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A Thesis Submitted To The Faculty of Thomas Aquinas College In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Bachelor of Arts
by Elizabeth Quackenbush
Advisor: Dr. Andrew Seeley March 10, 2013
1 Evelyn Waugh's novel, Brideshead Revisited, takes the form of a memoir written by the protagonist, Charles Ryder. In his narrative, Charles paints a captivating picture of his bygone moments of happiness and of the loves that brought him to life. It is tempting to become, with Charles, engrossed in the enchanting characters that people his past, and to view the Flyte family as the exquisite centerpiece of the story. As the observer of the events unfolding around him, Charles can easily appear unimportant, merely a mask through which the reader sees the strange and vibrant characters whom he meets. Yet the memories belong to Charles, and they reveal a profound growth in Charles' character, which is completed in the epilogue of the book. Charles Ryder enters the story as someone who has lost all joy in life. He begins his narration with the reflection that this past winter marks the death of love between him and the army. He recalls how it used to be, when he was on fire for the cause, among volunteers who shared his enthusiasm — now the company is mostly composed of conscripts, and instead of enthusiasm there is a mood of dull resignation. Charles seems to have lost the energy to live. This is not merely the death of his latest love, but of his “last love”1. He describes the recent morning when he noticed it, as he was rehearsing the tasks for the coming day. ...as I lay in that dark hour, I was aghast to realize that something within me, long sickening, had quietly died, and felt as a husband might feel, who, in the fourth year of his marriage, suddenly knew that he had no longer any desire, or tenderness, or esteem, for a once-beloved wife; no pleasure in her company, no wish to please, no curiosity about anything she might ever do or say or think; no hope of setting things right, no selfreproach for the disaster. ...on this morning of our move, I was entirely indifferent to our destination. I would go on with my job, but I could bring to it nothing more than acquiescence.2 The image Charles uses to illustrate his feelings shows that, for him, the army was once much more than a career. He is a disillusioned lover, and aware that the rift between him and his beloved is due to a failure on her part, and not on his. The army has failed to satisfy him. He is still bound to it, as to a
1 2 Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, (New York:, Little, Brown and Company, 1999) Prologue, pg. 5 Ibid. Prologue, pp. 5-6
2 wife, assenting out of necessity, yet putting nothing of himself into any of his duties. He seems to live automatically. With the death of his last love, his life is empty. When Charles becomes aware that the army's new camp is the former home of his friend Sebastian, the mood changes dramatically. This is the place where Charles experienced many of his most vital hours, and as he remembers his first sight of it he is moved to tears. It seems that all the beautiful moments he remembers are parts of a larger story of loss and frustration, most poignantly with the loss of Sebastian and the loss of Julia. The final blow seems to come in the epilogue, as he walks through Brideshead, seeing the mundane uses to which each room, once so familiar and beautiful, has been put by the army, and the damage done by soldiers. The family, he discovers, are all abroad taking part in the war effort. All the promise of joy and beauty in Charles' memories seems to have come to nothing — not only the house, but its occupants as well seem to have descended to purposes one would not have expected of such beings. Charles views the story as a tragedy: “I never built anything,” he tells his platoon commander toward the end of the epilogue, “and I forfeited the right to watch my son grow up. I'm homeless, childless, middle-aged, loveless, Hooper.” 3 He feels that he missed every chance at making something beautiful out of his life. The feeling of grayness evoked by the prologue gives way to one of sharp sorrow. After visiting the chapel, the only untouched part of the house, Charles walks back to the camp. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”, he thinks. With a sudden change of mood, he then adds, “— and yet that is not the last word; it is not even an apt word; it is a dead word from ten years back.” 4 In the last paragraph of his story, Charles completely reverses the tone. He still uses the word “tragedy” to describe his past, but he perceives that a great good has come out of his story, a greater good than any he might have lost. In the end, Charles is cheerful, showing that his feeling of hope is not altruistic; the good he has seen is an answer to his personal loss.
3 4 Ibid. Epilogue, 350 Ibid. Epilogue, 351
3 How is such a change possible? Charles' way of looking at his past (and his present) has changed completely. What seemed a senseless perversion is now seen as a necessary part of a story with a redemptive ending. This transformation has clearly been catalyzed by Charles' memories, yet, as Charles says at the beginning of Book II, these memories were always with him. Why, then, do they make such an impact on him now? What is really happening to him in revisiting Brideshead, and why is it happening? Charles' latest experience at Brideshead is not an isolated event, but the end of a journey. Through loving earthly goods, Charles has been led to a point at which he can finally confront the reality of God's goodness. Through his relationships with the Flytes, Charles has received an education in desire; his experience of better and better kinds of love elicited more fully in him the desire for God, which he confronts through memory. Both because Charles is not religious for most of his life and because he has a great power to rest in the beauty of the moment, these earthly beauties must be taken away from him in order that he may clearly see the need for Divine Providence. In order to understand what happens to Charles throughout the story, it is important to see what motivates him, and in what way he is naturally inclined to pursue and enjoy good things. This provides a lens through which to view his experience at the end of the epilogue. To describe Charles as an artist is to capture something essential about his personality. Charles is an artist even before he meets Sebastian; he speaks of loving architecture in his schooldays 5. Anthony Blanche claims to have recognized the “type” in Charles' character when he pronounces him to be “An Artist”.6 For Charles, art is more than simply a profession — it is the way in which he responds to the beautiful. The transformed Charles acknowledges that the artistic type characterizes his manner of relating to reality when he describes his happy moments, or the moments when he came to life, as
Ibid. Book 1, chapter 4, p. 81 Ibid. 1. 2. 52
4 “hours of afflatus7 in the human spirit, the springs of art”.8 Inspiration is the sign of vitality, showing that, for Charles, to be alive means to be active and creative. Charles describes the feeling of inspiration as “intensity and singleness and the belief that it was not all done by hand”. 9 He becomes an architectural painter because he sees this principle most clearly at work in the art of building. “I have always loved building, holding it to be not only the highest achievement of man but one in which, at the moment of consummation, things were most clearly taken out of his hands and perfected, without his intention, by other means”10. This feeling of inspiration is a sign of life, and its presence helps determine when Charles is truly open and alive in his experiences.
