Sights and Sounds: Brideshead Revisited

Before our longish drive back to Canada for Christmas vacation, I set off to our public library in search of a book on CD with hopes of shortening the trip, as it were. I hit upon a gem: Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited narrated by Jeremy Irons. This turned out to be a spectacular combination. Irons--who, for me, will almost simply be identified with Father Gabriel in The Mission--brings Waugh's very Catholic novel to life in wonderful ways. With a voice much at home on the stage, Irons incarnates Waugh's already remarkably complex and charming characters, creating voices for each (even the 11-year-old girl, Cordelia), and hitting just the right note for Charles Ryder's narrative voice.

But then another wonderful little turn of providence. Our pilgrimage back to family in Canada always takes us to Stratford, Ontario--effectively our hometown (though we're from small villages just south), namesake for Stratford-upon-Avon, and home to the acclaimed Stratford Festival Theatre. All in all, an absolutely charming place that everyone should try to visit at least once. One of the treats of visiting Stratford is returning to some old haunts in local bookshops, particularly two used bookshops from which I've built some important parts of my library. My favorite is The Book Stage, just behind the Avon Theatre and run by a German bibliophile, Manfred Meurer (who does not lack resemblance to Albert Einstein). Manfred and I developed something of a working relationship as I was engaged in graduate studies in phenomenology--first in Toronto, then in Philadelphia. As Manfred learned of my work and interests, and watched my book-buying habits, he started to set aside texts for me in a secret little closet, to be unveiled whenever I returned to Stratford. When I would come back into town from Philadelphia, I would visit Manfred, who would then trot out assorted Husserl and Heidegger books, some even in German. I think he was almost as excited as I was.

Alas, Manfred closes up shop for the winters, so I headed to my other haunt: "Yesterday's Things," a used book shop on Ontario Street just a few doors down from our first apartment after returning from Iowa. (It was a charming space: a second floor flat in a turn-of-the-century home; it will always be remembered as the home to which we brought our firstborn, Grayson.) The philosophy and theology selection at Yesterday's Things does not compare to Manfred's (think multiple copies of A Course in Miracles), but the literature selection is outstanding--and incredibly inexpensive (especially when the American dollar is a little stronger). I first headed to the Wilde section, but found nothing I don't already own. There was a decent edition of Orwell's later journalism and letters, but in paperback. No Chesterton. A volume of C.S. Lewis's letters looked intriguing. But then I noticed, on top of the shelves and out of order, a mint, hardcover edition of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited--a Little, Brown edition from 1979 for just $10 (CDN!). I snapped it up.

I continued to listen to Irons' rendition on the way back to the States, and now back home (and with very little time in the car), I've turned to reading the hard copy. I'm not sure if it is unfortunate or fortunate, but Ryder's narrative voice-in-my-head while I read is Irons', and Irons' wonderful interpretation of the characters continues to echo for me (his rendering of Anthony is spot on). And as new characters come on the scene, I half find myself tempted to hear how Irons plays them out, and perhaps I'll give in to the temptation and check. In any case, Irons' performance of the book has enriched my reading--as if I can hear the book in my hands.