Charles Ryder’s Emotional Development in Brideshead Revisited
For Waugh, Catholicism and emotion are intrinsically intertwined, their congruity perhaps best reflected in the Baroque art which they inspire- it is passionate and intense, often depicting biblical scenes at their climax to ensure maximum emotional impact. It therefore makes sense that Charles’s religious journey moves simultaneously alongside his emotional one, in fact his emotional development almost hinges on his religious evolution. Waugh conveys this journey through Charles’s response to aesthetics, with his reaction to four spaces – his Oxford rooms, the Brideshead Chapel, the parlour within a pre-Raphaelite painting and the Brideshead fountain – acting as reflections or, more accurately, as the benchmarks, of his emotional and therefore spiritual development.
Charles Ryder sets off on his journey as an agnostic with a clinical eye for modernism, arriving at Oxford laden with contemporary prints and posters for his room:
“On my first afternoon I proudly hung a reproduction of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ over the fire and set up a screen, painted by Roger Fry with a Provençal landscape, which I had bought inexpensively when the Omega workshops were sold up. I displayed also a poster by McKnight Kauffer and Rhyme Sheets from the Poetry Bookshop, and, most painful to recall, a porcelain figure of Polly Peachum which stood between black tapers on the chimney-piece.” (27)
This aesthetic salmagundi is neither original or, much like his emotional state, fully developed. A circular mix of commercialism, Bloomsbury and post impressionism, Charles is clearly a modern man. Much like his listless circle of friends, Charles is adrift on a ‘middle course of culture’—tepid, desultory, and trendily conformist. Using what can only be clunkily described as an ‘aesthetic code’, Waugh spells out Charles’s agnosticism in agonising detail. Sunflowers is pictorial short hand for the 1920 Manet and Post-Impressionists exhibit at the Grafton Galleries, the first major introduction of Van Gogh the impetus for Virginia Woolf’s oft-quoted remark that ‘on or about December 1910, human character changed.’ The impact of the exhibition rippled through the shocked consciousness of the art world –the direction of aesthetic appreciation had been altered radically. The presence of this print in Charles’s room signifies his modern and fashionable aesthetic tastes whilst also linking to Roger Fry, the milestone exhibit’s organizer, who was also responsible for Charles’s decorative screen. Fry’s critical writings, early championing of Paul Cézanne, professorship at the Slade School of Art, central role in the Bloomsbury group, and output of paintings and designs translated into an outsized influence on the British art scene during the first third of the twentieth century. With Clive Bell, Fry helped to define and develop a critical discourse around modern painting in Britain. The next object, a poster by Edward McKnight Kauf Ter – just one of many he designed for the London Underground to advertise destinations – is followed by rhyme sheets and a kitsch Polly Peachum figure. The issue that we are meant to find with these objects is more than their questionable taste, it is their limited signification.
The images and objects each reflect a certain ubiquity; all (save Fry’s screen) are reproductions, rather than original creations. They represent and catalogue the modern aesthetic of 1922; they do not embody the tradition that Waugh covets and mourns, instead acting as a beacon of Charles’s emotional and aesthetic immaturity. This is perhaps most blatant by the aesthetic loop caused by the books and images in Charles’s room, a loop beginning and ending with Rodger Fry. Van Gogh’s work hung in London in 1910 largely thanks to Fry, whose Omega Workshops (the origin of the screen) exhibited McKnight Kauffer’s work. Kauffer illustrated some Rhyme Sheets, as did Claude Lovât Fraser, who made a name for himself with the stage designs for the 1921 production of The Beggar’s Opera, in which Polly Peachum is a character. The Poetry Bookshop, producer of the Rhyme Sheets, also published the Georgian Poets. This volume sits cheek-by-jowl on the shelf with Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey, close friend of and fellow Bloomsbury denizen with Fry—and with Fry’s own Vision and Design…and thus, the circuit returns to the Van Gogh print.
