When Charles Ryder, the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s semi-autobiographical Brideshead Revisited (1945), arrives as an undergraduate at Oxford in the early 1920s, he fills his bookshelf with volumes by Lytton Strachey, A. E. Housman, Norman Douglas, Compton Mackenzie, and a copy of Clive Bell’s Art (1914), a touchstone of modernist theory. It is a nice detail, indicating not only the boy’s aspirations to intellectual modishness but his cultural insularity, a point that will be underscored later in the novel when, in thrall to the Flyte family, Charles makes an aesthetic conversion to the international Baroque.

For Bell (along with his older comrade-in-arms, Roger Fry—also featured on Ryder’s bookshelf) was modern art’s apostle to the Anglo-Saxons, the island nation’s interpreter of the ideas...


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