Charles titles the first book of his memories, “Et in Arcadia Ego” [Even in Arcadia, I]. Arcadia, a region of Greece, is seen in literature and art as a symbol of rustic, pastoral life, 11 and fittingly represents the halcyon days of Charles' early friendship with Sebastian. Yet the phrase appears in the story in an ominous way, as an engraving on the forehead of a human skull, one of the decorations which Charles collects for his rooms. The silent speaker of these words, the skull, can be seen as an erstwhile Arcadian or even as death himself. This image indicates that, although Arcadia may seem a paradise, one cannot forever abide there. In the midst of an idyllic life it might be hard to imagine that
7 8 9 10 11 A divine imparting of knowledge or power; inspiration. — Merriam Webster Dictionary BR 2. 1. 225 Ibid. 2. 1. 227 Ibid. 2. 1. 226 Encyclopedia Americana, s.v. “Arcadia”
5 anything troublesome or dark could invade the world, yet the skull attests that death, too, is here in Arcadia. Charles and Sebastian share a time of childlike happiness together, but underneath the delight of those days lurks the transiency of earthly joys, a fact which both boys eventually must face. "I was in search of love in those days,"12 Charles says of his time at Oxford. The friends he surrounds himself with at first are dull "embryo dons" who do not seem awake to the mystery of life, and he feels that Oxford has more to offer him. He is not purposefully searching for success in college, the way it is commonly defined; his cousin, Jasper, knows all about what constitutes a successful Oxford career, and Charles never consciously follows his advice. Although warned against it, Charles keeps his ground-floor rooms because they are beautiful, and this circumstance leads to his meeting Sebastian. Charles has already viewed Sebastian's eccentricities from afar with disapproval, but he responds immediately to the first offer of friendship. He says of his first visit to Sebastian, I went there uncertainly, for it was foreign ground and there was a tiny, priggish, warning voice in my ear which in the tones of Collins told me it was seemly to hold back. But I was in search of love in those days full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that gray city.13 However dimly understood his desire may be, Charles wants love. He is struck by Sebastian's beauty even before they meet, but, under the influence of the staid intellectuals who are his friends, keeps his distance. As soon as Sebastian extends to him the hand of friendship, however, he approaches, showing that he instinctively longs for love. This friendship with Sebastian is a turning point for Charles. Till now, Charles has been starved for love and beauty. “I had lived a lonely childhood and a boyhood straightened by war and overshadowed by bereavement; to the hard bachelordom of English adolescence, the premature dignity
12 BR 1. 1. 31 13 Ibid. 1. 1. 31
6 and authority of the school system, I had added a sad and grim strain of my own.” 14 Charles' attempts to pursue the good life have been influenced by the bleakness of his early years. The pedantic friends Charles gathers at first are “the kind of company [he] had enjoyed in the sixth form at school, for which the sixth form had prepared [him]”.15 While Charles does not, like his cousin, judge what is good purely in terms of whether it is respectable, yet his early friendships and pursuits have an air of the “premature dignity” he ascribes to the school system. Adult life is exciting to Charles, not because of its content, but purely because it is adult — an understandable attitude for a young man newly turned loose upon the world, but not bound to last when something more substantial comes along. That something is Sebastian. The day of the first meeting with Sebastian, on returning to his room, Charles perceives that his decorations are naive and superficial, and that nothing seems real except the flowers sent by Sebastian. Charles feels the contrast between Sebastian's way of living and the way he has been living before, and changes his allegiance immediately. The decorations of a personal room are a public statement of what moves the occupant's soul, and of how he wants to be viewed—this is especially the case with young people.16 After one meeting with Sebastian, Charles is inspired to leave behind the posture of an embryo don and imitate the gratuitous and eclectic nature of Sebastian's rooms, which are filled with strange and beautiful objects. Charles' friendship with Sebastian is important for two main reasons. In the first place, Sebastian gives Charles an experience of the beauty of life in a new way, in the context of love. In the second place, it reveals Charles' lack of receptivity to the idea of religion, which springs from a failure to see the need for a divine good. Charles has a completely new experience with Sebastian, something he was subconsciously seeking when he came to Oxford. He speaks of this friendship as if it were filling a gap.
14 Ibid. 1. 1. 44 15 Ibid. 1. 1. 28 16 This principle is evidently at work in the way Lady Marchmain's room is decorated to give the air of intimacy and femininity which she clearly wishes to bring to all her relationships.
7 Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence. 17 He wants us to see this friendship as something natural, and in calling it a “happy childhood” conveys the idea that it is a good and human experience, even a necessary step in growth. Sebastian, with his love for the gratuitous, wants to immerse himself in the beauty of life. "Under the spell of Sebastian"18, Charles enjoys things that, out of snobbery, he would perhaps have censored before, such as Anthony Blanche. Charles' friend Collins cannot simply contemplate the beautiful; he appears to enjoy the intellectual discourse about art more than art itself. Sebastian, on the other hand, needs no intellectual excuse to go to the Botanical Gardens other than the perfectly good reason: “to see the ivy”19. Charles leaves behind the posturing of Collins, the premature and superficial adulthood practiced by his first friends, and, rather than creating a narrow window through which life can present itself to him, throws himself wide open to its goodness. Love enables him to do this. The image of the two of them under the tree20 illustrates this: Sebastian looks up at the leaves and Charles looks at Sebastian, as if Sebastian and Charles' love for him are Charles' link to the beauty of the world. Subtract Sebastian, and the link is broken — because, without love, Charles cannot enjoy beauty in the way he wishes, although he does not realize this for a long time. 21 Charles does not understand why his relationship with Sebastian is good, but he perceives its goodness and deliberately pursues it. His reaction to Jasper's Grand Remonstrance 22 makes it clear that he is consciously choosing to follow the good he experiences with Sebastian. When his cousin endeavors to make clear to Charles how badly he has damaged his reputation in college, Charles is serene and confident in his decision.
17 18 19 20 21 22 BR 1. 2. 45 Ibid. 1. 1. 33 Ibid. 1. 1. 34 Ibid. 1. 1. 24 Ibid. 1. 1. 34 Ibid. 1. 2. 40
8 I could tell him [Jasper], too, that to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom. But I felt no need for these sophistries as I sat before my cousin, saw him, freed from his inconclusive struggle with Pindar, in his dark grey suit, his white tie, his scholar's gown; heard his grave tones and, all the time, savoured the gillyflowers in full bloom under my windows. I had my secret and sure defense, like a talisman worn in the bosom, felt for in the moment of danger, found and firmly grasped. 23 In retrospect, Charles identifies love as the root of the good gained in his relationship, but at the time, even if these thoughts were present to him, he did not accord much importance to them. He made no argument to Jasper then, because the overpowering experience of goodness and vitality he had gained from this friendship was more convincing than anything his cousin could say. This seems to be the talisman, symbolized by the gillyflowers blooming under his window. The undeniable encounter with goodness trumps any argument that could be made with mere words, especially words uttered by someone so obviously not enjoying the fullness of life. This may explain Charles' use of the word “sophistries” — not implying that he now disbelieves that love was the cause of the good he derived from that relationship, but that, at the time, he did not need to craft persuasive arguments for himself when the experience of goodness was so tangible to him. The second salient point of the boys' friendship is that it gives Charles his first real encounter with the idea that earthly happiness is not enough for man, although Charles does not discern what he sees. One of the reasons that Sebastian keeps coming back to Charles' mind over the years — aside from the fact that his relationship with him was, at least for a time, idyllic — is Sebastian's tragic flight to ruin, which, in the beginning, is an enigma for Charles. Although both of them revel in the Arcadian days of their first year at Oxford, they are not at the same level of spiritual growth. Sebastian is experiencing an inner struggle which Charles is not yet ready to understand, but which he eventually must also feel, in order to recognize his need for redemption. The first hint Charles receives that all is not right with his friend is when Sebastian says that
23 Ibid. 1. 2. 45
9 Brideshead is “where my family live” rather than “home” 24. A shadow passes over the image of Sebastian as the open-hearted, beauty-seeking young man who has much to teach Charles of the ways to experience life; clearly there is at least one part of life that Sebastian does not want Charles to enjoy. Sebastian is an escapist. From what is he trying to escape? He seems to give an answer to this question in the month spent with Charles at Brideshead. So you see we're a mixed family religiously. Brideshead and Cordelia are both fervent Catholics; he's miserable, she's bird-happy; Julia and I are half-heathen; I am happy, I rather think Julia isn't; Mummy is popularly believed to be a saint and Papa is excommunicated — and I wouldn't know which of them was happy. Anyway, however you look at it, happiness doesn't seem to have much to do with it, and that's all I want...I wish I liked Catholics more.25 He complains that Catholics “have an entirely different outlook on life; everything they think important is different for other people”26, which makes it hard for semi-heathens like Julia and Sebastian. This shows that Sebastian experiences the contradiction between earthly goods and his religion, which claims that there is a supernatural good beyond our immediate experience. This is a real source of conflict for Sebastian, because, for all his wickedness, he is a believer. He tells Charles that he believes the Christmas story because it is a lovely idea. When challenged on this point, he insists, “That's how I believe.”27 For Sebastian, who loves the beauty of childhood, this means that his faith is more than just a mechanically acquired habit — Catholicism really compels him. During Sebastian's friendship with Charles, he never behaves as if he did not believe in God. He wishes the Faith were “nonsense” 28, but cannot bring himself to believe it. His conflict is between his desires and his conscience, expressed in his complaint that the world and the faith cannot see eye to eye. Sebastian is by no means bravely confronting this question, however; he rather tries as far as possible to run away from it, making it understandable that Charles would at first see his religion as merely a foible.