Fry’s aesthetics champion emotional indiﬀerence, therefore it can be concluded that Waugh’s subversive depiction of the item’s endless circularity is a criticism of modern English art’s loss of a greater centre of meaning. In Waugh’s eye’s, Charles’s will complete his emotional and spiritual development when he can appreciate art emotionally instead of with a clinical eye for pure aesthetics and inventory. Sebastian plays a major role in encouraging this change in Charles’s aesthetic sensibilities, beginning with an extravagance of flowers, ‘the entire day’s stock of a market stall’ sent as an apology for his intoxicated misbehaviour. Sebastian invites him to lunch at his rooms, decorated with ‘a strange jumble of objects’—wax fruit and drawings by Daumier, each potentially beautiful and sacred—in contrast to Charles’s carefully curated cultural display, void of religion and individuality. Later that afternoon, he insists on going to the Oxford Botanic Garden, where his new friend has never been. Surprised, Sebastian exclaims, ‘O Charles, what a lot you have to learn!…I don’t know where I should be without the botanical gardens’. After this first enthralling afternoon, Charles returns to his own space and: ‘detected a jejune air that had not irked me before.’ He asks, ‘What was wrong? Nothing except the golden daffodils seemed to be real.’ Charles continues, ‘Was it the screen? I turned it face to the wall. That was better.’
In the next paragraph: ‘It was the end of the screen. Lunt [Charles’s servant] never liked it, and after a few days he took it away, to an obscure refuge he had under the stairs, full of mops and buckets’. Shortly, Charles, low on funds, sells the screen to Collins. By turning the screen around Charles’s broke Fry’s aesthetic loop of clinical observation – a moment similar in theme to that of a child taking it’s first steps, its mother – in this case represented by Sebastian, Charles’s aesthetic teacher – with her arms outstretched calling out words of encouragement. In fact, Charles states that while: ‘the fallacy of modern aesthetics’ had been explained to him intellectually by the ’embryo don’ Collins, ‘it was not until Sebastian, idly turning the page of Clive Bell’s Art, read: ‘Does anyone feel the same kind of emotion for a butterfly or a flower that he feels for a cathedral or a picture?’ Yes, / do’ that my eyes were opened’
Bell’s rhetorical question (to which the correct answer would be ‘No’), appears in the context of his point that ‘Surely, it is not what I call an aesthetic emotion that most of us, feel, generally, for natural beauty…Why these beautiful things do not move us as works of art move is another, and not an aesthetic, question.’ Beautiful in its simplicity, Sebastian’s repudiation of Bell’s distinctly unemotional take on art strikes another blow against Charles’s misplaced faith in art.
Brideshead Revisited. Seductive Nature of the Extract.
An analyse of Brideshead revisited
To a certain degree the both critics maintain that considering the post war Britain setting Bridehead revisited is overly lavish to the extent that it is deemed a ‘snobbish scam’. However, I would agree with the first critic who further states that the ‘seductive’ nature of the extract seems to induce sympathy and pathos towards Sebastian, thus creating a ‘damnably readable’ extract. Nonetheless the notion that the novel shows a ‘mystical veneration of the upper classes’ seems somewhat misplaced, indeed, the emotional repression and denial towards an apparent alcohol dependency negate any idea that the reader experiences any degree of worship towards these somewhat dislocated characters, particularly due to the Waugh’s linguistic choices that appear to deny emotional depth. The undertones of the remains of the roaring 20’s where indulgence such as ‘a cocktail tray’ and ‘manicure things’ were common appearance seem to be rejuvenated in this extract however, they are at odds with the development of social equality due to the rise of the first labour government. This makes the aristocratic ideals seem superficial and perhaps further negates the notion that they formed an ‘alternative religion.’
