“I think we should,” he had answered when Charles Ryder enquired: “Ought we to be drunk every night?”
On a summer’s night next year, in its original location, the spectacle will be recreated – not in the pursuit of bacchanalia but as perhaps the country’s first arts festival devoted to a single book.
Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited has been linked inextricably with Yorkshire’s Castle Howard since Granada Television’s 1981 adaptation was filmed there, and Victoria Barnsley who runs with the estate with her husband, Nicholas Howard, said she had not wanted to pass up the opportunity to spend a weekend exploring its themes of youth, sexuality, nostalgia, decadence, religion and class.
“I’d been thinking of having a literary festival here for some time,” said Ms Barnsley, a publisher by profession, who used to be chief executive of HarperCollins.
Jeremy Irons, who played Charles in the TV series, will return for the weekend event in late June, along with Waugh’s grandson, Alexander – but the romantic seclusion of the original scene will be disturbed by the presence of paying guests camping in the grounds.
“Sacred and profane” was how Waugh had characterised Ryder’s infatuation with the Flyte family, and the recreation will attempt to summon up the same spirit, with punting on the lake, weather permitting, and a 1920s themed jazz party on the Saturday night, as well as the return of wine tasting to the temple.
The prop used on TV as Flyte’s teddy bear, Aloysius, has also been retrieved from a museum, for a picnic.
“There will be a lot of authors and novelists here as well as TV and film people,” Ms Barnsley said. “Literary festivals don’t usually focus just on one book and one author, but we want to put a contemporary slant on it by looking at the legacy of Evelyn Waugh and the influence he’s had on writers today.”
The idea for the event came from the Granada producer Derek Granger, who returned with his cast to Castle Howard a few years ago to pose for pictures in the magazine Vanity Fair. He will be back again for the festival, by which time he will be in his 100th year. Claire Bloom, who played Lady Marchmain in the series, and its director, Charles Sturridge, are also expected to attend.
Some of those associated with the 2008 cinema remake, which starred Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson, and which was again filmed at Castle Howard, will also be there.
If demand dictates, the estate will open its walled gardens to glamping – short for glamorous camping – for the first time, but Ms Barnsley thinks most guests who come for the weekend will stay in York or the nearby village of Hovingham. Bookings have already come in from Ireland, Paris and the USA.
Evelyn Waugh himself is on record as having found Brideshead “distasteful”, upon re-reading it. “I was appalled,” he said in a letter to the author Graham Greene, five years after its publication.