Evelyn Waugh

Bridshead Revisted
Il capitano Cahrles Ryder si trova accampato durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale a Brideshead, la terra dei marchesi di Marchmain cui sono legati i suoi dolorosi ricordi di vent’anni prima. Era amico intimo del rampollo Sebastian Flyte ad Oxford e ne seguì la stessa caduta nell’inferno dell’alcoolismo. I Flyte sono cattolici, e la madre ed il primogenito, Brideshead, sono dei fieri bigotti, che hanno avvelenata la vita del padre. Julia, diciottenne, è bellissima e molto contesa in società; Cordelia è ancora piccola. Charles accusa la madre dell’infelicità di Sebastian: è il rigore puritano della donna ad uccidere la felicità della famiglia. Rex Mothram, fidanzato di Julia, porta Sebastian da un dottore tedesco, ma lui scappa. Rex confida a Charles che le finanze dei marchesi stanno cadendo a pezzi senza che loro se ne rendano conto e che lui ha perciò fretta di sposare Julia, che era stata un dilemma per l’alta società: invece che puntare al matrimonio con un principe aveva testardamente cercato un uomo maturo, fino a trovare questo Rex che tutta Londra sapeva amante di una cortigiana; ma neppure il colpo di scena alla vigilia delle nozze che Rex era stato sposato in Canada la convinse a cambiare idea; rinunciò di colpo al rito cattolico e si sposò in una cappella protestante, causando scandalo e dolore alla madre. Non le ci volle molto, però, a capire di aver sposato una nullità. Quando la madre è in punto di morte, Brideshead lo manda a cercare Sebastian. Charles lo trova a Casablanca, dove vive con pochi mezzi ospitando un disertore tedesco con una gamba in putrefazione; Sebastian è ancora alcoolizzato. Dieci anni dopo Charles è diventato un famoso pittore d’edifici grazie soprattutto alla moglie Celia, da cui ha avuto due bambini; ma è insoddisfatto, e sa che la moglie lo ha tradito. Incontra Julia, fuggita da Rex, che pensa soltanto al denaro ed è ora il padrone di Brideshead. Diventano amanti. Dopo due anni la cosa è ormai di dominio pubblico, ma Rex è troppo preso dalla politica antinazista. Il noioso e pedante Brideshead decide di sposare una vedova con tre figli, Beryl. Julia e Charles decidono di divorziare dai rispettivi consorti per sposarsi; Celia n’è felice, ma Rex chiede un po’ di tempo (è in guai sia politici sia finanziari). Cordelia torna dalla Spagna, dove ha servito come infermiera, e porta notizie di Sebastian: relegato in un monastero di Tunisi, senza dignità e forza di volontà, ancora alcoolizzato e per di più senza il suo tedesco (Kurt è stato arruolato dai nazisti ed è finito in campo di concentramento per aver tentata la fuga). Lord Marchmain torna a Brideshead per morire. Il vecchio reprobo è sempre stato ateo, ma tutti i familiari vogliono l'estrema unzione; la prima volta lui scaccia il prete, ma quando entra in coma è Julia stessa a chiamarlo, nonostante Charles la consideri una violenza contro il moribondo. Durante il sacramento, il vecchio si fa il segno della croce, e quel tardivo gesto di pentimento finisce col resuscitare in Julia lo spirito cattolico. Julia decide di non sposarsi più per rispettare i sacramenti cattolici. Scoppia la guerra e Charles è precettato. Adesso è accampato a Brideshead, proprietà di Julia. Rex è ora un ministro. Storia d’amore impossibile e duro atto d’accusa contro la religione cattolica. Saga familiare, nostalgia.

