David Cliffe Introduction

I first read Brideshead Revisited as a schoolboy fifty years ago. It was the first edition of the novel, published before Evelyn Waugh cut out some of the lusher writing and adjusted many smaller passages. I still have a weakness for that first unrevised version, a battered Penguin edition of which I possess. I marvelled at this strange and magical world which even at the age of 18 the sombre religious theme did not spoil for me. I have loved the book ever since and re-read it many times with, I hope, increasing understanding. (One interesting fact is that there was an even earlier limited edition of 50 copies, printed privately for friends, which differs from both the later published editions. I have not seen it, much as I should love to do so.)

I have written this Companion to help others understand the references that abound in the text. Waugh wanted to convey richness of theme and culture by means of a corresponding richness of reference. Many of these references passed me by when I first read the book; and I have noticed both on the internet and in conversation that there is today a lack of knowledge of the history and culture that Waugh took for granted. He does of course write about a particular world at a particular time which is now well over sixty years ago, a world (in the case of Oxford in the 1920s) he describes even in 1944 as irrecoverable as Lyonnesse. It is little wonder that many people today are puzzled. What was Lyonnesse? they ask.

Waugh brings into his novel references that he picked up both in his childhood as the son of a man of letters and during his education as a young gentleman of his time and class. Today few pupils learn Latin or Greek, however well educated otherwise, but there has also been a diminution in the reading of the classics of English Literature since his time. Perhaps this change is due to the production of another century's worth of books since Waugh's childhood, but certainly it is also the result of deliberate policies of education. Ah, what horrors we bring on ourselves when we allow politicians to determine our upbringing and culture.

At any event, I detected a need. In case you think I am setting myself up as a know-all, I must tell you I have spent considerable time tracking down some of the references. I used the knowledge of others, the internet, reference books, books of criticism and biographies. There is nothing in this Companion that anyone could not have done, with enough time and inclination. In spite of all this help I have not found explanations of all the references. Who was Captain Morvin, and where was his Riding Academy? is a question that may haunt me to my grave. (Was he a real person? Or is he in a story? I do not know.) Rather than leave out a puzzling reference, I have indicated my lack of knowledge or my doubt.

Obviously I had to make decisions about how much detail to give. A prime concern was to keep the explanations short. Though the spread of broadband speeds has helped to make the download of a site such as this a negligible concern, download times for dial-up customers can be expensive (at least in the UK) and tiresomely long-drawn. I have included some hyperlinks where I thought they would be useful. I apologise if they do not work properly, as is often the case in my experience. I shall check them regularly and update or eliminate them as necessary.

I also had to make decisions about which references to keep in. Some may seem too trivial to include. For example, I should expect everybody to know where Glasgow is, but I have come across one person who did not. I have therefore erred on the side of inclusiveness, though I drew the line at telling you where London, Paris and Venice are. There is nevertheless a danger that some will consider the entire Companion patronising. It is not intended for them and I recommend they move onto some other website pretty quickly.

I have occasionally included comments of my own where I think some guidance might be helpful or some amusement acceptable.

I do have my own view on what the novel is about (not very different from Waugh's own, judging by his Preface), but I shall not expound it now that Douglas Lane Patey has published his excellent study Life of Evelyn Waugh : A Critical Biography. Mr Lane Patey's overview of all Waugh's work is coherent and convincing, and I found the chapter on Brideshead Revisited most interesting and perceptive. One wonders why some previous critics and readers were so obtuse! I recommend Mr Lane Patey's book to all serious students, but please note the important fact that he uses the first unrevised edition of Brideshead Revisited (in its American incarnation) for his quotations.


It was only after I had finished the rough draft of the Companion that I heard of Iain Gale's book Waugh's World : A Guide to the Novels of Evelyn Waugh. I got hold of a copy with the sinking feeling that all my work had already been done. I found an indispensable aid which I recommend to all readers of Waugh's novels, but was cheered that Mr Gale took a different line from mine : he generally points out what happens without further explanation or comment. After all he covers all the novels except Helena. He allows us the opportunity to track characters through several novels with ease and delight.

I, on the other hand, often include explanation; indeed the point of my Companion is the explanation. I was of course able to check my work against Mr Gales entries, and have sometimes modified or amplified my own in their light. In the very few cases where I disagreed (none of them serious) I have retained my own explanation.


A second book, one that I learned about later still, was Paul A. Doyle's A Reader's Companion to the Novels and Short Stories of Evelyn Waugh, first published, I believe, in 1988. I became aware of its existence when Professor Robert Murray Davis mentioned it in an email I received from him soon after I put the website on the internet, but I was unable to secure a copy for some years. In October 2004 I was finally able to buy it second-hand on Abebooks.co.uk for a price I could afford, and I immediately found a tremendously admirable volume. Mr Doyle spent eight years or so preparing glossaries for all Waugh's novels and most of his short stories. He has also included a Dictionary as a second and equally valuable section.
Of course I eagerly checked what I had written against his researches. I have benefited in three ways from reading his work: I have corrected any misinformation and misinterpretation which his book revealed in my website; I could judge what phrases and references were particularly puzzling to American readers where before I was unaware that there was a problem; and I have had my confidence boosted by noting how much we agree. I found myself thinking of Mr Doyle as a secret but comfortable collaborator in my own work (I hope he will forgive me for the impudence) : for example, he too mentions that Captain Morvin's surname is probably a corruption of the name of the town Malvern.
I have an advantage, however, which he does not have : I can change an entry that is wrong or inadequate at will and put my work right at the click of a mouse. In the light of his work I have already done so several times. I cannot conceal my admiration and my gratitude for his work.


The Companion takes the form of a page number and a quotation from the text on one line and then a line or paragraph (or more) of explanation of that text.

The page numbers refer to the current Penguin edition of the novel at the time I finalised the Companion. Penguin Books do not now give the date of the print edition at the front, so I cannot say more than that I bought it at my local bookshop in May 2000 in order to insert up-to-date page numbers in the Companion, and that these numbers differ from those in older editions. To help you recognise it, this edition has a front cover showing the arbour at Melbourne Hall. (It is illustrated on my home page.)

I have used the book and chapter divisions of the final (1960) edition, much though I regret the loss of the two-book plan of the original (1945) publication and therefore of the parallels between the two parts.

In January 2001 I added a Chronology of the events of the book, which may help you to be clearer about what happens and when.
In March 2001 I published as a different section of this site a Companion to the American edition of Brideshead RevisitedThis edition is essentially the book as it was first published in 1945 and the edition which is still published by the American publishers Little, Brown of Boston.


On re-reading my work I have become still more keenly aware that the Companion might appear to some readers a piffling exercise. I take heart from the thought that if only one person has his understanding and enjoyment of the novel enhanced by my efforts, all will have been worthwhile. I admit openly that the work was never a burden to me and always a joy to do : that is my final justification.


I use only a few abbreviations, and they are, I believe, obvious :

ALL A Little Learning, Evelyn Waughs autobiography which goes up to the time when he was a schoolmaster and therefore gives an account of his Oxford days in the 1920s.
BR Brideshead Revisited, of course.
EW Evelyn Waugh, naturally.

All other books and people I mention in full.


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