[Literary passage] Poetic prose in Brideshead Revisited

Let’s enjoy two particularly poetic passages from Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece. Because short sentences would convey the cold objectivity of thought, Waugh uses instead long sentences with many clauses, thus conveying the flow of feelings.

The setting of the first passage is the University of Oxford in the 1920s, when the narrator is a young student.

That luncheon party — for party it proved to be — was the beginning of a new epoch in my life.

I went there uncertainly, for it was foreign ground and there was a tiny, priggish, warning voice in my ear which in the tones of [my friend] Collins told me it was seemly to hold back. But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized aprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.

In the second passage, twenty years have passed. The narrator is now a lonely, middle-aged officer in the British Army. His batallion has been sent to new quarters, somewhere in the countryside. They arrived in the middle of the night and he has no idea where they are.

I slept until my servant called me, rose wearily, dressed and shaved in silence. It was not till I reached the door that I asked the second-in-command, ‘What’s this place called?’

He told me and, on the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long-forgotten sounds: for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror’s name of such ancient power, that at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight.

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