24 25 26 27 28 Ibid. 1. 1. 35 Ibid. 1. 4. 89 Ibid. 1. 4. 89 Ibid. 1. 4. 87 Ibid. 1. 4. 86
10 Yet Sebastian's problem is more complex than nagging guilt. He doesn't merely avoid religious situations; for some reason he flies his family, particularly his mother, and gradually anything that seeks to impose a structure on him. Charles describes his mental state: By the blue waters and rustling palm of his own mind he was happy and harmless as a Polynesian; only when the big ship dropped anchor beyond the coral reef, and the cutter beached in the lagoon, and, up the golden slope that had never known the print of a boot there trod the grim invasion of trader, administrator, missionary and tourist — only then was it time to disinter the archaic weapons of the tribe and sound the drums in the hills. 29 This shows that, for Sebastian, not only is religion an invasion, but any element of civilized life which would impose restraint or responsibility on him. All Sebastian wants is to be happy. Happiness, for him, is associated with childhood. The one part of his life that he is willing to share with Charles is Nanny Hawkins, the simple, devout old woman who cared for the Flytes when they were young. As Lord Marchmain's mistress says to Charles while the boys are in Venice, “Sebastian is in love with his own childhood. That will make him very unhappy.”30 The structure imposed on Sebastian by family, conscience, and college are all reminders that childhood cannot last forever and must eventually be put aside. Thus, Sebastian views as a threat to his happiness any attempt to give his life a goal besides the unreflective enjoyment of beauty. The desperation of Sebastian's fight against relinquishing his childhood shows that he, unlike Charles, has sensed death in Arcadia; Sebastian's extreme aversion to anything that looks like adulthood springs from fear. He wouldn't fight so hard if he didn't think there was something unpleasant in store for those who venture outside of Arcadia. Sebastian's struggle with religion is relevant here. Charles is oblivious to the idea that there could be a higher good than those we meet in our earthly experience; Sebastian has had this idea presented to him from his youth, and cannot rid himself of it. His first bad outbreak of drunkenness at home is precipitated by the family's Holy Week retreat. “This year Sebastian had said he would not go, but at the last moment had yielded, and came home in a state of acute depression from
29 Ibid. 1. 5. 127 30 Ibid. 1. 4. 103
11 which I totally failed to raise him.” 31 The theme of such a retreat would naturally be the idea of selfdenial in the hope of a better good beyond our earthly horizon, an idea inherently threatening to Sebastian's happiness, because it entails stepping out of Arcadia into a world of potential ugliness and pain. Yet, as Charles notes, looking back on the situation, “since Sebastian counted among the intruders his own conscience and all claims of human affection, his days in Arcadia were numbered” 32. To keep his grip on the simple world of childhood, Sebastian must shut out many natural elements of human life, because they demand looking beyond that narrow, personal good. This assessment shows in what a desperate struggle Sebastian is engaged: he carries his own poison within himself. External structures may be fought off for a while, but the end of childhood is inevitable. Charles doesn't understand this problem. From the beginning, he fails to take seriously Sebastian's struggle with his religion — he doesn't see it as intrinsic to Sebastian, since he thinks that Sebastian can simply shed it if he wishes. “Well, if you can believe all that and you don't want to be good, where's the difficulty about your religion?” 33 he asks, when Sebastian is complaining about the difficulty of being Catholic. Even later, when Charles realizes that Catholicism is somehow related to his friend's turmoil, he still sees it as an external force hemming Sebastian in, rather than something in his very soul. “For God's sake, why bring God into everything?” he demands of Bridey, after Sebastian has been expelled from Oxford. “It seems to me that without your religion Sebastian would have the chance to be a happy and healthy man.” 34 Apparently Charles thinks that there is hope for Sebastian, if all the meddling, moralizing Catholics will let him alone to do what makes him feel best. He is forgetting, however, that Sebastian's mood of gloom and feeling of being hemmed in had begun already with their second year at Oxford, before any drastic measures against his freedom had been taken. He had received a lecture or two in the first month, but nothing that could be expected to set off such a
31 32 33 34 Ibid. 1. 5. 130 Ibid. 1. 5. 127 Ibid. 1. 4. 87 Ibid. 1. 5. 145
12 decline. The struggle is something that would continue in Sebastian, whether or not his family interfered. This failure to understand Sebastian's problem shows that Charles sees religion as something imposed from outside, as if the question of human happiness were a simple thing that had been overcomplicated by the introduction of the question of God. The rift between Charles and Sebastian is not merely a sad case of misunderstanding between friends, because, while Sebastian may handle the issue in his own way, the problem is not peculiar to him. The apparent contradiction between an elusive supernatural good and tangible earthly goods is a theme that pervades Charles' narrative and constitutes the central drama of the epilogue.
THE WORLD OF THREE DIMENSIONS
When Charles leaves Brideshead after Sebastian's last drunken catastrophe, he feels that he has left part of himself behind. "A door had shut," he says, "the low door in the wall I had sought and found in Oxford; open it now and I should find no enchanted garden." 35 In Oxford he had been searching for love, and had come to Sebastian to find it; now he thinks it has not simply gone, but revealed itself as a fantasy. He says to himself, "I have left behind illusion. Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions—with the aid of my five senses."36 This is a declaration of independence. In midst of his disappointment and loss, Charles chooses not to let himself be duped into believing in the possibility of love, yet he still clings to the consolation of beauty. He has not chosen to live with a forever-unfulfilled
35 Ibid. 1. 6. 169 36 Ibid. 1. 6. 169
13 desire, but rather, to pretend that this desire doesn't exist, or that something could substitute for it. This shows both that he did not truly recognize what fueled the vitality he had with Sebastian (namely, love) and also that, while Sebastian could sense death's presence in Arcadia, Charles did not see that there might be anything insufficient in this happiness. He has left Sebastian and love behind, but still thinks pursuing the pleasures of the Arcadian days will be enough. Charles ability to rest in the beautiful distracts him from the problem he faces—namely, that he has chosen to live without love. He is like a starving man who has been given a hot dog: the food is so desperately needed and so immediately satisfying that he cannot see that there could be something better. Coming from a grim, lonely childhood, Charles is rapt with the sensually beautiful lifestyle to which Sebastian has introduced him, and it is difficult for him to see that he needs something more. When he leaves Sebastian, Charles tries to fall back on the enjoyment of beauty more closely connected with sensual pleasure. While dining with Rex, Julia Flyte's fiancé, Charles seeks a mainstay in the delicious dinner, as a reminder that the world is an older and better place than Rex knows. He is unafraid to talk about the events at Brideshead, showing that he is fairly detached — what he doesn't want to hear about is the "acquisitive world" 37 of Rex Mottram, and Charles closes himself as much as possible to what Rex has to say. He notes, “[Rex] plainly wished to talk of his own affairs; they could wait, I thought, for the hour of tolerance and repletion, for the cognac; they could wait until the attention was blunted and one could listen with half the mind only”. 38 In this scene, Charles' saving grace in comparison to Rex is his appreciation for beautiful things for their own sake and not because it adds to his prestige as an aficionado — yet he seems to be resting in earthly beauty as a consolation and using it as a bulwark against a modern world that, as we can see from the prologue, he will not always be able to push away. For now, Charles enjoys the delicious meal, but his enjoyment does not produce openness, as it seemed to do with Sebastian. Here, Charles' savoring of pleasure is a means for
37 Ibid. 1. 6. 175-176 38 Ibid. 1. 6. 172
14 distancing himself from another. “[Rex] lit his cigar and sat back at peace with the world; I, too, was at peace in another world than his. We both were happy. He talked of Julia and I heard his voice, unintelligible at a great distance, like a dog's barking miles away on a still night.” 39 With a character as boorish as Rex Mottram, who loves nothing beautiful except insofar as it can impress others, Charles' distancing himself is understandable; the image of the small-souled Rex in front of him allows him to feel that he is great-souled. Yet, though he cannot see it at the time, they have a closer kinship than he might like to admit. Julia later describes Rex to Charles as “ a tiny bit of [a man], unnaturally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory”, 40 a phrase similar to the one Charles applies to himself in the beginning of Book II, when he says, “But despite this isolation and this long sojourn in a strange world, I remained unchanged, still a small part of myself pretending to be whole.”41 Here, as at other times during the story, Charles manifests his remarkable ability to rest in the beautiful. He is content with his caviar and his life as an art student. He still cherishes the desire to spend himself on something great and beautiful, which causes him to come back to England when he sees a chance to become part of a greater work (the strikes of 1926), but when that fails, he regrets having left the Parisian girls and the lights coming out along the Seine — his old, familiar, uncomplicated world of aesthetics 42. He dutifully helps track down Sebastian when his mother is dying, but wishes to return to school as quickly as possible. At Marchers, while painting, Charles feels the creative impulse stir in him and discovers a greater work in which he can participate. Painting seems to be the direction of greater life and being for him. It will take him ten years to realize that when he despaired of human love and followed pleasure, he chose the path toward death rather than toward life. The opening of the second book shows the natural results of this decision to live without love.
