Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
Brideshead, Visited
“The languor of Youth – how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably, lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth – all save this come and go with us through life… These things are a part of life itself; but languor – the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the mind sequestered and self-regarding, the sun standing still in the heavens and the earth throbbing to our own pulse – that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it.”
- Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Amongst the very many blandishments of the County of North Yorkshire is Castle Howard – a 300+ year-old stately home and apotheosis of the English Baroque style, built by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, and sited on a 13,000-acre estate dotted with formal gardens and beautiful out buildings. It is one of the grandest stately homes in Britain.

Much more importantly, though… it was the stand-in for, and fictional setting of, the 1981 11-part ITV/Granada adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. (And also of the 2008 one-part remake.) Simply, Castle Howard is Brideshead. And Brideshead is, in my considered view, such an inseparable part of the soul of English character that to visit it is to make a pilgrimage to, perhaps, the very heart of post-war England.

Anna's father David drove us through Yorkshire's Howardian Hills in the trusty Land Rover. It's worth noting that we've passed nearby to Castle Howard on pretty much every one of my visits up to Anna's ancestral village. Today we'd finally go in. It was me, Anna, and our friend Becky, who is spending another happy three months in London on another grant to pursue her research in architectural history. So, not a bad person to have along.

As we passed in front of the imposing south (garden) face, Becky talked pilasters, and arches, and oeils-de-boeuf. She suggested this was the ultimate in English Baroque, though with the Italian influence evident in facade-topping jugs. She talked cornices, and volutes, and flutes. We tried to keep up.

There was slight disappointment not to find Charles Ryder (a very young Jeremy Irons) sketching on the edge of the fountain.

Since the weather was with us – and amazing shooting light – we decided to explore the gardens and grounds first. I got perhaps rather too keen on this duck. (Anna announced that he was called Norman.) And these fish.

Me: You can't understand this country without reading Brideshead Revisited. It is impossible to overstate its effect on the national psyche – the extent to which it is a cultural touchstone.

Anna & Becky: Hmm, hmm.

Me: ‘Just the place to bury a crock of gold. I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember…’  I feel like that today.

Anna: Well, guess what? Whenever we come to Yorkshire, you can come back here again.

Me: But it will never be today again.

Oh, I scribbled some early thoughts on the themes of the book here. Looking back at that now, I find my criticism callow and awkwardly handled; but I do think I nailed what the book is really about – from his comments, Waugh seemed not to know, which I think is not actually that unusual – and I stand by those claims today.

We trekked out to the Temple of the Four Winds, one of the most notable garden buildings. Becky edified us further about this Palladian structure. She said she thinks that the floor is done in the same marble as part of Westminster Abbey.

Tea, and hi jinks, in the shadow of West Wing.

Around to the north face and, finally, inside.

Edward Fitzalan-Howard, 18th Duke of Norfolk, and the current Lord of the Manor Monkeys in human get-ups are always funny.

Instead of audio-guides, they had these lovely human volunteer guides in each room, who would actually chat with you and answer your questions. That was awesome.

One of the early-ish Lord Howards evidently went pillaging around Italy for sculpture. (As the British do.) But he had really good taste, evidently, as the rich often do.

Sucks to be the bull.

The Great Hall was really something to behold – not least the painting of the Fall of Phaeton by Antonio Pellegrini, which was meticulously recreated after the big fire they had in 1940 destroyed the dome. You knew the enormous fireplace actually worked because they had a big box of fresh firewood beside it.

One of the amusing and slightly surreal touches was the large number of contemporary family photos that dotted the tables – reminding you that, yes, this actually still is a family home; even if, no, they can't afford to keep it up without your 14.50 entrance fee.

Much of the East Wing, while restored externally after the fire, remains a shell. The shell was put to good use, becoming stage sets for the later film adaptation.

Two entire rooms were given over to exhibits on the adaptation and the filming there. I read every word on the walls with big saucer eyes. I hadn't realized that every scene that took place in Brideshead was actually filmed right inside these walls.

On the way out through the gift shop, I ardently wanted a souvenir. Finally I decided nothing would do but another copy of the book – the Waugh Centenary Edition from Penguin. Becky's reading the book now, and it's probably time that I do so again.

Oh, and, yes, we're watching the series again now. (Available for streaming from Lovefilm, but not evidently from Netflix, at least not here…) The chapel, second to last photo above, figures prominently, and we saw it onscreen only a couple of days after having stood in it, which was a very giddy thrill…


  england     books     evelyn waugh  
about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
DON'T SHOOT ME IN THE ASS, AND OTHER STORIES by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Fickisms
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