Castle Howard, Yorkshire England
The other day I was still sick with a virus and need to take a nap. So to help me fall back to sleep I put on one of my favorite movies, Brideshead Revisited, based on a novel by Evelyn Waugh. I know almost by heart every scene and every sentence of this beautiful mini-series. I was 17 years old and somehow allowed to watch it when it first aired on Masterpiece Theater in 1981. Brideshead Revisited was the one of the most important experiences of my teenage years, far more influential than a teacher or a book or any other experience for those were very circumscribed by my cloistered religion. No, it was a TV drama that gave me the first taste of a larger world and new ideas.
This sweeping 13 hour long series is Charles Ryder’s story from of his early days at Oxford all the way to his service in World War II and his relationship with the very wealthy and powerful Flyte family; primarily a mother, brother and sister. This family, the castle Brideshead and religion all shape Charles’ experiences and choices. The scenery, castle, music and story line all enchanted me at such an impressionable time of my life. I realize now after seeing it many times that Charles’ experiences and questions were to be the so similar to mine. It was a foreshadowing of my relationship with a family, a house and religion.
As a child I never knew why I was an American and always thought I was supposed to be English. I even felt exiled here in the US. It was no wander that I was so drawn to this story and now I realize that it is also part of past life memories. I couldn’t wait to get back to where I felt I really belonged. In 2009 I went to England to see my imagined homeland. The top of my itinerary was to visit Castle Howard in Yorkshire where Brideshead Revisited was filmed. Somehow I expected the history of the Flyte family but instead found the story of the remarkable Earls of Carlisle. There is room of the house with pictures and information on the mini-series and more recent film remake.
It was a magical day to see this house that I knew so well, the hallways and galleries and sweeping staircases. It was sunny and warm that September day as I sat by the beautiful fountain that was purchase from Prince Albert in the 1800’s. One of my favorite places was the chapel attached to the house, with stained glass by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a pre-Raphaelite painter who inspired me.
Castle Howard was as much a pilgrimage for me as any of the great scared sites I have visited because it was so personal for my own journey to a larger life view, and a memory of my childhood dreams. This pilgrimage healed something from the past in this life and other lives. Since my trip to England I feel more at home in East Tennessee, like something was fulfilled by just standing on the land and seeing it again.