Waugh Presents Change Consistently as a Destructive Force in "Brideshead Revisited"

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“Waugh presents change consistently as a destructive force in the novel” To what extent do you agree?

Within the context of pastoral literature, change is typically seen as a destructive force, intrinsic with the movement away from a harmony with the natural world towards modernisation and corruption. In ‘Brideshead Revisited’ the same pattern appears to be followed; moving from the peaceful harmony of Sebastian and Charles’ life in Oxford into corruption and turmoil or the shifting power balance between the social classes, from the nobility to the lower classes. However, change is not exclusively a negative force in the novel.

Charles’ and Sebastian’s first encounter into Rex’s world of manipulation and smooth talk is shown to be nothing but a negative experience. Waugh describes their first encounter with the girls at May Mayfield’s as a “sickly child” and “Death’s Head”, names foreshadowing the downfall and deterioration that will result. It is as a result of this night that Sebastian is arrested and tried for drunk-driving, and introduces them to the realities of adult life. It is because of this episode that the Marchmain family are shamed in the newspaper, perhaps worsening Lady Marchmains over reaction to Sebastian’s drinking later in the novel.

Waugh presents change in terms of the hierarchy of society, with the nobility exclusively privileged to positions of power, as nought but as negative through his portrayal of Hooper. Charles states in the prologue that Hooper is a “symbol to me of Young Britain”; notably Hooper is not presented as an overly inspiring, promising or likeable character. The use of “young” has connotations of the working class were just ‘coming of age’ and beginning to have the means to hold positions of power and influence, as well as suggesting a major change in the Britain; an ‘old’ way of life has been left to be replaced by a new one. Hooper’s insistence on replying to Charles with a cheerful “Righty oh”, for example,...
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