39 40 41 42 Ibid. 1. 6. 178 Ibid. 2. 7. 200 Ibid. 2. 1. 229 Ibid. 1. 8. 202
15 What ought to be Charles' most natural human relationships, those with his wife and children, are barren. This is evident from the beginning, even from the way he narrates; he tells the reader about his painting, how he got started and the progress of his career, but he doesn't inform the reader that he is married, not as a part of the story. He mentions it incidentally, purely as background information without which the current scene will not make sense, but not particularly important to the character development. Charles' coldness to Celia and his lack of interest in her are inhuman. "There was also a daughter now, she remarked, and it came back to me that there had been talk of this before I had started"43, is the way that he introduces his second child. There was some mention of it in her letters, but not enough that he would remember it until she brought it up, apparently. It is shocking how little his own children's births affected his life. He speaks of them as if they were her children and not his; he is completely uninvested in the project of their mutual life together. He does not love her and is at no pains to hide the fact; when she asks, if he has stopped loving her, he says, "You yourself said I haven't changed"44, which obviously means, "No, I don't love you. I didn't before and I don't now." He is so uninterested in her that, while he doesn't particularly take care lest his words be interpreted in a harsh light, he doesn't even bother to fight with her. He seems at pains to keep their worlds entirely separate, summarizing their lack of relationship when he comments, “Her children, my art, the two mysteries of our trades...”45 Leaving love aside, they do not even have a common trade. They are completely alienated. This alienation from his wife is precisely what Charles bargained for when he married her, although he doesn't relish the consequences now. Charles tells Julia that his reasons for marrying Celia were loneliness, physical attraction, and ambition, since she was the ideal wife for an artist 46. These are all self-centered reasons, and Charles' behavior in the beginning of Book II is that of a man attempting
43 44 45 46 Ibid. 2. 1. 229 Ibid. 2. 1. 231 Ibid. 2. 1. 264 Ibid. 2. 1. 257
16 to withdraw into his own world, to avoid giving himself at all costs. He is no longer striving outward, seeking to understand; his cold indifference to his wife affords no hope of their growing together. The distancing of himself that was present — and, to a certain extent, understandable — in the scene with Rex has become for Charles a habit. It is not surprising that the removal of love from Charles' life has enervated his human relationships, but the irony for Charles, who thought art would be a source of life for him, is that his painting has also suffered. Inspiration, which Charles identifies as a symptom of life, has slipped away from him during the dead years. “...as the years passed I began to mourn the loss of something I had known in the drawing-room of Marchmain House and once or twice since, the intensity and signleness and the belief that it was not all done by hand — in a word, the inspiration.” 47 That lack of love is at the root of this dryness is apparent in the way he reacts to Julia. Her beauty arrests him and begins to call him out of his selfish state. One of the first things he does is try to give himself in some way: she greets him intimately and confidingly, and Charles wants to make some return, although he feels the flatness of his first attempt as he tries to make something out of the nothing of his current experiences. In contrast to the beauty Charles has been trying to manufacture and dominate, Julia comes into his life on her own account, and sets her terms as well. Recounting this moment, Charles explicitly says, “...it would be idle to itemize and dissect her beauty, which was her own essence, and could only be known in her and by her authority and in the love I was soon to have for her.”48 The storm provides a fitting backdrop for the crisis taking place in Charles' life. In her sadness and candor, Julia has issued a challenge to Charles' understanding of what is good. Previously, after leaving Sebastian, Charles had chosen to see love as unnecessary to the good life, a choice that gradually reduced his humanity until he was merely a tiny part of himself pretending to be whole. Now,
47 Ibid. 2. 1. 227 48 Ibid. 2. 1. 239
17 as with Sebastian, the hitherto unapproachable beauty has entered his world, but this time, there are explicit terms under which relationship can happen, and these terms contradict the posture Charles has assumed in the past ten years. Julia tells Charles she isn't sure she wants love; when Charles professes not to be seeking it, she gently corrects him and shuts the door in his face. For the first time in his life, Charles is unequivocally running into the fact that personal love is absolutely necessary for a relationship with beauty. More precisely, he has discovered a particular beauty which he cannot enjoy as an aesthete, but only as a person; Julia is not for him a “refined sensual pleasure”, as were the two girls in the garçonniere in Paris. Julia is more to Charles than Sebastian as well — or, at least, Charles feels that his relationship with her is deeper, since he sees Sebastian as the “forunner” of Julia. “I had not forgotten Sebastian. He was with me daily in Julia; or rather it was Julia I had known in him, in those distant, Arcadian days.” 49 Charles feels that his love is more true for Julia, and that loving her more fully satisfies his desires than his love for Sebastian did. Charles can love Julia more deeply because, with Julia, both in the stormy courtship on the liner and afterwards, he can give himself to her in a way he could not have given himself with Sebastian. The idea of self-gift which Charles learns from Julia is the incorporation of another's experiences and aspirations into one's own. Julia, with a vision gleaned from her painful years with Rex, understands that for a real relationship to happen, mutual self-gift is necessary. Rex did not understand the need to make his life one with Julia's; he could not understand why having an affair would hurt her.50 Julia doesn't want a naïve, romanticized relationship, which is what she fears when Charles immediately sends her roses; her unhappy marriage has shown her how much a pain a shallow, self-centered love can cause. The day before they officially begin their affair, Julia and Charles give their pasts into each other's keeping, sharing their dead years and acknowledging their wounds to each other. “...what had we to say? Plain fact mostly, the record of our two lives, so long widely separate,
49 Ibid. 2. 4. 303 50 Ibid. 2. 1. 257
18 now being knit into one.”51 They share the facts of their lives, and Charles says that, as she shared her childhood with him, he “lived long, sunny days with her in the meadows, with Nanny Hawkins on her camp stool and Cordelia asleep in the pram”. 52 Charles is moved by what moves Julia; he has made her past his. Although their love is illicit, Charles is clearly coming out of himself more than before. Even practically speaking, Charles can give himself more to Julia than he could have to Sebastian. Although Sebastian was in love with the simple beauty of his childhood and wanted to share pleasure with Charles, he did not wish him to participate in the family life that provided the context for that childhood. Julia, however, wants to knit her life into Charles', and Charles drops everything in order to fulfill that wish. He incorporates Julia's desires into his. It is no self-denying sacrifice — as said above, he does not love his wife and children, and in light of Celia's infidelity, sees himself as a free man53 — but it is the beginning of a deeper experience of human love, and a reawakening to life. Inspiration, ever a sign of life for Charles, returns to him now, and he “never [tires] of painting [Julia], forever finding in her new wealth and delicacy”. 54 At first, Charles is content to contemplate Julia's beauty and to spend all his days with her. He doesn't understand why she wants to get married, and why she doesn't feel at peace merely being together in the beautiful setting of Brideshead. However, eventually he agrees, allowing Julia's desires to guide his actions. Loving Julia gives Charles a taste of the necessity of self-gift, but more dramatically, she is a sign for Charles that there is a good beyond the good of this world. While Charles is seemingly at rest in his new life, Julia begins to “feel the past and future pressing so hard on either side that there's no room for the present at all.” With the war looming ahead, Julia's childhood religion recurs more frequently to her thoughts. When Bridey refers to Julia as living in sin, this provokes a storm of guilt
51 52 53 54 Ibid. 2. 1. 256 Ibid. 2. 1. 257 Ibid. 2. 1. 257 Ibid. 2. 3. 277