Critic A cites the existence of ‘overblown metaphors’ which are deemed to ‘move and charm’. The presentation of the Brideshead is enhanced through one of these aforementioned metaphors ‘grim rock-crystal face’ this conveys an almost oxymoronic image of this aristocratic figure. Both ‘grim’ and ‘rock’ suggest a severity and impenetrable exterior that is indeed ‘agnostic’ however, ‘seductive’ presentation of this character is perhaps conveyed through this contrast with ‘crystal’ which exudes wealth and it alluring and enticing. This is further compounded by the noun ‘mask’; whilst his appearance is a disguise it becomes a subject of intrigue. This seems to link to the remains of the roaring 20’s, that was perhaps a wistful memory to the contemporary reader following the recent devastation of the WWII, this imagery inspires memories of masquerades, wealth and festivities that pervaded the 1920’s. Whilst this could suggest a ‘veneration of the upper classes’, as critic B suggests, an alternative viewpoint would be that the structural layout of the extract denies this image enough build up for it to be maintained as accurate instead it agrees with the equally oxymoronic quote from critic A that the extract is ‘damnably magical’. As the extract progresses, the reader becomes more aware of the ‘drunk’ dishevelled appearance of Sebastian. This interpretation is revealed through the active verbs ‘slopped’ and ‘squinted’ and lexical fields ‘clumsily’ and ‘awry… hair on end’. Furthermore, Sebastian is given a childlike tone that is conveyed by the monosyllabic lexis and simplistic sentence structures ‘Not with nanny.’ indeed, the idea of a nanny is rarely reserved for an adult man. Alternatively, this staccato speech is not a representation of his childish state but rather an indictment of his drunkenness. However regardless of these two contrasting interpretations, Waugh has created a presentation of incompetence and the upper classes uses alcohol as a mere toy despite its costly nature and detrimental consequences; this augments the idea that veneration of the upper classes is not apparent. Particularly due to the increasingly labour environment of this period where this display of extravagant ‘cocktails’ and ‘footmen’ rendering the moneyed population to a juvenile state, which would have induced disgust opposed to sympathy or seduction. This is enhanced through the deceptive and naïve presentation of Lady Marchmain. Even by the culmination of the extract she is still unaware of her son’s alcoholic tendencies, instead she believes the lie that ‘his cold is worse’ not only this show lack of insight into her own son but also her referral to an outsider to discover if ‘there is anything he wants’ shows a lack of connection. her deferral to someone else and blind belief in what she hears is far from admirable instead it is somewhat satirical highlights her emotional limitations and contradicts the assertion that ‘only the upper class can be taken seriously’. In reality her reading of ‘The Wisdom of Father Brown’ is somewhat ironic considering her own actions being far from wise, this satirical undertone created by Waugh further negates the aforementioned statement of Critic A.
Furthermore, ‘the implication that only the upper classes can be taken be taken seriously’ can be deemed as void through the revelation that the narrator is not omniscient and instead is unreliable despite embodying the image of a member of the upper class hence the use of the first personal plural pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’. Structurally it is not until the termination of the extract that the narrator reveals that the extract was written ‘even at twenty years’ distance.’ This narrative device conveys the narrator as untrustworthy and the reader feels deceived particularly as the late expose of this reality means that they have to question the accuracy of the information that have already been presented with. Indeed, this agrees with the quote from critic A that Charles is an ‘agnostic narrator-hero’. This unreliability of the upper classes is further enhanced by the over exaggerated use of language; ‘mourning’ is an active verbs used surrounding death thus it is somewhat self-indulgent and absurd to employ it to describe a self-induced drunken nature. This is further shown by the dramatic assertion that ‘a chill spread over us’, with the retrospective knowledge that this is a personal account of a distant memory, it seems dubious as to whether the narrator has the authority or insight to use the inclusive pronoun ‘us’. The imagery of a ‘a chill spread’ suggests that a fear is pervasive throughout the whole room, however, it seems highly dramatized and out of place with the reality that the narrator’s sense of ‘foreboding’ is only in relation to a drunk friend. Waugh’s use of an unreliable narrator which makes the reader distrust the information they are presented with seems to connect to the socio- contextual of the contemporary times. The gap between the rich and the poor was decreasing and the rich were no longer believed to be uniformly superior, instead the election of the first labour government in 1924 showed the growing desire to address this unequal power and status distribution. Therefore, Waugh’s employment of a member of the upper class to deceive the reader into thinking them to be an omniscient narrator perhaps is designed to convey the faults and weaknesses of some of privileged and is thus supporting the contemporary frustration towards their extortionate wealth and influence.
