September 7th, 2012Revisiting Bridesheadby Joseph Pearce

Later today I will be discussing and debating the merits of Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited, with William Fahey, President of Thomas More College, in a two hour session with the entire student body of the college. In my own introductory comments I will be concentrating on the multifarious ways in which the action of grace can be seen in the lives of the main characters, a theme which Waugh himself described in the preface to the second edition of the novel as the overarching theme of the whole work.
We will be looking at the way in which Charles Ryder passes from innocent and naive agnosticism, via a descent into atheism, cyncism, selfishness and betayal, to an act of self-sacrifical love that brings him and others to the foot of the Cross.
We will see how Sebastian's irrational faith, rooted in self-loathing and the romantic idolatry of feeling over reason, leads to his descent into a moral wasteland, and how, through a final humble embrace of his own weakness, he is brought to a wretched but real holiness.
We will witness the destructive consequences of Julia's self-centredness and how she discovers peace through self-abnegation and obedience to the teaching of the Church.
We will discuss Bridey's rational faith, the antithesis of his brother's irrational romanticism, and consider whether a cold detachment from aesthetic reality constitutes a deficiency in one's loving relationship to God.
We will consider Cordelia's evident virtue, comparing her with her namesake in Shakespeare's King Lear.
We will broach the delicate subject of Lady Marchmain. Is she a saint or sinner? Is she a heroine or a villain?
Hopefully we will also have time to discuss Lord Marchmain's own desertion of his faith and family and his return in extremis.
It's a great novel and I think all of us at Thomas More College are in for a great time this afternoon!

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  • September 7 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    Hmm. You said you would be "debating"; what can be the opposing view, I wonder.
  • September 7 2012 | by Manny

    I would love to see that two hour discussion. It is a great novel. If it's posted on youtube or somewhere I hope you will provide the link.
  • September 8 2012 | by James Morris

    Dear Joseph,

    Those are exactly the questions I am always thinking about. Especially that one; 'Lady Marchmain. Is she a saint or sinner?' I wish I could be there. Maybe you could put your thoughts down or make a report on what was said here in a later post.

    I make a connection between King Lear and Lord Marchmain here;


    A fractious childlike king,
    'Alex, you were very naughty'

    A rambling reverie on the heath,
    'In the waste hollows of Castle Hill'

    The division of his kingdom almost a caprice,
    'Who shall I leave it to?' 'Quis?'

    'And the little men who live without breathing'
    'And thou no breath at all'.
  • September 9 2012 | by James Morris

    Saint Sebastian

    Sebastian's search for sanctity,
    Under the bed,
    For Kurt's cigarettes,

    'It's my job'.

    Brideshead Revisited

    Brideshead revisited-
    The question of Art:
    '[He] began again on our discussion'

    Brideshead revisited-
    The question of getting a priest for Lord Marchmain:
    '[the subject] flamed up again'

    Brideshead visited with Beryl,
    His father in Rome,
    'Anywhere but Rome'
  • September 10 2012 | by James Morris

    Cordelia's Clangers

    Rex's Christmas present to Julia,
    The diamond-encrusted tortoise,
    'how beastly' she blurts out.

    When Sebastian doesn't come down for dinner-
    'He’s very drunk' she blurts again,
    Unaware of what's really at stake.

    When he doesn't return from the hunt-
    'He's in disgrace'
    Her child's voice; 'like a bell tolling'.

    Cordelia’s Wisdom

    The last mass at Brideshead-‘as though it would always be Good Friday’
    What the Jews must have felt Qumodo sola sedet civitas
    Whether she has a vocation or not.

    The very deep things she understands,
    The mature wisdom she displays,
    Especially when she says;

    ‘I say, do you think I could have another of those scrumptious meringues?’
  • September 11 2012 | by James Morris

    Lady Marchmain

    With Mr Samgrass-
    That ‘intellectual-on-the-make'
    She made a mistake.

    Sending Sebastian to Monsignor Bell,
    That wouldn't have worked out well,
    Another mistake.

    The cherished memory of Uncle Ned,
    'He’s the test you know’ Sebastian said.
    Another burden he couldn't take.
  • September 11 2012 | by Christie

    Oh my, I wish I could have been there. My mother read this novel last winter and wouldn't leave me alone until I had read it in the spring. I'm so glad I did.
  • September 13 2012 | by James Morris

    Minor Character

    She sews,
    She says;
    'Sebastian is in love with his own childhood'.

    She sews,
    She sighs;
    'It is good to sit in the shade and talk of love'.

    'They hate something in themselves'
    She says,

    'Innocence, God, hope'
    She sews-

    the main ideas into the fabric of the novel.