Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Back to Brideshead

My morning started off great with two great comments on one of my Brideshead posts. I love it when someone reads my stuff and posts intelligent remarks in response. But when I went to the post to thank him or her for their remarks, I found that they had deleted them. Sigh.

Fortunately, nothing on the internet is really gone. Here is the second comment (this is about Julia's dramatic speech at the fountain):
Oh, and, also, the Alice-in-Wonderland-ish, nursery sense of Faith and religion, is quite Chestertonian, wouldn't you agree? And, hence, legitimated within the present novel. 
That's a very astute observation. But where does it lead us?

That Chestertonian view is associated primarily with Lady Marchmain. The bitter outpouring we see from Julia at the fountain is Lady Marchmain coming back to haunt her as she also haunts Sebastian, only Cordelia seems to grow above her mother. To ask the question bluntly: Does Waugh admire Chesterton's viewpoint? He is certainly willing to allow it a place but I'm not sure he admires it. And, never mind Waugh, should we admire it?

This is particularly relevant today because Chesterton's view was thoroughly Franciscan. That is not unusual in an Englishman. Centuries of anti-Dominican propaganda combined with the bright romanticism of Wordsworth primed Englishmen of that era to be receptive to Saint Francis. If you have 50 minutes to spare, you will find many themes in this video that overlap with Brideshead Revisisted:

But what did Waugh think of all this? He is willing to see just about everything as faintly ridiculous including some of the most revered and influential forms of Catholic spirituality. We are meant to laugh at Bridey's Jesuitical attitudes but we are not meant to think that Bridey gets Jesuitical spirituality wrong. It is even more problematic in the case of Lady Marchmain for she is more sinister than just faintly ridiculous and, again, I don't think this is because we are supposed to think she gets Franciscan spirituality wrong.

Stick around 'til the end of the above video and you will get Clark's account of Giotto. There, I think, you get a view that is closer to Charles Ryder's spirituality. But we shouldn't assume that Charles veiw is necessarily that of Waugh himself.

I don't have an answer to my own questions. Not yet anyway. Like Benedict XVI, I've always inclined to a more Augustinian view and I am resistant to Franciscan spirituality but I can't say I've reached any final conclusions.

This summer I am going to reread and edit all my Brideshead posts and put them together on one page to make them easier to find and read.


  1. Hi, Jules.
    I happened across your Brideshead series a couple days ago and have been immersed in it since, just reaching the end today. I several times almost commented, but wanted to hold off until the end, as your analysis, though overall keeping to the timeline of the text, did thread in and out a bit, and I didn't want to be hasty in arguing a small point. On the whole, I really liked and got a lot of food for thought out of your analysis. Thank you for freely sharing it.
    The first comment I did make was about the deleted Julia speech. Then, I had second thoughts about posting. First, because I am not at all sure I am right. Second, because, as I said--thumbs up to the analysis overall--so I felt it a bit mean of me, just nitpicking one point of disagreement. But, as I see you are reading comments on old posts, I'll do my best to reproduce the substance of my comment.

    I think that I've only ever read the original, more purple BR. I know about the 'honed' or toned down version, but I don't believe I've read it. And BR, though a very *big* book for me, I haven't reread in a long while. That said...
    Question raised by you: Does the discarded hysterical outburst about Nanny Hawkins style Catholicism and "living in sin" from Julia contribute anything to "the story" that said story would suffer without?

    I tend to think so. My points were, first, that every Flyte family member gets a chance to tell, in his/her own words, his personal view of Catholicism. "What the Faith means to Me." Lady Marchmain does (Alice in Wonderland Franciscanism being one aspect), Bridey does in admitting how ill he connects and communicates with people and therefore seemed to lack something necessary to being a priest and in other places exhibiting his intellectual grasp of doctrine, Cordelia does at numerous points and perhaps both the most sensibly and the most charmingly of anyone, Sebastian does in his conversation about the "make me good" quote from Saint Augustine and "happiness hasn't much to do with it".
    Well, what about Julia? There are likely many things I don't remember. Does she elsewhere tell us about the central focus of the faith through the eyes of Julia? In the hysterical breakdown in night, beneath the stars, beside the fountain of Brideshead, smack in the middle of the story arc...she did tell us, in the earlier version. She told us in a way that helped us to make sense of her actions to come. Without what she told us there, can we make any sense of her giving up Charles and happiness in order to live the life of a spinster and devote herself (intermittently, perhaps) to good works with her sister?

