The sorbets and the ices were the original attractions of the tea-shop. Negri took James Gunter into partnership in 1777, and by 1799 Gunter was running the business as sole proprietor. Eventually the practice grew for the clientele to be served in the Square itself, the waiters running across the road to take and carry orders. The restaurant lasted until the 1930s.
117 diamond arrow
EW initially wrote diamond clip here, but when he sent out 50 pre-production copies of the novel to friends for comment, Nancy Mitford wrote to him (22nd December 1944) : One dreadful error. Diamond clips were invented only about 1930, you wore a diamond arrow in your cloche. EW corrected the mistake in time for both the British and American first editions.
118 the clink
slang for gaol, derived from the name of a prison in Southwark. It was burned down in the Gordon Riots of 1780 after more than six hundred years of existence and was never rebuilt.
119 exemplary sentence
a punishment of some severity intended to be an example to others
119 the Vice-Chancellor
The Vice-Chancellor possessed the real power in the University. At that time he held the position for four years. (Under recent reforms the period has been increased to five with the option of two further years.) The Vice-Chancellor is responsible for the administration of the University.
The Chancellor, technically the number one position in the University, was (and is) a figurehead, so that the position is usually held for life by a prominent person in public life only remotely linked to education. All the Masters of Arts of the University are entitled to elect the Chancellor (and, incidentally, the Professor of Poetry). The fact that Lady Marchmain actually speaks to the Chancellor (who would no doubt know her in private life) indicates the lengths to which she would go to prevent Sebastian from being sent down. The Chancellor would not normally intervene in such matters. At this time the Chancellor was Lord Curzon, a famous political figure who in 1923 had been expected to become Prime Minister but was excluded because of doubts that, in the twentieth century, a lord should hold the post.
119 Dean of Christ Church
The Dean is the leading figure in Christ Church College as well as an official in the Cathedral.
confined to the grounds of their individual colleges at stated times
columns carved in the form of female figures
120 Marchmain Hounds
a foxhunting organisation
large heavy fabrics with woven patterns. The Tapestry Room would have a number of tapestries covering the walls. Their main purposes were to decorate the room and to add a certain amount of protection from cold and draughts.
Saint Dominic de Guzman (1170c-1221) founded the Dominicans in 1215 to be a preaching and proselytising order of friars. Though they wear white habits, in England they became known as the Black Friars because they wore a black hood (and cloak) when hearing confessions.
Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), a prominent Catholic philosopher. His main interest was in the different degrees of knowledge and their interrelationships; he was also interested in political philosophy. His writings stress that reality can be known in many different ways - for instance, through science, philosophy, art, or mysticism; each of them contributes something distinctive to human knowledge. He made a conscious effort to accommodate the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), central in Catholic philosophy, with modern thought and life.
One of the central concepts of the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) is the definition of the highest form of consciousness as self-consciousness evolved to the level of absolute knowledge. This is when human consciousness through the workings of reason identifies itself with the Absolute, with reality. (Hegel also developed the dialectic theory of history later so influential in Marxist thought.) His writings, usually considered unreadable, need interpreters.
Mr Samgrass appears to be saying that the Dominican friar takes too much account of the Catholic view of reality and too little of Hegels essentially non-religious view of it.
120 the incomparable Charlus
Baron Palamède de Charlus is a character in Marcel Prousts great novel sequence À la recherche du temps perdu. He pretends to be a ladykiller but is homosexual. He is betrayed by his friends, but Mr Samgrass could not yet have read about the Barons sad decline : the novel that contains it had not yet been published though in 1923 Proust had been dead for more than a year.
the beautiful world (French), i.e. the richest and most fashionable people in society
This is the Celia whom Charles will later marry. A girl who amuses and perhaps attracts Samgrass is not the one for Charles.
121 hacked home
Sebastian had ridden back at a moderate pace, putting the horse under no pressure.
121 many little talks
It is sometimes a little difficult to understand what Sebastian has against his mother. These little talks help to explain. All Sebastians friends are changed by her concerns for their religious and general welfare. They become her intimates, they behave differently when she is around. Sebastians cultivation of irresponsibility and happiness is blocked, and a future of serious application threatens too immediately on the horizon.
a horizontal moulding along the top of the wall.
Charles notices that Lady Marchmain prefers a bourgeois intimacy and comfort to splendid architecture and stylish living (though she is not middle class in origin).
spices, dried blooms and leaves placed in a pot to give a pleasant odour to a room
122 Madonna ... St Joseph
typical statuettes to be found in a Catholic home. The Madonna is of course the Virgin Mary.
122 posthumous miniatures
miniature portraits painted from photographs of her brothers after their death
122 a camel and the eye of a needle
Charles is mischievously implying that Lady Marchmains riches leave her in the position of the rich man in Christs warning, given in the Gospel of Saint Matthew 19, 24 :
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
123 the Alice-in-Wonderland side
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson, 1832-1898) was one of EWs favourite books.
an inhabitant of one of the groups of Pacific islands which were invariably associated in European minds with a form of carefree and easy existence, not to say idleness and self-indulgence. The image reinforces the impression we get of Sebastians flight from adulthood and responsibility.