19 and sorrow which Charles cannot understand. Sitting by the fountain, Charles tries to comfort Julia while she cries over her sins, but he says, “I was as far from her in spirit, as she clung to me in the darkness, as when years ago I had lit her cigarette on the way from the station; as far as when she was out of mind, in the dry, empty years at the Old Rectory and in the jungle.” 55 Julia's flashes of guilt mean nothing to Charles, and he sees her problem as purely psychological; however, her sensitivity to the oncoming war and the transiency of normal life does seem to affect him. Although Charles may have wanted to linger in the sunset and not think about plans, Julia persistently speaks of the Last Trump and says that by marrying Charles, she wants to “put [her] life in some sort of order in a human way, before all human order comes to an end.” 56 Charles seems to eventually catch the mood of impending doom, and thus consents to marry Julia. Although Charles doesn't immediately sense that religion is involved, it seems that with Julia he starts to develop a stronger intuition of the existence of something transcendent. Julia plays this role of pointing Charles beyond this world even before the drama of Lord Marchmain's death has made the question more directly religious. On the liner, what attracts Charles to Julia is her sadness, which seems to say to him, “Look at me. I have done my share. I am beautiful. It is something quite out of the ordinary, this beauty of mine. I am made for delight. But what do I get out of it? Where is my reward?”57 Perhaps this sorrow is especially attractive to Charles in comparison with Celia, who always gets whatever trivial good she desires and seems perfectly content. Charles seems to find a kindred spirit in this sorrow — the first thought of her he has after this meeting is during the cocktail party, when he wonders why he has already set himself apart with her in his mind, and why he cannot speak superficially to Julia the way he can with Mrs. Stuyvesant-Oglander 58. With Julia, he first conceives the thought that our earthly loves might be hints and symbols, something he would not have
55 56 57 58 Ibid. 2. 3. 288 Ibid. 2. 3. 291 Ibid. 2. 1. 239 Ibid. 2. 1. 242-243
20 thought with Sebastian. The capacity for this thought seems to stem from the suffering each of them has experienced since they last were acquainted. Both Charles and Julia have suffered much disappointment during their dead years, such that they can no longer be naïve about Arcadia. When they first meet on the liner, Julia notes that Charles is harder than he used to be, while Charles sees that Julia is softer59. Charles is hardened by the circumstances surrounding his suffering — he chose it, and it is a result of his own attempt to stunt himself — while Julia, who started out with the hardness of an inconsiderate child, is much softer through having really tried to love well, and having been disappointed. Her softness and sadness spring from an honesty about herself: she admits that her desires have not been fulfilled, and hasn't built an armored exterior to prevent this knowledge from penetrating. Charles, lean and hard, seems to be hiding from his disappointment behind a pose of contempt for the shallow socialites around him. The honesty and beauty of Julia's sadness seems to call him out of this hardness. The idea of setting up together, creating a retreat at Brideshead, is a step toward the idea of a transcendent good, at least insofar as it demonstrates a growing feeling that the human soul craves a good beyond what is offered by the “world”, in the sense of the common herd or the prevailing social structure. Julia and Charles sense the need to go deeper, and express this need by their scorn for shallowness. Yet because each, for different reasons, does not accept God as the transcendent good — Charles because of his agnosticism, Julia because she sees herself as shut out from that good by having left the Church — there is no possibility of redemption for the shallow, painful world they attempt to leave behind, and the good they pursue is necessarily a limited good, defined rather by an idea of defense against the world than by a positive love of reality. One night at Brideshead Charles says to Julia, “Oh my darling, why is it that love makes me hate the world? It's supposed to have quite the opposite effect. I feel as though all mankind, and God, too, were in a conspiracy against us.” Julia
59 Ibid. 2. 1. 239
21 responds, “They are, they are.”60 Charles and Julia define their love negatively, seeing themselves as set apart and against the rest of the world, which shows that they feel the insufficiency of the world to meet their desires. The fierce selfishness brought out in Charles by this love is an important part of his path to God. In dealing with losing Sebastian and inspiration, Charles appeared almost stoic, valuing stability and self-sufficiency over admitting his desires. Thus he at first immersed himself in sensual pleasure, and later chose hardness over being wounded; both options were in defense against the real pain he might have felt had he confronted his losses. Here, Charles is more honest about his desire: he binds himself knowingly to Julia and is invested in the project of their love and retreat from the world. The vehemence of his desire brings him into conflict with God. Because suffering has whetted his appetite for the good, Charles can less abide the possibility of having to relinquish this new love. With Sebastian, Charles could treat religion as a foible or a psychological disorder without feeling the need to come into the lists with God, but with Julia too much is at stake for him to let the question pass.
THE AGE OF HOOPER
Even before Lord Marchmain comes home to die, Charles has a premonition that religion is going to affect his life. Cordelia's conversation with Charles about Sebastian's life with the monks in Tunis seems to make an impression on him, although at the time Charles claims not to understand. 61 Later that evening, remembering what Cordelia said about Charles' and Julia's “thwarted passion” — an
60 Ibid. 2. 2. 276 61 Ibid. 2. 4. 309
22 odd comment to make, considering that to all outward appearances, their story has a happy ending — he notices that Julia's sadness has returned62. In the night, he muses on his claim not to understand, and in some way discerns that his reaction to religion has the character less of misunderstanding than of outright refusal to consider the question. “How often, it seemed to me, I was brought up short, like a horse in full stride suddenly refusing an obstacle, backing from the spurs, too shy to even put his nose at it and look at the thing.” 63 It is then that he first sees the image of the fur-trapper snug and dry in his arctic hut while outside an avalanche is preparing to sweep his tidy shelter away. Although, in remembering, Charles acknowledges that he was only vaguely aware that this was what was at stake, in this scene he begins to feel instinctively that the confrontation is near. He tells Julia when they part that he knew all year that this moment was coming. Whether or not Charles explicitly realizes it, his past loves are beginning to betray him. Sebastian and Julia are the two people with whom Charles was closest, and with whom he had a project of pursuing beauty. Both of them are feeling the pull of religion: Sebastian has finally realized, from his experience caring for Kurt, that doing God's will and giving himself for others is the way of greater life. Julia, who by all rights ought to be happy, since she is getting the good she wanted — namely, marriage with Charles — is again feeling the pull of the transcendent, as indicated by the return of her sadness. The knowledge of Sebastian's conversion, as well as the sight of Julia faltering in the certainty of the goodness of their life together, influence Charles' growing discomfort with the question of God. This is shown by the image of the fur-trapper, which first makes its appearance after Cordelia informs Charles of Sebastian's conversion. Charles has reproached religion before on Sebastian's account, but never so bitterly and furiously as he does in the months before Lord Marchmain's death. His behavior is inordinately aggressive, considering that the victory he wants to achieve would be purely moral. Charles is not
62 Ibid. 2. 4. 310 63 Ibid. 2. 4. 310
23 fighting for Lord Marchmain's happiness, since the man is on his deathbed. Charles is incensed even by the idea that Lord Marchmain will derive comfort from the last rites, as he shows when he says, “They'll come now, when his mind's wandering and he hasn't the strength to resist, and claim him as a deathbed penitent. I've had a certain respect for their Church up until now. If they do a thing like that I shall know that everything stupid people say about them is quite true — that it's all superstition and trickery.”64 As Julia retorts later on in their conversation, “What's it got to do with you or me whether my father sees his parish priest?”65 This is exactly the point. If it really had nothing to do with Charles, he would not react so violently to the proposition. Charles knows, however, in the back of his mind, that the question of his happiness is bound up in the question of whether or not Lord Marchmain should see a priest. “The answer to her question was still unformed, but lay in a pocket of my mind, like seamist in a dip of the sand-dunes; the cloudy sense that the fate of more souls than one was at issue; that the snow was beginning to shift on the high slopes.”66 The moment of truth for Charles comes when he first prays by Lord Marchmain's deathbed. He, who has been fighting Father Mackay's presence for days, is moved in the middle of the rite to kneel and pray for a sign. He prays for a sign, and longs for it, “if only of courtesy, if only for the sake of the woman I loved, who knelt before me, praying, I knew, for a sign.” 67 The ice is melting — this prayer is an act of selflessness. At this moment, Charles doesn't understand what is going on, but he has let go, just for a second, his paranoid clutch on the thing without which he fears he will lose his self, and has given himself for Julia and for Lord Marchmain. However vaguely understood, however invisible, this is an act of love — Charles gives himself more here than he did when he dropped his barren life with Celia, when it cost him nothing to make Julia's desires his own. Now Julia's desire contradicts Charles', and he relinquishes his for hers. Lord Marchmain makes the sign of the cross, and Charles realizes that