    As concerns realism, it seems to me that--without the hysterical outburst of a woman in love struck to her core in an unguarded moment--the motivation behind Julia's later behavior is what must come across as "unrealistic" in the extreme. Even unfathomable.

    Without what she tells us there--can we have as much insight into Charles's own conversion--which is as near to the crux of the story as any human happening in it comes? For Charles's own fate mirrors Julia's. They are linked, to the end, though separated, much like Abelard and Heloise.

    1. Thank you so much for posting another comment. I really enjoyed your first comments and was dismayed that you later removed them, although I understand your feelings in doing so and don't fault you in any way for doing so.

      I won't respond to what you say here in any way, other than to say I appreciate your sharing your thoughts. I should say, however, that, like you, I don't know whether I am right, which is why other viewpoints are so welcome to me; it is good to get shaken out of one's settled opinions.

    2. Well, good.
      Then, I think I'll venture one more comment. Two points, really.
      One is, I was quite struck (reading straight through in one or two sittings, which is different to the way you wrote the posts) by how very down on Theresa Marchmain you come across here. The only kind things you allowed to be said of her came from Cara and Charles, and these you chalked up only to their courtesy, not to any real worth in her. (When you do read through the posts this summer, see whether you agree with me on that.)
      I won't go all out to defend her, but I'll just say that though I do see plenty of faults in her, I think she's got her good points, too. The most striking of which I credit to a friend pointing out once that she settled her own priorities in such a way that the very bottom line in her parenting was her children's ultimate salvation. Parents often have a 'bottom-line' that, no matter what rebellion or differences or varying temperaments their children gets molded into them. Lay M's core value was salvation for her children, and it does seem that her children do find salvation. If you concede that she has anything at all to do with that, it has to be viewed as a point in her favor.
      Second thing, spring-boarding from that, is something I just came to see today, through finishing your blog series. You mention Tolkien in connection with Romanticism, The Lord of the Rings. (Waugh wasn't much of a fan, was he?)
      Well, if I had to put one word on what that trilogy was about, the word (it came to me today) would be "glory".

      If I had to put one word on what BR is about (it came to me today), that word would be "charity". Yes, of course it is also about grace. But the grace comes from God and is unseen. The charity, though its source is God, is displayed in and through the development of the human characters and human relations. Sex and love, here, add up to more than a sum of their parts, they accumulate and build themselves into more than what they were: Charity.

      That's why the critics hate it, even more than the Catholicism. And that's why it will always be deeply beloved. It is a book depicting, and demonstrating, crystalline charity, with such force, that we are moved to begin to feel it ourselves.


      Thanks again.

    3. You're probably correct in thinking that I come off as down on Theresa Marchmain over all. I'll certainly keep that in mind as I review the posts this summer.

      In retrospect, it is clear to me that one of the things that has always drawn me to this book is the striking similarity between Theresa Marchmain and my mother (a similarity that several people have noticed without any prompting from me). I suspect is that I unconsciously used that similarity as a means to vent some feelings I had about my mother, who had died only a short time before I began the series on Brideshead. In this way I was able to say some things that would have been difficult for me to say directly about my mother by using Lady Marchmain as a proxy.

      If Lady Marchmain had been a real person, I think the only acceptable stance towards her would be to hope and pray that she will be admitted to heaven. This not only on the grounds of charity but also because to judge otherwise would be to condemn myself—whatever faults she may have, my own are certainly just as bad if not worse.

      Making no effort at all to separate my personal feelings from any sort of objective reading, I'd say the most important reflection on Lady Marchmain in the book comes from Cordelia in dialogue with Charles when she describes her mother as "saintly but not a saint" (which, to digress, is also a perfect description of Bernard de Clairvaux):

      'You didn't like her. I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God they hated mummy.'

      'What do you mean by that, Cordelia?'

      'Well, you see, she was saintly but she wasn't a saint. No one could hate a saint, could they? They can't really hate God either. When they want to hate him and his saints they have to find something like themselves and hate that. I suppose you think that's all bosh."

      'I've heard almost the same thing once before—from someone very different.'

      The "someone very different" that Charles has in mind here is Cara who talked about how Lord Marchmain and Sebastian's hatred of Lady Marchmain was a result of their not having grown up when they tried to love her.

      It's as easy to hate as it is to love your mother. Most of us have a little toggle switch inside that can flip from one extreme to the other. What's hard is to get enough emotional distance on her to first get angry (as opposed to full of self pity) about our conflicts with her and then forgive her for whatever needs forgiveness and, having done that, to ask God to forgive me for our own trespasses against her.