Another theme referred to by both critics is the importance of religion in Waugh’s extract. Critic B believes on the presence of ‘endurance of faith in a broken world’, meanwhile critic A states that the extract ‘breathes a theological certainty’ with the family being ‘haunted by the God of Catholics’. It could be maintained that these two views are synonymous and that ‘Mrs Marchmain’s practice of… visit to the Chapel before bed’ supports the critics’ views about the influential presence of religion. Indeed, the verb ‘practice’ implies repetition and a pious nature that is committed to a religion existence. Alternatively, this evidence can actually only be used to support critic B; faith is to some degree attempted to be abided by and the evident alcoholic tendencies of Sebastian combined with the contextual knowledge of the upper classes being in demise and the devastation that WWII left behind, do support the assertion that it is a ‘broken world’. Nonetheless, critic A’s claim that the family is ‘haunted by the God of Catholics’ seems negated by the evident primary theme of alcohol, which are from being solely reserved for Sebastian’s but is a dominant presence in the whole family’s life. Structurally it is the first focus of the extract as the reader is presented with ‘the normal practice for a cocktail tray to be brought into the drawing-room’. The use of alcohol goes against catholic discipline because it is believed that it implies a lack of control and indulgence, therefore Mrs Marchmain’s claim that her alcoholic son ‘had better have a glass of hot whisky’ evidently contradicts catholic doctrine. The word ‘better’ expresses certainty however its homophone also implies that the whisky, which is goes against ‘theological certainty’, will heel Sebastian. Whilst it can be argued that Sebastian’s use of alcohol is a rebellion against the pervasive ‘endurance of faith’ in his family, it is not viable to support the claim that Mrs Marchamain is truly pious considering her repression of reality and monosyllabic lexis shown in the line ‘we can talk about this in the morning.’ Not only does she support the use of alcohol but also she is dismissive of her son who is need of attention which is further separation from the Catholic tendencies to offer aid to those in need.
Therefore, to conclude it could be asserted that Critic A’s claims regarding religion are flawed and that instead Critic B’s views maintain more merit. Waugh seems to present an almost satirical presentation of his presention which is enhanced by the unreliable narrator, this fits the contextually situation in which the upper class were losing their status. Therefore, this denies the claim that the extract conveys a ‘mystical veneration of the upper class’ instead what appears apparent is that Waugh has created an extract that is to a certain degree a ‘snobbish sham’ but is carefully crafted to show the ‘implausibility’ of the power of the upper classes, there flaws are revealed for the audience to revel at. Although it is seductive extract this is perhaps done expressly in order to convey how easy it is to support this class system without questioning its value.
Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: Literary Review
Although a whole novel reveals more meaning than a short extract from it, examining an extract can still be useful in studying a text as it is easier to look at it more closely. Brideshead Revisited published in 1945 is a novel narrated by a character named Charles who tells the story of his part in the life of a doomed Catholic family in the English Aristocracy. In this essay, I will be studying an extract from Chapter 1 of the novel that tells the story of a flashback to a day in Charles time as a student at Oxford when hundreds of women had arrived to join in on the festivities of Eights week, a rowing regatta. This extract demonstrates an objectified view on women and the disruption caused when they are given priority in a male-dominated society. Through its context and through a feminist lens, we can see how techniques are used to convey a biased, unfavorable view on women due to them being given privileges over men.
