Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh


Listening to Jeremy Irons reading Brideshead Revisited is such a pleasure. It made me happy toiling away in the gym or the kitchen; in fact, I cleaned out some kitchen drawers so I could keep listening. His voice, which conveyed all the characters perfectly without unnatural-sounding stresses and his plummy accent are such a treat.


The characters are irresistible and descriptions of places and the time lovely and pitch perfect. We meet the narrator Charles at Oxford; he dates his own beginning there from the time he met Sebastian who introduced himself by drunkenly throwing up into Charles’ rooms from outside his ground floor window. They became the best of friends until Sebastian’s mother divides them and Sebastian begins to drink more and more.Years later Charles meets Sebastian's sister Julia after both have married and has a loving affair of several years’ duration with her.

Her explanation of why they must part is the heart of the matter. She acknowledges that she has been bad in the past and probably will be bad again and punished again. She says,

The worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself off from his mercy. That is what it would mean, starting a life with you, a life without him. There was one thing unforgiveable….The bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I’m not quite bad enough to do, [is] to set up a rival good to God’s…. If I give up this one thing that I want so much, however bad I am, he won’t quite despair of me in the end.

So, assuming this is a book meant to convey the heart of Catholicism, well, perhaps it succeeded. The sympathetic rational agnostic narrator Charles is pitted against the teachings from childhood of Nanny, Mummy, and the Church. Charles fails twice:  Sebastian sinks into alcoholism and misery, then adds the Church to the mix. Julia chooses repeated “badness” and punishment in hopes of remaining in God’s grace rather than trying to find it while married to a divorced man. 

 I could go on at some length about the outrages of the church and its perpetration of horrors on humans for thousands of years, but I won’t. I continue to believe rationality should not be the enemy of religion and rules should not trump loving kindness. For some reason the Pope’s red shoes keep intruding on my thoughts.  

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