Tag Archives: Brideshead Revisited

Second Companion Book – Brideshead Revisited (Part 6)

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!

Second Companion Book – Brideshead Revisited (Part 5)

Let’s discuss our final main character of the novel: Charles Ryder.  Charles is the narrator of the book.  He once visited the Brideshead estate in his youth but comes upon it a second time (thus Brideshead Revisited) as a British officer fighting in World War II.  His narration is his recollections of his youth spent at Brideshead as remembered by a British officer about 20 years later.

Charles grows up in a very small but wealthy family and never develops a relationship with his father.  Charles attends Oxford where he meets Sebastian.  Soon after meeting Sebastian Charles is  introduced to Sebastian’s family.  Charles becomes engrossed in the family: its traditions, its religion, and its beauty.  Charles falls in love with Julia and divorces his wife to be with Julia.  He then loses Julia who decides that it is best to move on and perhaps find her purpose in life while obeying the laws of the Catholic Church.

Charles has some success as a painter while distancing himself from his wife and children.  Near the end of the novel, we find that Charles no longer has any relationship with Sebastian, Julia, or any other member of the Brideshead estate.  In the novel’s epilogue Charles himself states, “I never built anything, and I forfeited the right to watch my son grow up.   I’m homeless, childless, middle-aged, love-less, …”

But Charles does discover one very important thing upon his revisit to Brideshead: Faith.  As a British officer he visits the chapel at the Brideshead estate, once lit before the death of Lady Marchmain, and he realizes that the candle in the chapel has recently been relit.  He realizes that he has found the faith that was missing throughout his life.  More importantly, this faith was planted at Brideshead some 20 years earlier, and only now is it fully grown.  We are left with an optimistic impression in the final paragraph of the novel that Charles will pull himself together and that his recently found faith will serve him well into the future.

Final thoughts about the novel in the next blog.


Second Companion Book – Brideshead Revisited (Part 4)

Let’s turn our attention to the third of the four main characters: Lady Julia.  Lady Julia is the daughter of Lady Marchmain and the brother of Sebastian.  She is a very beautiful woman who marries first a Protestant man and then leaves him to live with Charles the narrator of the novel, and the final character to be discussed in the next post.

Julia was “living in sin” with Charles (who was also married) when, at the sight of her father’s deathbed, she decides immediately to cut all ties with Charles in the hope of removing her sin.  From that moment forward very little is said of Julia.

It is clear in the novel that Julia represents a woman who is lost in the moment.  She does not plan for a future nor is she willing to takes the necessary steps to fix her present life so that the future might be lived in a better way.  She knows what needs to be accomplished, she knows what is expected of her, but she lacks the courage to take action.  Near the end of the novel we are told that she is living in another country with her other brother and sister.  It is most likely that those three are searching for the faith of their mother.

While Julia may have the wisdom to know what steps need to be taken along the road to happiness, she simply lacks the courage of her convictions.  While she is not envious of those around her nor is she greedy, she is lazy or apathetic – wanting to accept what others think she should accept rather than taking the effort to decide what she needs to accomplish for herself.

Second Companion Book – Brideshead Revisited (Part 3)

Let’s continue by analyzing the second of the four main characters of the novel: Sebastian.  Sebastian is the son of Lady Marchmain who simply can not stand being around his family at the Brieshead estate.  He spends much of his time at Oxford drinking to excess.  In fact, wherever he goes he drinks to excess.

While Sebastian is not overly envious of others or greedy, and he does appear to fight being lazy and gluttonous as he ages, it is unclear by the end of the book as to whether Sebastian will reach true happiness.  However, it is clear that he has matured and that his mother’s Catholic upbringing has had its desired effect on him.