Almost the entirety of this extract is a flashback to 1923, the days when the narrator (Charles) was a young student at Oxford university. Only 3 years prior to this, women in Oxford became eligible for admission as full members of the university and were given full rights to complete their degrees. This was a major change for Oxford, and the men may have had some difficulty adjusting to it, just as they are adjusting to Eights week becoming a co-ed event in this extract. It is suggested that the streets of Oxford see more men than women through the way that the women are treated as royalty yet also somewhat bait for the college men. With this history of Oxford in mind, it is suggested that it is because the university was obviously so male-dominated in this time and the colleges weren’t co-ed that the presence of women makes the men in the extract uncomfortable. Sebastian describes Oxford as becoming ‘most peculiar suddenly’ and Charles and his Scout disapprove over the disruption that their presence had caused, describing it as the ‘grossest disturbance’. It is also implied that the men in the extract believe themselves to be more intelligent and civilized than the hundreds of women that are visiting for the week through the way Charles describes the women to be ‘twittering and fluttering’ and that they’re ‘herded in droves’ and ‘pushed in punts’ rather than being left to themselves. If a reader has the knowledge of this part in the history of Oxford, they’ll better understand how the introduction of women in a male-dominated society caused discomfort to the men of the college, who believed that they should still be given priority due to being more intelligent and sophisticated than the female guests.
When applying a feminist lens to this extract of Brideshead Revisited, a reader can see how techniques are employed that objectify women in a text that emphasizes the individuality of men over women. To begin with, the story is told by a male narrator, whose closest friends seem to be men. By writing as a male narrator, it is easy to represent women as being all the same rather than individuals with different personalities and quirks. Rather than singling out ladies to talk about, their presence is instead described through phrases such as ‘a rabble of womankind’ and ‘pullulating with women’ whilst the male characters are given more depth through dialogue and individual description. It is implied that women are made happy with things such as cucumber sandwiches and balls and that it is through these things that they are lured to the college, ‘some hundreds strong’. This representation of the women being shallow paints a picture of them that is unfavorable yet accepted by the male characters who have the view that the college should be ‘boys only’ as that is what they’re comfortable with. This idea established by Charles description and his Scouts complaints is reinforced when Sebastian enters and compares the presence of the women to ‘a circus’, going on to jokingly suggest that it is dangerous and Charles should escape from it with him. Not only are the women objectified through such dialogue and description, they are also described to be ‘invaders’, and the inconvenience of their temporary presence is despised by the men, who believe eights week was much better off before the war when it was celebrated by ‘wine in the evening’ and ‘one or two gentlemen to luncheon’. Through this constant unfavorable depiction of women, it is shown that the men of Oxford view themselves as higher and more important than females, who should not be ‘twittering and fluttering’ around in their territory.
There is a strong sense of nostalgia in this extract, conveyed through imagery and dialogue. Charles’ flashback to over 20 years before the time he is writing in reveals, through imagery, that he is nostalgic over these early days at Oxford. Meanwhile his servant Lunt longs for the time before the war and criticizes the changes that it brought. This way of looking to the past reveals that perhaps these male characters do not accustom well to change, which reinforces the notion that they despise the temporary change of their home losing its male-dominance. Charles’ even goes as far to compare the Oxford of his present day to Lyonnesse, a city in Arthurian Legend that once glorious yet is now lost after sinking in to the sea. The way that Charles describes Oxford with female pronouns in his imagery portraying the Oxford of 1923 (‘her autumnal winds, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days’) is in direct contrast to the critical way he describes the women who are visiting Oxford. This suggests that Charles associates Oxford to be feminine because of its beauty and therefore admires it, yet cannot view the real women the same way because he believes they lack in intelligence and they have needs and wants that cause inconvenience for him. The description of Lunt’s nostalgia almost directly criticizes how the society around him had changed to accommodate women. He clearly feels very strongly about how then men are asked to eat away from the college if they ‘haven’t got ladies’ for only a few days when stating so to Charles ‘despondently’ and going on to say ‘if you ask me, sir, it’s all on account of the war. It couldn’t have happened but for that’. Here Lunt is blaming the war for the changes for the Eights week festivities to include women so much more than it did before. However, the society in the extract had changed, and like Charles says, ‘things could never be the same as they had been in 1914’, when women were given less rights in Oxford. A feminist lens reveals through Charles’ description of the past and the way Lunt does not like the change of women being given more priority, women are despised by the men in the extract because they feel more comfortable in a male-dominated society.