124 Green arse, Samgrass
In educated southern English this ditty rhymes.
125 something chemical in him ... determinism
Determinism is the doctrine or belief that everything, including every human act, is caused by something and that there is no real free will (Encarta Dictionary). Charles (as the wiser but sadder narrator) associates Julias glib words with the determinist idea that everything in life is laid out for us and that nothing can be prevented, including Sebastians alcoholism. In his maturity Charles rejects the idea and all its implications.
125 Tuesday of Easter Week
i.e. the Tuesday after Easter. The Tuesday before Easter would be in Holy Week. Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter.
a period devoted to prayer and meditation, away from the worlds usual activities, here in a monastery. Sebastians sense of self-loathing, entrapment and helplessness has been increased and not diminished by the experience : perhaps the retreat-master concentrated too much on the unworthiness of humanity and not enough on the tidal wave of the love of God. Sebastian needed a clear-sighted confessor-advisor all to himself.
ancient Chinese game new to many in the West at this time, often spelt mahjong. Expensive ivory sets of the game arrived in London stores in time for Christmas 1923.
127 How very boring
Julia uses a catch-phrase of the time. Boring could mean many things (tiresome, trivial, small-minded), including annoying as here. She comes across in this episode as self-centred and uncaring : later we find out that she has problems and preoccupations of her own in relation to Rex.
see my note above
128 The Wisdom of Father Brown
One of the volumes of stories by G.K.Chesterton (1874-1936) featuring his priest-detective Father Brown. We find out much later which story it is. It is actually from the collection entitled The Innocence of Father Brown.
130 Sweet bulldog.
Sebastian thinks that Charles is now acting like one of the marshalls who patrol Oxford - he therefore associates his mother with the proctors as symbols of restrictive and repressive authority.
132 grandmothers steps
a reference to a childs game where you try to creep up on a person while his back is turned. You must not be discovered moving when he turns round to try to catch you doing so.
133 Now its my sons turn to do what Ned can never do
Lady Marchmain makes it clear in the next sentence that she is thinking of Sebastian and not of Bridey. This is at the heart of the problem. She intends Sebastian to assume the responsibilities of the head of her family now that all her brothers are dead. (Such arrangements were not uncommon after the carnage of World War I.) The brothers were, it seems clear from what little we know of them, a very different type of man from Sebastian : Charles realises this when he reads the book.
a contemptuous word for the religious artefacts and atmosphere in Lady Marchmains room (from the French le bon Dieu, the good God)
brightly coloured cotton furnishings
embroidery employing small stitches
the part of the building between the top of the columns and the roof or ceiling
133 Grenadier uniform
The Grenadier Guards were the first and oldest of the Guards Division, the troops of the Royal Household. The bearskin caps and red coats of all five guards regiments are familiar sights in tourist London today.
spectacles without side arms, held onto the top of the nose by a clip. Why EW should consider travelling salesmen as especially prone to wear them is unclear.
135 Sebastian contra mundum
With Sebastian, against the world (Latin); an expression of profound loyalty
135 We returned to Oxford
It is now May 1924, the beginning of the Trinity term.
the famous bookshop in Oxford. Its modest shop-front conceals a maze of underground shelving containing hundreds of thousands of books (possibly a quarter of a million).
i.e. lodgings (student slang)
137 Holywell ... the Parks ... Mesopotamia ... North Oxford
a walk from the centre of Oxford to a suburb, lasting perhaps an hour. Holywell is pronounced Holly-well; Holywell Street contains the oldest concert hall in Europe, opened in 1748. The Parks are an open green area belonging to the university. Lady Marchmain and Charles probably wandered a little while they conversed.
Mesopotamia was originally the country between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates; its name (from Greek) means in the middle of the rivers. In Oxford it is the name of a walk along the Cherwell; its name comes from its path being on a spit of land, really an island, lying between two branches of the river which diverge and then unite again. The ferry mentioned by EW was discontinued in 1925 when a bridge was built to replace it.
138 the Newman
The Newman Society was and is the leading association for Catholics at Oxford. It is named after the Cardinal and meets in the Catholic Chaplaincy, the Old Palace.
141 I intend to be a painter.
Mr Ryder accepts this proposal with little opposition, considering the circumstances. EWs own father was more circumspect when his son proposed to do something similar. He told him to get a degree first. When, however, EW got a third, his father thought it unprofitable for him to spend the required ninth term up at Oxford enjoying himself and doing no work at all, and entered him for an art school.
142 the Levant
a favourite term for what we now call the Middle East
143 orthodox monasteries
i.e. monasteries with monks of the Orthodox faith. They then had the reputation of being very difficult for westerners to visit, though EWs Oxford friend Robert Byron did so easily enough