64 65 66 67 Ibid. 2. 5. 324 Ibid. 2. 5. 325 Ibid. 2. 5. 325-326 Ibid. 2. 5. 338
24 it is not a little thing. The veil of the temple has been torn in two. The avalanche has swept away the fur-trapper's shelter. Charles can no longer pretend that the question of God does not affect his life and happiness. When Julia comes to say goodbye, she learns that Charles, however bitter he finds the pill, understands. This seems to be a moment of conversion, especially taken in conjunction with the fact that, in the epilogue, Charles prays “an ancient, newly-learned form of words”. 68 But what does Charles understand here? Julia lays out the realization to which she has come. “I've always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can't shut myself out from His mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without Him.” 69 Julia tells him she cannot set up a safe retreat with him, because she has seen the wickedness of setting up a rival good to God's. She says, “...it may be a private bargain between me and God, that if I give up this one thing I want so much, however bad I am, He won't quite despair of me in the end.” 70 Charles responds, “I don't want to make it any easier for you. I hope your heart may break; but I do understand.” 71 Charles understands the need to give up their project, which indicates that he understands the claim God's good has on him. Yet, as we see from the prologue and epilogue, this experience does not inaugurate another period of vitality for Charles. Rather, he turns to the army for love and seems to briefly experience renewed life before sinking back into the routine of survival again. This shows that, while Charles obviously understands something new in this moment, it is not a vital hour. Charles still feels that he needs to look elsewhere for inspiration and for the moments where he is truly himself. This matches the kind of provocation Charles has experienced in his conversion: the occasion of his accepting God as a reality — or, at least, as a question that needs answering — is death, and the realization of the precariousness of life. He has watched his close friends and those he saw as immune to the religious
68 69 70 71 Ibid. Epilogue, p. 350 Ibid. 2. 5. 340 Ibid. 2. 5. 340 Ibid. 2. 5. 341
25 pathology — Cara and Lord Marchmain — succumb to fear of the Lord upon looking into the abyss of death. Compared to the feeling of peace Charles has at the end of the story, his encounter with the Lord here is abrupt and almost external. Although, in reality, this event is of a piece with the rest of Charles' story and he has been led to it by imperceptible steps throughout his experience, it is clear that at the time it does not look appear to be a consummation of his past. The circumstances of Charles' and Julia's conversions look more like being cornered than like coming home. The motivating force for both of them seems to be primarily fear of death and judgment. Julia says, “I can't shut myself out from His mercy.”72 She sees herself as in opposition to God and in need of reconciliation, which can only be obtained by abandoning her earthly project. What Charles and Julia understand here is God's claim on their obedience. He is seen here in the aspect of justice; they are offenders and depend on his mercy. The idea of God as Divine Providence and the answer to their deepest desires is not a concept they could derive from the sobering experience of Lord Marchmain's death. The final surrender to grace of Lord Marchmain, an inveterate unbeliever, is a powerful witness to Charles and Julia that Divine Justice is not to be taken lightly. They have not yet seen, however, that God's good is their good. Given this background, it is not surprising that Charles would pursue yet another lesser good as his end — namely, the army. The idea of God which Charles took with him when he left Brideshead for the last time was not of a God whose good was intimately connected with Charles', and who was the answer to Charles' fundamental desires. The God Charles perceived was, in a way, an awful God, a God who held life and death in his hands, and who must not be offended. Although he believed in God's right to command, he did not associate him with happiness. The army was the new grand endeavor for Charles, the new source of what he used to think of as divine inspiration. Yet, as we see in the prologue, Charles is again trapped in the routine of survival, clearly lacking the vitality he had in moments of his past. This is not the first time he has suffered deadness, but there is something new
72 Ibid. 2. 5. 340
26 about this state as compared to his dead years with Celia. With Celia, Charles was a small part of a man pretending to be the whole — lifeless but doggedly pursuing art, preserving himself against disappointment by hiding behind his hardness, calling his problem loss of youth rather than loss of life. Charles never admits to having once loved Celia, whereas in the prologue, he not only admits to having loved the army, but is aware at the time that this loss of love is the source of his dryness. When he realizes that his love for the army has died, he is aghast, yet does not blame himself. The image of marital disillusion and the discovery of the small-souledness of his “once-beloved wife” show that he places the blame at the army's door. Charles' love for the army seems to be the only love of his that died naturally, without being ripped from him, like Julia or Sebastian. This realization seems to bring him closer to the true awareness that his happiness lies beyond earthly goods, which ultimately fail to satisfy. With the death of his love for the army, Charles is a man who has utterly spent himself looking for his happiness in earthly things. Unlike in the years with Celia, Charles has nothing he can even pretend to seek as his happiness. For this reason, it seems more appropriate to call Charles empty rather than dead. This emptiness is important, because in the past, Charles' attraction to beauty and ability to deeply enjoy it has often provided him with a smokescreen which prevents him from seeing the depth of his desire. Here, he sees the army as having failed, and, with nothing else to pursue, must face the fact that the army simply couldn't fulfill him. Not all the differences between Charles' dead years with Celia and his dead years with the army, however, have to do with emptiness. Other aspects can be discovered, which might not be striking except in light of the culminating scene of the book. Like the once-beloved wife of Charles' metaphor, the army with which Charles falls in love is not the army Charles marries. “She was stripped of all enchantment now and I knew her for an uncongenial stranger to whom I had bound myself indissolubly in a moment of folly.”73 The army presents two faces to Charles: the first face, the face he saw during
73 Ibid. Prologue, 6
27 the “first importunate courtship”, 74 is the romantic ideal expressed to him in the names of those famous battles, “whose trumpet-notes, even now in [his] sere and lawless state, [call] to [him] irresistibly across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood”. 75 When Charles laments that the army failed to fulfill his expectations, he particularly mourns the loss of the volunteers with whom he trained in the beginning of his career — men who shared his enthusiasm for the ideal, and were exhilarated at the thought that they might see action. Even before Charles joined the army, he felt the stirring of this desire to be part of a grand endeavor, when he came back to England in 1926 in response to the rumor of revolution. At that time, Charles' desire to join the army sprung from youthful longing for glory. An acquaintance from his Oxford days, sitting with him in a night-club in 1926, drunkenly declared, “You and I were too young to fight in the war. Other chaps fought, millions of them dead. Not us. We'll show them. We'll show the dead chaps we can fight too.” “That's why I'm here,” replied Charles. “Come from overseas, rallying to old country in hour of need.” 76 Charles wanted to be inducted into the glorious society of the “dead chaps”, to prove that he, too, was worthy of honor. When Charles joins the army after parting with Julia, he had a more mature understanding of the blackness facing Europe during that time, drawn from her sensitivity to the gathering storm — yet the romantic ideal of his boyhood still called to him. He dreams of sharing the companionship of likeminded men, united in pursuit of this glorious ideal, but, as he finally sees in the prologue, the army has failed to meet that expectation. The men who joined of their own free will have all but vanished, leaving Charles instead in the company of Hooper. Hooper, who accepts the army like the measles, is deaf to the trumpet-notes of heroism. He seems to be the antithesis of everything Charles holds dear, appearing unsoldierly and inhuman in his military equipment and constantly comparing the army to the world of business. Hooper's education,
74 Ibid. Prologue, 6 75 Ibid. Prologue, 9 76 Ibid. 2. 8. 205
