Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Waugh's Rossetti book ...

... is finally available again. This is cause for celebration among Brideshead fans everywhere.

Rossetti: His Life and Works was Waugh's first book. It was published because Waugh had a connection to a publisher through Anthony Powell. Waugh had no special qualifications to write the book and it is highly unlikey that he would have been chosen to write it without that connection. Even within the circle of Waugh and Powell's friends there were several people better qualified to write the book.

Not surprisingly, Waugh was embarrassed by the work once his career was established he never allowed it to be printed again.

But now Penguin is setting about publishing the complete Waugh and volume one is the Rossetti book. I got an electronic copy.

It's better than you would think reading Waugh's own assessment of the book. It's not the best book if you want to know about Rossetti but you won't go far wrong in reading it either.

And it is a great book if you want to know how the young Waugh thought about aesthetics and art. And that is something really useful if you want to deepen your understanding of Brideshead Revisited.

Anyone who has read Brideshead more than once will have noticed that there is an aesthetic argument underlying the whole thing. When Charles says he went from the puritan asceticism of Ruskin to that of Fry, he (and Waugh) are assuming a whole language, a language that is drawn from aesthetic arguments from Waugh's youth.

Short version, Waugh didn't like the moderns but he didn't like classicism either. He liked art that was passionate and Rossetti was a key figure in the story for him. He doesn't revere Rossetti but he sees something very right about him. And Rossetti was clearly a major figure in Waugh's artistic development.

I'm on the second last section but I can already concluded that this book is well worth the time of anyone who loves Brideshead.

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