With some knowledge of the history of Oxford concerning women and through a feminist lens, this extract from Brideshead Revisited reveals sexist reasons behind why the women are talked about so unfavorably and why their presence makes the men uncomfortable. It is because of the sudden introduction of females in a male dominated area that they are viewed as ‘invaders’ by the characters in the extract, yet they are also objectified in how they are described and regarded to have shallow interests and to be more or less the same.
Even though the depiction of women seems quite disrespectful, it is done in a humorous manner and can perhaps relate to situations in today’s society where men and women try to reserve things to be boys, or girls only as a healthy sort of rivalry between genders.
Love in Brideshead Revisited
The novel Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh, explores the meaning of love and the many incarnations it can take; love of family and friends, romantic love, and love of God. The novel follows Charles Ryder through his youth and into adulthood focusing on his relationships with Sebastian, Celia, Julia, and God. Waugh also contrasts Charles relationships with Julia with Bridey’s relationship with his wife, Beryl. Through these relationships, Waugh’s idea of the construction of love becomes apparent; we learn to love through loving and in that way the love of a parent or friend can be a precursor to romantic love. Waugh also believes love of God is the base and forerunner of all love and without it no other love can be sanctified.
Sebastian is Charles’s first love of his young life. Charles has received no love through his grisly relationship with his father, and Charles’s friends at Oxford before Sebastian are made to seem intellectual but dull. We define ourselves by our relationships to others and because Charles does not love or receive any love, that we are aware of, he is vulnerable to Sebastian’s promise of friendship and with it a sense of belonging. He truly falls in love with Sebastian when Sebastian is flipping through a book of art theory and reads “Does anyone feel the same kind of emotion for a butterfly or a flower that he feels for a cathedral or a picture?” and said “Yes. I do” (Waugh 28). Because their love is so deep and they are nearly inseparable, it is easy to mistake Charles and Sebastian for homosexuals, even the prostitutes at the Old Hundredth misidentify them for “Fairies” (Waugh 116). Cara, Lord Marchmain’s mistress addresses this when she tells Charles “I know of these romantic friendships of the English… It is the kind of love that comes to children before they know its meaning” (Waugh 102). Waugh is long believed to have been bi-sexual. In her biography Mad World: Evelyn Waugh And The Secrets of Brideshead, Paula Byrne states that Sebastian is a composite of two of Waugh’s three lovers Alistair Graham and Hugh Lygon, citing the fact that in some manuscripts the name Alistair is written instead of Sebastian (Stephen 1). With this biographical information in mind along with Cara’s opinion it seems that Waugh does consider Charles and Sebastians relationship to be more than simple friendship. While I don’t believe Charles and Sebastian are homosexual I do believe their love is a form of romantic love without a physical aspect. Cara also recognizes that Sebastian is stuck in his childhood and predicts his demise, saying “He will be a drunkard if someone does not come to stop him…I see it in the way [he] drinks” (103). Despite Sebastian’s decline into alcoholism, Charles remains loyal to him, telling Sebastian he doesn’t have to hide his drinks from him and even giving him money to go to the bar. Charles recognizes trying to pin Sebastian down will only make him more desperate to escape. As Sebastian runs farther and farther away from Brideshead and the constraints of his family, his friendship with Charles peters out but that love is not lost, only transferred, Sebastian’s to his love of God and Charles’s to his eventual love for Julia.
Before Julia, however, Charles meets and marries Celia who he has two children with. We are introduced to Celia’s relationship to Charles on its deathbed. It does not seem to matter to Waugh that we know if there ever was love between them, when we are allowed into their story all traces of love are gone. Celia teases Charles on his return from abroad by saying “…Have you [fallen in love with someone else in the meantime]” he replies “No. I’m not in love,” (Waugh 231). Charles truly does not have any love or even concern for Celia or his children, although we later learn their paternity is questionable as Celia has been cheating on Charles with the pimply youth Robin. This realization, however, only causes Charles to feel relief that he has a legitimate reason to hate Celia. Charles and Celia’s relationship fails because they are both essentially using each other. Celia uses Charles’s talent to propel them both to success and Charles uses Celia to replace Sebastian. Neither, it seems, have any real attachment to each other. Even Charles’s art suffers from his lack of love; because he has no love in his relationships he can have no love in his art and the result is cold and passionless. When Julia re-enters Charles’s life it is a welcome change from his stale marriage with Celia.