28 Charles says, contained nothing noble or romantic, but rather “a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change.” 77 For these reasons, it seems natural that, for Charles, Hooper would come to personify the encroaching modernity Charles despises. Yet, paradoxically, Charles also admits to having for him “a feeling which almost amounted to affection”. 78 The occasion for this is the awkward episode on Hooper's first evening with the platoon, when the unpopular new colonel orders another soldier to cut Hooper's hair. Unexpectedly, Charles and Hooper bond together in enduring the unreasonableness of the belligerent colonel. Charles views Hooper with wry humor, describing the incongruity of Hooper's admiration for the efficiency of business and complete lack thereof in his own work, but he does not scorn Hooper the way he scorned Celia. While Charles does not directly report a conversation with Hooper about his past, they have plainly shared histories to some extent, because Hooper knows that Charles is a Catholic79, and Charles seems to know some details of Hooper's past, such as the circumstances under which he came to the army. That Charles shares a bond with Hooper, a man insensitive to the kind of beauty and nobility Charles prizes, is striking. Charles has a much closer bond with this mundane man, whom he apparently has no obligation to love, than he ever had with Celia, the woman to whom he was bound in marriage and with whom he ought to have shared at least the task of rearing children. There, Charles hardly concerned himself with his wife's current activities, let alone her childhood. This presents a new picture of Charles. With Julia, Charles felt the need to reject the superficial world in order to strive after his ideal; here, although Charles has nothing to pursue in opposition to the world, nonetheless his remaining in it, however weary, has given him a greater ability to understand other men. In the prologue, Charles recalls watching the men's spirits gradually sink over the winter months, and ruefully acknowledges his inability to do his duty of encouraging the soldiers. “And I, who
77 Ibid. Prologue, 9 78 Ibid. Prologue, 8 79 Ibid. Prologue, 17
29 by every precept should have put heart into them — how could I help them, who could so little help myself?”80 The experience of suffering with his men and having their morale entrusted to his care has naturally given Charles a greater ability to sympathize with others. The barrenness of the prologue, then, differs markedly from the dead years of architectural painting and marriage with Celia. Charles may be weary, but he is not hard. His newfound fellowship with other men is important, because, although imperfect, it shows that Charles is approaching, in an imperfect way, the idea of a divine love that gives itself for all.
A SMALL RED FLAME
In this state of waiting emptiness, Charles returns to Brideshead, and the memories flood back to him. What does Charles understand to be happening in the action of his remembering? At the beginning of Book II, he comments on his memories and their significance. "These memories, which are my life — for we possess nothing certainly except the past — were always with me." 81 He likens them to a flock of pigeons gathered around him, approaching him occasionally when he is still, but needing the noon gun to send them all into the air at once. This image seems apt to depict the state of Charles' mind as he returns to Brideshead, because while these memories have been always present to him, they seem to be taking on a new and personal significance when seen altogether. A flock of birds suddenly taking flight often causes us to pause: the spectacle is striking; perhaps we notice for the first time how many birds there are. When they were on the ground, they were just a haphazard collection, all doing different things, but when they take flight, they move together.
80 Ibid. Prologue, 5 81 Ibid. 2. 1. 225
30 He continues, "These memories are the memorials and pledges of the vital hours of a lifetime." 82 These memories are not indiscriminately chosen from Charles' past. They are the tokens of the hours when he came to life, leaving behind the routine of survival. Charles calls these hours of inspiration "the springs of art". He sees inspiration and life as linked to each other and contrasted with surviving, or living mechanically and thoughtlessly. When we are engaged in mere survival, Charles says, we become "surrounded by a hoard of abstractions and reflections and counterfeits of ourselves". This crowd of caricatured accounts of ourselves ("the sensual man, the economic man, etc.") hides the real self from view, and drives it down a road which we do not deliberately choose. Instead, we succumb to the inertia of these accounts. In remembering, then, Charles is returning to the moments when he was most alive and inspired. But these moments are also the ones when he is most himself, the self that normally hides under counterfeits which are “indistinguishable from ourselves to the outward eye” 83. As Charles proved in the past by his pursuit of pleasure over love, a man can act according to the desires that fundamentally characterize him — as Charles did, to a certain extent, with Sebastian — and yet not fully grasp the significance of such action. In returning to the moments that were most free of the “hoard of abstractions”, Charles sees himself with greater clarity. This is emphasized by the imagery surrounding the beginning of Charles' nostalgia. He told me [that the platoon was encamped at Brideshead] and, on the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long-forgotten sounds — for he had spoken a name that was so familiar to me, a conjuror's name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantoms of those haunted late years began to take flight. 84 Every part of this description evokes a feeling of returning to something fundamental that had long
82 Ibid. 2. 1. 225 83 Ibid. 2. 1. 226 84 Ibid. Prologue, 15
31 been obscured by something less real. What is the fundamental thing which Charles is now beginning to see? The moments of freedom from counterfeit selves have taught Charles that, at his core, he is a lover. Love is the motivating force in his relationship with Sebastian; Julia brings him back to life in Book II by reminding him of love's importance. At the end of Charles' reminiscences, he seems to sum up the pain of his situation and the thwarting of all previous goodness by calling himself “loveless”. 85 The thought of the happiness he felt when he loved is particularly poignant now, when there seems nothing beautiful or good to awaken this desire. He tells Hooper that he has been here before, and then notes, “the words seemed to ring back to me enriched from the vaults of my dungeon.” 86 This remembering, then, is inevitably painful. Clearing away counterfeits and getting down to the fundamental aspects of one's character are important and healthy things to do, but this leaves Charles with a desire that seems to have no object any more. The death knell comes when Charles visits the house and sees the perverted use to which Brideshead has been put — not only are these moments gone, but even the memory of them has been violated, since their symbol has been effaced. Charles feels the full force of the problem. He tastes the goodness, feels his desire, and finds himself empty. “What is the point of it all?” is his question. Charles never explicitly asks it, but the question suffuses the imagery of the entire epilogue. Charles' tour of Brideshead is accompanied by a litany of blasphemies from the mouth of the innocent quartering-commandant, who shows him how each memorable room has been turned to some degrading use. This is contrasted with the image of the builders of Brideshead, carting stone for the new house, adding new embellishments over the years. As Charles says in the beginning, “all this had been planned and planted a century and a half ago so that, at this date, it might be seen in its maturity”. 87 The builders' intensity and intention, obviously aiming at a
85 Ibid. Epilogue, p. 350 86 Ibid. Prologue, 17 87 Ibid. Prologue, 16
32 particular goal, seems to have been cruelly thwarted. Brideshead's debasement is both a literal part of and a metaphor for Charles' challenge. Charles fell in love with the house when he first saw it, and the corruption of its beauty hurts him, but the house is also a symbol for Charles' experience of love, because it was the setting and occasion in many ways for this experience. The perversion of Brideshead symbolizes for Charles the thwarting of all the vitality he felt and witnessed there: Cordelia, “all that burning love spending itself on serum and delousing powder” 88, Julia in her magical sadness, turning away from the man she loved, Sebastian, “the joyful youth with the teddy-bear under the flowering chestnuts”89, now an under-porter for a monastery in a foreign country. This puts Charles in the face of a challenge. As in the time before Lord Marchmain's death, when Charles was trying to avoid even entertaining the question of God, here, Charles must recognize what is at stake in believing. He accepted God after Lord Marchmain died, but until now his faith has been like an ill-considered proposition which entails more than one realizes at first. If Charles believes in God, he believes that God is the answer to his desires — in other words, God is an answer to Charles as a person, and not simply an extraneous structure imposed over an independently existing world. This paradox is experienced by all who perceive the transience of this life, but Charles feels it acutely here because it seems that no good thing has been left him. This was the paradox felt by Sebastian, who loved the beauty of childhood and didn't want to face the fact that it would pass away. It is the paradox of human happiness. Charles has experienced glimpses of happiness through loving earthly things, but these have been taken away, and thus he has two options: to despair of happiness, or to hope for something transcendent that will fulfill him. The pain Charles feels comes from the starkness with which he now sees the question of Divine Providence. He must move beyond the melancholy he feels in the prologue to a personal sense of loss, in order to appreciate the magnitude of God's promise. The despondency Charles feels about the
