Literary Dinner | Brideshead Revisited
This is actually the book that got me back into classics as an adult, so I was thrilled when it was our "Banned Books" book club pick for September! After college, I had a period of time where I wasn't picking up heavier reads, but Evelyn Waugh brought me back into the welcoming fold of excellent writing and timeless stories. This book is absolutely beautiful, and one of my favorite classics. It wrestles with class, religion, complicated love, and friendships. Plus, a good bit of it is set in Oxford, making it the perfect September read with all those back to school vibes.
In thinking about this party, we really needed to capture the old world glamour of the novel; it's very similar to the aesthetic of Downton Abbey (if you've ever obsessively binged that show like most of us). Much of the novel revolves around the grand house, and the characters are all wealthy, to say the least. We thrifted some china, set plates on chargers, and set out candelabras and flowers. We also utilized the gardens on Rikki's "estate" for parts of our meal!
One element we knew we needed to focus on was a drinks tray. There were only a few mentions of actual food in the novel (and often it was like an ice swan full of caviar), but ohhhhh gosh were there drinks. Servants bringing drink trays, specific drinks being ordered at bars and restaurants, drinks being sipped, wine cellars being raided....just alcohol galore. And of course it's extra important because alcoholism plays a role in the novel, as Sebastian struggles with it so deeply.
We chose to highlight the more elegant side of drinking, and take our cue from the text when servants would bring in a drink tray before dinner for the family to mix their own drinks. We found a silver tray and piled on rocks glasses, ice, a shaker, and our favorite liquors. Champagne, of course, was chilling in my vintage ice bucket, while a teapot full of flowers, a lovely stack of old books, and a globe completed the scene here.
Our main table was pretty straightforward. We pulled Rikki's dining table over a few feet and flung open her french doors, letting the chill of the early September evening air sweep in and refresh the house from the heat of the day. We covered it with a simple white linen tablecloth, ran blue cheesecloth down the center, and set out vintage china on chargers, wine glasses, candles, cloth napkins, more gorgeous old books, and used floral foam to make a flower arrangement at the base of one of my candelabras. A golden apple held a favorite quote from the novel that perfectly encapsulated it's ethos. A bottle of Burgundy landed on the table as well, because of course.
Some of the food mentioned in the book were racks of lamb leaned against a cone of mashed potatoes, fish with white sauce, and roasts. We took the old world feel of the food and plated our meal of mashed potatoes, frenched pork chops, drizzled with cream sauce, and had a side of fresh garden beans. Oh, and that bottle of Burgundy got opened and thoroughly enjoyed, too!
Dessert, again, we pulled from old world food traditions and made a berry trifle. It was the perfect use of summer berries as a last hurrah before pumpkin everything takes over (not that we're complaining). A trifle is basically cake pieces layered with berries and cream, and it's utterly delicious. Rikki's garden provided the strawberries and she even had the perfect silver server for it.
As always, our dinner took about an hour to prep and set up, and we actually had some of Rikki's family members join us this time, which was wonderful to have them share the scene we created with us while we talked about the book. By the time we parted, the moon was full and the earlier evening had descended, bringing the promise of fall with it.
We can't wait to throw some fall/winter dinner parties! As most of you know, Rikki is due with a baby this month, so we aren't sure if we'll get to do a dinner party in October, but keep an eye out in November!
Have you read Brideshead Revisited? What did you think?