To paraphrase one of Brideshead Revisited’s most famous lines: we have been here before.
In November, Little, Brown will release the 75th anniversary edition of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, set in the interwar years and centered on an Oxford student who becomes enchanted and then disillusioned with his friend’s aristocratic family. The book has enjoyed various renaissances since it was first published in the U.K. in 1945 and in the U.S. the following year.
The 1982 paperback edition of the novel, for example, published around the time that PBS began airing the BBC TV adaptation starring Jeremy Irons. It’s sold almost 600,000 copies, according to Bowen Dunnan, publishing associate at Little, Brown imprint Back Bay. Since then, the book has been cemented as part of the Western canon, appearing in the Modern Library’s 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels and, more recently, on New York Public Library’s list of 125 beloved books from the last 125 years. (A film adaptation starring Emma Thompson was also released in 2008.)
Dunnan says the book has continued to appeal to readers thanks to its timeless themes, namely class, aspiration, and generational change. “It feels like a British Great Gatsby to me,” he says. He adds that readers latch onto and remember certain images from the novel, including the fictional family’s Rolls-Royce and their estate, both of which feature prominently in the cover of the new edition.
To mark the anniversary, Little, Brown had intended to take part in a festival celebrating the book at Castle Howard, an opulent estate in North Yorkshire, England, where both screen adaptations of the novel were filmed. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival, originally scheduled for this summer, was canceled. It’s perhaps fitting for a novel concerned with the decline of the aristocracy that promotion will now take place largely on the democratic turf of the Web. Dunnan is looking forward in particular to a social media read-along, and seeing, he says, “people bringing different perspectives to the book.”