Decline and Fall (1928) is a rather tiring and Dickens-ian relation of the more or less comic disadventures of Paul Pennyfeather, unfairly expelled from Oxford for indecent behavior (the victim of a cruel joke). First he becomes a master at a lousy school where he meets one-legged Captain Grimes, who is forced by circumstances to marry the owner's daughter, Florence, and then led by desperation to fake a suicide. Then Paul falls in love with the mother of one of his pupils, a rich young woman, Margot, who hires him as her son's tutor and accepts his marriage proposal. At this point Grimes resurfaces alive and wanted by the police. Paul's wedding is widely advertised as the most romantic event of the season, but Margot is not the saint that she appears to be. She hires loose girls to send to South America. When they are stopped in France, she sends the gullable Paul to sort out the mess. As a result, Paul is arrested the day before the wedding. He accepts the sentence to seven years in order to spare Margot. Thus the third part of the novel is devoted to his adventures in jail, where he meets again the same characters from the old school, including Grimes (who manages to fake another death). Margot accepts to marry an influential politician, who arranges the release of Paul, also by faking Paul's death. Paul returns to Oxford and finally completes his studies to become a clergyman.

A Handful of Dust (1934)

Tony Last is married to Brenda. He is a bore who likes to live a solitary life. She is youthful and feels wasted. John Beaver is a pathetic young man whom nobody likes, but happens to invite himself to visit the Lasts at the right time. Brenda, desperate for attention, begins to fancy him. Eventually, Brenda takes a flat in the city to carry on an affair with Beaver, while her husband thinks that she is studying economics. Everybody knows the truth except for Tony, who has absolute trust in his wife. They have a child, John, who likes to ride horses, and Brenda begins to neglect him too. Brenda even tries to find Tony a lover, but the task proves to be difficult if not impossible. Tony's friend Jock comes to visit with his latest lover, a married woman. During a hunting party, John is killed by a horse. Jock brings the awful news to Brenda, whose first reaction is to tell Tony the truth and ask for a divorce. Tony behaves like a gentleman and accepts the terms of the divorce that she asks for, and, to make things easier, he even accepts to look like the guilty party: he hires a prostitute and some detectives so that they can report that he cheated on his wife. The prostitute brings her child along, a fact that disturbs the detectives because it makes the rendesvouz look too respectable. Tony is still hurt, but willing to please Brenda, and still trusting her. Instead, she tries to take advantage of her naive husband again: since Beaver has no money and refuses to marry her unless she has some, she decides to sue Tony, now that he has gracefully provided the evidence that he is the guilty party. She asks him for a sum that he cannot afford unless he sells his beloved mansion. Basically, she asks him to sell his house to buy her a marriage. At last, Tony loses his patience and goes on the offensive. The presence of the little child invalidates the evidence, and Tony now even refuses to grant a divorce at all. Instead, he takes off for a six-month journey. After meeting the adventurous Dr Messinger, Tony joins his expedition to discover a lost city in the Amazon jungle, while back home Brenda is running out of money and being neglected by Beaver. Dr Messinger's expedition fails miserably: the indios rebel, Tony falls ill, Messenger drowns in a waterfall. Tony is rescued by a white man who lives in the jungle with the indios, Mr Todd. Todd can't read and asks Tony to read Dickens for him. Soon, Tony realizes that he is kept prisoner for life, bound to read for Todd every day if he wants to be fed. Todd and his indios do not offer any help to get out of the jungle. When Tony manages to send a message out of the village, Todd drugs him for two days, enough to tell the search party that the disappeared Tony Last has died. When Tony wakes up, Todd tells him what happened: nobody will ever come looking for him again. Back home, he is declared dead. However, he had changed his will and left the mansion to his cousing, to make sure that it is taken care of (Brenda would have sold it right away). Brenda then marries Jock. The ending is quite abrupt, so the apologue loses some of its mordant. Tony's cruel agony (a fool betrayed by his wife, a prisoner of a madman in the jungle), which sounds like divine punishment for being such a boring rich man, does not quite coalesce. To Waugh's credit, both the domestic drama and the exotic Kafka-esque drama are told with surgical cruelty and macabre wit. If English is your first language and you could translate this text, please contact me.
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