The last mention of Sebastian concerns his wanting to be a servant to others at a monastery.  He has no other wish than to serve others in whatever capacity he is allowed: it is his faith that has brought him to a monastery.  In fact, the author gives us a very clear clue that Sebastian has not only received the grace of Faith but also the grace of Hope (it is fairly clear that the grace of Hope was received at the monastery).  The author writes, “If he lives long enough, generations of missionaries in all kinds of remote places will think of him as a queer old character who was somehow part of the Hope of their student days, and remember him in their masses.”  Like his mother, Sebastian eventually receives and reflects to others the theological virtues of Faith and Hope.  And, like his mother, it is unclear whether he will receive the final grace of Charity and be welcomed into happiness.

Sebastian does live up to the expressed hope of his mother by accepting the mantle of her dead brothers.  He does keep the family faith alive, and projects the graces of faith and of hope, albeit not at the Brideshead estate.

Second Companion Book – Brideshead Revisited (Part 2)

As I mentioned in my previous blog, let’s begin to analyze the first of the four main characters of the novel: Lady Marchmain.  Lady Marchmain is the matriarch of the Brideshead household and the mother of Sebastian, Julia, and two other children.

She was born poor but married into the British aristocracy becoming prosperous after her marriage.  She agreed to marry her husband but only if he converted to her faith, Catholicism, which he did.  She had three brothers, all killed in the First World War.  She commissioned a book devoted to the services of these three brothers.

Lay Marchmain was instrumental in preserving a chapel that was attached to the estate and in which mass was provided for her family as well as nearby neighbors.

Lady Marchmain exhibited none of the seven deadly sins.  Even though she was abandoned by her husband (who ran off with another woman to Italy), and she was a Catholic in an English town that was leery of Catholics, she was not envious, greedy, lazy, gluttonous, lustful, boastful, or wrathful.  She was by no means a saint, but simply dedicated to the faithful upbringing of her family.  She had high expectations that her son Sebastian would continue the service of her three dead brothers and continue the traditions of Brideshead.

It is clear that Lady Marchmain received the the virtues of faith, hope, and, most likely, charity.  She was strong enough, given her present situation, to live her faith with the hope that it would continue in the family (which it did to some degree).  Even though after her death the chapel attached to her estate was closed her devotion to instilling Catholic traditions in her children served some of them well enough that by the end of the novel they were on a clear path to happiness.

The author provides an excellent example of grace given to a woman who most needs it in overcoming the many travesties and personal affronts experienced in her life – the same travesties and personal affronts experienced by many, if not most, of us.


Second Companion Book – Brideshead Revisited

I promised that I would search for a second companion book to accompany the first companion book which I have already discussed, Atlas Shrugged.  I have found that second book.  This second book is Brideshead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh.

Whereas Atlas Shrugged is concerned with the road to happiness in this life, Brideshead Revisited is concerned with the road to happiness in the next life.  Some critics believe that this book is primarily about family, love, or the English aristocracy.  I believe that the book is primarily about religion; and, thus I agree with the author, who states in the preface to his book, “the book’s theme is the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters…” It is through the willingness to accept this grace that a few of the main characters receive one or more of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity).  By accepting these virtues, the characters move closer to happiness in the next life.  In addition, the author makes very clear that these virtues have a similar effect on the characters’ road to happiness in this life.  In essence, the theological virtues help the characters to find the road to happiness in this life as well as the next life.

Brideshead Revisited was written during the Second World War.  The author was serving in the British Army and took time to write about several years during his youth spent visiting with family members of Brideshead estate.  He wrote the book having come across Brideshead for a second time while serving in the British Army.

The book is beautifully written and touches upon the British aristocracy of the early 1900s.  It concerns the narrator and his interaction with the Catholic family of Brideshead surrounded by Protestant aristocracy.  This great novel deserves to be treated as one of the two companion books to my book for one main reason: it vividly portrays the road to happiness in the next life better than any other work of art that I have come across.  While other books are better at articulating love, and family, and the English aristocracy, no other book is better at articulating  the road to happiness in the next life through divine grace.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked the novel as number 80 on its list of 100 best English-language works of the 20th century.  In addition, it was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-laguage books from 1923 to the present.

In the next four posts I will explore the impact of divine grace on the actions of each of four main characters.  Hopefully, this will help to better understand the theme of the book.

More to come!