88 Ibid. 2. 4. 300 89 Ibid. 2. 4. 309
33 invading suburbs and the death of heroism is not strong enough to force him to look for Divine Providence. Charles has not forgotten the loss of Julia and Sebastian, but it takes returning to Brideshead to call forth his tears. The noon gun is there to remind him that he cannot simply live on in a mood of dull disenchantment with the world. Either happiness is possible, or it isn't; either one can be hopeful, or one must despair. Even so, Charles' grief is not simply for his own sake. The age of Hooper has now become a personal affront, which means that the problem is simultaneously intimate and universal. Coming out of the chapel, Charles thinks, The builders did not know the uses to which their work would descend; by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended it; year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to a ripeness; until, in a sudden frost, came the age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedet sola civitas.90 Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. 91 Here, Charles grieves not only for the loss of his own happiness or even that of his friends, but also for the generations of builders, toiling to create this great work. The offender is the age of Hooper, the sterile modernity which Charles compares in the prologue to a rising tide, gradually enveloping the land. This reveals to Charles that, in his loss, the whole world is at stake. In the absence of anything beautiful, Charles is forced to inhabit the world of Hooper, yet how can he, a lover, dwell in this unlovely world? Is there redemption for the age of Hooper? Charles has now seen how much the world needs God — but the does not yet see that God is present, fulfilling that need. This means that when Charles prays in the chapel, he is not resting. He is still suspended, for how can someone say, “all is vanity,” while yet putting faith in God? Charles cannot but be aware of the contradiction between the statement and the action. He has just experienced the turmoil of feeling the depth of his desires and seeing that they have not been fulfilled, yet here he kneels and offers tribute to God. As undramatic as it seems, this small gesture is a profound act of faith. Charles isn't pretending
90 [How lonely sits the city], 91 Ibid. Epilogue, 351
34 to himself that he doesn't desire the things he lost; he recognizes his emptiness and yet allies himself with God, placing his good in God, despite having no present evidence of a good there that corresponds to the kinds of things that awoke desire in Charles in the past. Instead of despairing, Charles strains to look beyond the appearances. He is searching, holding out for something greater. He is choosing to believe that the goods he encountered in his past were promises yet to be fulfilled, although this is against the evidence of the world. “Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Into the echoing silence created by these devastating words, the final thoughts of Charles' narrative steal like a tiny flame, growing stronger minute by minute, beyond all hope. Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame — a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones. Something miraculous has come to pass in Charles. The enormous, heart-breaking question of the epilogue has somehow been answered in front of the small tabernacle light in the chapel — and the remedy is the Blessed Sacrament. Among Charles' last words about the desolation of Brideshead is a verse from the Tenebrae service, which Cordelia first recited to him after Lady Marchmain's death at the end of Book I, when she told him of the chapel's being closed. 92 The Tenebrae service emphasizes the darkness and silence of the tomb; at the end, the last candle is hidden, to signify Christ descending to the dead. However, that is not “the last word”. In the final part of the service, the candle is unveiled after a loud noise, which represents the resurrection and the bursting of death's bands. The presence of the small red flame indicates that the Eucharist has been brought back into the chapel that once was
92 Ibid. 1. 8. 220
35 shut, a sign that God is once more in his house. The Eucharist, then, is the good that Charles sees as an answer to his great suffering; not only that, but its presence for his fellow soldiers, who, although in England, are far, in heart, from their home. God's presence in the chapel justifies the tragedy of in which Charles played, and that this is an answer to Charles is clear from his reaction. Charles is convinced that the good he sees is beyond the power of men to conceive or intend, but could not have come to be without the human tragedians and builders who took part in it. This passage is strikingly similar to his description of inspiration in the beginning of Bk. II. He loved building because he saw it as the province of inspiration, “in which, at the moment of consummation, things were most clearly taken out of [man's] hands and perfected, without his intention, by other means”. 93 The presence of inspiration is a vital sign for Charles, and here, the feeling is on a grander scale than he has ever experienced. Clearly, Charles has come back to life. Yet, although Charles' response to the good he sees resembles the way he has responded before, something radically new is happening to him, as the reference to the resurrection symbolism of Tenebrae indicates. The ugliness of the chapel is an important detail in this scene. In the past, when the spark of life awoke in Charles, it was kindled by the beautiful, but the beauty Charles sees here is of a different order than the beauty he encountered before, and is hidden under ugliness — both the moral ugliness of the age of Hooper and the physical ugliness of the chapel. Charles disliked the chapel from the first moment he saw it, especially the tabernacle, with its “patina of pock-marked skin”. 94 Now, he is able to look through that ugliness to see the good of the Eucharist, the exemplar of divine beauty hidden under a mundane and even repulsive aspect. The Eucharist, as the Divine Presence in the world of man, is the sacrament of God's penetration and redemption of reality. Before he visited the chapel, Charles' sorrow at his loss of love
93 Ibid. 2. 1. 226 94 Ibid. 1. 1. 39
36 had swelled into the universal question of whether there can be redemption for the world. The Eucharist claims to be the answer to that question, because it attests that God is present in this very reality, redeeming it even as we speak. As Charles walks back to camp, he demonstrates in his thoughts and actions that he is convinced of this. When Sebastian appeared in Charles' world, the gray figures of the embryo dons “seemed quietly to fade into the landscape and vanish”, 95 and Charles put his old life behind him for the sake of the beautiful. When Julia, in her soft sadness, offered to knit her life into his, Charles again put his old life behind him. Even joining the army involved turning away from his former circumstances for another existence. Now, Charles has awoken once more, but instead of advancing to a new world, he turns back to the old world, the very world which he lately saw as desolate. He, so recently mourning his lost vitality, now walks briskly — almost runs — back to the world of Hooper, as if responding to the clarion call of the cook-house bugle. Charles is alive again, but he has come to life in a new world. Long ago, when he first left Brideshead, he vowed henceforth to live in “a world of three dimensions — with the aid of [his] five senses.” In Book I, Charles looks back on this moment and enigmatically comments, “I have since learned that there is no such world; but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.” 96 This statement takes on new meaning in light of the epilogue. Charles has discovered that the world he saw around him was not, in fact, the world of three dimensions, as if three dimensions were enough to describe the depth of a world that had been permeated by the divine. From this it is clear that, although Charles does not explicitly refer to love in the last part of the epilogue, this element, always so important to Charles' vital hours, is present more than ever at the end. The Eucharist, as God's remedy for the fallen world, is the ultimate sign of divine love. When Charles perceives the Eucharist as redeeming reality, and sees that this could not have come about “but for the
95 Ibid. 1. 1. 28 96 Ibid. 1. 6. 169
37 builders and the tragedians”,97 he sees Divine Providence at work in bringing him to this point. The presence of this infinite love fills Charles with life and inspiration, but the inspiration is of a new sort. As an architectural artist, Charles saw building as the most inspired act of man, and “regarded men as something much less than the buildings they made and inhabited, as mere lodgers and short-term sublessees of small importance in the long, fruitful life of their homes.” 98 At the end of his narrative, Charles feels part of a much more magnificent work of building, in which the good of the whole creation is not something separate and beyond that of its members, but includes their good as well. The tabernacle light, relit because of the builders and tragedians, is the sign of God's love for all humanity, a love that has the power to transform even the age of Hooper. This love sends Charles running back to the army, confident that God is there as well.
97 Ibid. Epilogue, 351 98 Ibid. 2. 1. 226
Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited; the Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, a Novel. Boston: Little, Brown, 1945. Print.
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