When Charles and Julia’s lives collide so many year later they are both different people. Julia has endured her marriage to Rex and a miscarriage, both of which she emerges from matured and sadder. Charles has also suffered within his marriage to Celia, and he is left gray and passionless. When they meet again the “thin bat squeak of sexuality” Charles felt years prior swells into an intensely passionate affair that will last two years (Waugh 76). Charles loves Julia deeply, in part because he learned to love her by first loving her brother. Charles himself says that Sebastian was Julia’s forerunner, and when Julia accuses Charles of forgetting him he thinks “I had not forgotten Sebastian. He was with me daily in Julia; or rather it was Julia I had known in him,” (Waugh 303). By learning to love Sebastian, Charles had learned to love the part of Sebastian that was Julia and later was able to transfer that love to Julia. Charles and Julia’s relationship seems intended to bring them the happiness they deserve, but it does not last. Charles’s lack of religion creates a wedge between them that is exacerbated by Julia’s own religious crisis. When Bridey accuses Julia of living in sin, it resonates with her own shame and throws her into a hysterical fit that Charles can neither understand nor hope to resolve. In the end Julia realizes that to repair her relationship with God, she must give up the thing she loves most; Charles. Charles says that he knew even before Julia knew that this would be necessary, “I hope your heart may break” he says, “but I do understand.” (Waugh 341)
Despite its lack of passion, Bridey’s marriage to Beryl is arguable the most successful of the novel. Neither marry for love, although Bridey is quick to emphasize he is “ardently attracted” (Waugh 285). Beryl marries to provide financial security for her children after her husband’s death and goes as far as to lie about her age and exaggerate her piety. Bridey marries not for love or matchboxes but because he sees a wife as the next logical step in his life, and his father has been pressuring him to get married. This maddeningly logical approach to marriage contrasts with Charles and Julia’s relationship which is centered on their unappeasable passion and emotional need for one another. And yet, where Charles and Julia’s relationship deteriorates and ends, Bridey and Beryl seem reasonably happy. This seems to suggest that Waugh believes long term commitments should be centered on rational and logistics rather than just love or passion. Another reasoning, however, is that Charles and Julia’s relationship only failed because, unlike Bridey and Beryl, they loved each other before they loved God.
Waugh believes love of God supersedes all other forms of love and without it no other love can be consecrated. This is seen with the failed relationship between Charles and Julia, Lord and Lady Marchmain, and Julia and Rex. In each relationship one or more of the partners either doesn’t have a relationship with God or loves their partner above God. Charles wonders if “perhaps all our loves are merely hints or symbols” (Waugh 303). This is the idea that all earthly love is just a physical manifestation of the love of God, because essentially God is love. Charles is an agnostic and remains so until the very end of the story when he finds himself once again at Brideshead. He visits the chapel to say a “newly learned” prayer and finds “[the flame] burning anew among the stones,” (Waugh 351). This is symbolic of the love and acceptance of God that Charles has been fighting all his life. Now that Charles is open to the potential for a relationship with God, he will be able to have love that is consecrated.
Waugh believes Love, like matter, can neither be created nor destroyed. It can be changed or transferred but it never disappears. Charles marvels over this viewpoint of love that Cordelia’s diction reveals when she says “[Julia] never loved him the way we do.” “Do” the word reproached me; there was no past tense in Cordelia’s verb “to love”” (Waugh 308). Waugh also believes each love is a forerunner to the next and that love of God must be a forerunner to all love. Charles learns these lessons of love the hard way. It is only after he has lost every object of his love that he is finally able to allow the possibility of a relationship with God and thereby allow himself a future with the prospect of new love.
Adams, Stephen. “Evelyn Waugh ‘had three homosexual affairs at Oxford.'”
Telegraph. Telagraph media group, 16 Aug. 2009. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited. New York: Back Bay, 1999. Print.