In my previous four posts I have presented the four main characters of Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited. I would like to conclude my discussion of this novel with a few closing comments.
This novel is full of religious symbolism, presenting the road to happiness in the next life through the acceptance of divine grace. This divine grace bestows three theological virtues on those of us open to and worthy of such grace: Faith, Hope, and Charity.
The candle in the chapel attached to the Brideshead estate, mentioned several times throughout the novel, is the author’s way of indicating the presence of divine grace. Prior to the death of Lady Marchmain, the candle remained lit. Upon her death, even with her son and two daughters still living in the estate (and with Sebastian away), the candle is extinguished. Only upon the return of Charles to the estate some 20 years later is the candle found relit. Clearly, the author is expressing his thoughts that Lady Marchmain and eventually Charles have received at least the theological virtue of Faith. It is also clear at other points in the novel that Sebastian has also received at least Faith, and most likely, the virtue of Hope.
Suffering also plays a dominant role in the novel. It is noted in the novel that Sebastian, Julia, Charles, and Lady Marchmain have suffered much in life. Their suffering may have much to do with traveling the road to happiness in this life. All four characters come from wealthy families, are well-educated, well-known in society, and healthy. You might say that each of them has reached the end of the Journey in this life. However, the Adventure has only just begun.
By the end of the book the four main characters are in different segments of the Adventure. Julia appears not to have recognized the call to the Adventure, if indeed it has been sent. Charles finally has found the courage to accept the call to the Adventure; whether he survives the ensuing trials is uncertain. Sebastian has recognized the call and has accepted it; however, by the end of the novel he is found fighting the many trials of the adventure. (While it is unclear whether Sebastian will eventually find happiness in this life, his sister, Julia, mentions that he has become “a person who can’t quite fit in either to the world or the monastic rule.” It is this living in both the everyday as well as the spiritual worlds that Joseph Campbell mentions is critical to attaining happiness.) Lady Marchmain, long ago recognized the call and accepted it, fought the trials to seize the boon, and returned from the Adventure with the boon intact. However, her boon of passing along her religion to her family in the hope of it continuing forward to future generations was never realized in her life time. She died with the uncertainty of whether her boon would be appreciated by her family and passed on to future generations.
There are very few novels that so brilliantly express the road to happiness in the next life, much less in this life, as this great work by Evelyn Waugh!