      As to charity, yes, that is what it is about if by it we mean love. Like Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, Waugh believes that eros cannot be separated completely from caritas (agape). Eros does not necessarily lead to caritas but, with God's grace and our cooperation with that grace, it can.

    4. Jules,
      You have my sympathy on finding one's mother hard to love. I've just sent up one Hail, Mary for yours, and I'll keep her spirit in prayer in future, when I am praying for my own, who was, as it happens, not the very least bit like Lady Marchmain, but exceeding difficult in quite other ways.

      Funny, but my own troubles with my mum also came to the forefront of my thoughts while reading here and even while composing comments. I'll share two things, if I may. First is, that when things have been blackest for me personally in struggling with the effects of having known few grown-ups (a common plight in our days, the days since the twenties and forties, which you touch on glancingly in your series--oh, and by the way, that does explain a lot of why Waugh is still so popular--all the narcissistic, immature people in his novels--the only sort of people we know today, almost)...I happened upon a trope that has since helped me very much, I think, in the struggle to love.
      I used to think--oh, Christ and Mary can be of no help to me on this one. They both of them had mothers who were perfect (or near-perfect) angels, of course they could love with open and turn out alright. They can't possibly relate to my predicament.
      The trope I came on for understanding my mum, and how to grieve for her with both honesty and dignity, and somehow tie it all back in to something approaching Christ-like...was...Earthly Jerusalem.
      Jesus wept...remember? Once, for Lazarus, who was dead. And once, for the lady who ought to have been a virgin daughter and a queen of virtue, but made herself a dirty, miserable whore. That Lady, Jerusalem, a city of people, a place of birth beginning. The earthly one is fallen--so low it seems to us unthinkable, unbearable. Yet, there is a heavenly Jerusalem, too.
      A bit of cheap rhyme here, but it illustrates an attitude I believe is truly fitting:

      O, Mother mine, birth Mother mine!
      Earthly Jerusalem!
      What I would give! to pay the fine
      For faults that I condemn.

      Well, and I've got one more coming, after this, that I woke up with in my head after reading your last and sleeping on all of yesterday's reading and reflection.

      Oh, and one last thing here. Today, now, I AM a mother. Two very nice in innumberable ways young and growing chicks to look after. And, how am I doing? Well, I am deeply sorry to say, despite a host of good intentions, often falling well short of the mark.
      Too damn bad...but this mud of alloy dirtying our true metal in a fallen world is sometimes more than I can find my way around. Gives a different perspective on the thing.

    5. Jules,
      Condolences on the matter of the fried computer.
      I thought I would write a quick follow-up to share that while you were coping with that loss, my family and I made a trip to Israel--for the purposes of cheering on a niece in a swimming competition. We got out just before the missiles started raining in. On the Sunday we were there (Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and Sunday within the Octave of the Sacred Heart, according to the Tridentine calendar), we managed to attend a mass in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem and on the way there skirted Old City Jerusalem at Damascus Gate. Then later we skirted the newer, southern end of the city on route to the Dead Sea.

      So, I had a chance to glimpse the Earthly Jerusalem with my living eyes.
      Quite something to behold, both in its (now mostly medieval-Islamic--Old City, concrete pillbox--New City) architectural splendor and in its current socio-economic semi-destitution.

      Also, I happened to write you a sonnet and am posting it as a comment on your last Brideshead installment. I hope that's alright.

      Regards, in X.

    6. How very kind of a you. A sonnet!

      The Austen post you comment on elsewhere was an experiment in voice and style. Having been at this blog for a while now, I'm sure I've written something to disappoint or offend just about anyone at one time or another. :-)

      My new computer gets delivered this week. It will take a couple of days to get it set up and then I'll be able to blog again.

  2. Then, I also said that I think (and this I got more from quite recently rewatching the miniseries) that there are some strong likenesses between Julia and her mother--the songs in the nursery, rote catechism in a world of let's pretend, childish Franciscan view of religion and rules and miracles being one of the strongest. I don't think either that Waugh entirely approved it, nor that we should, without scrutiny and a willingness to find fault. We must always be open to examining new opinions and never get too comfortable in an easy orthodoxy. (I read that caution--a familiar and congenial one to me--somewhere today or yesterday...on your blog or elsewhere I don't quite recall.) But I don't think that when either Lady Marchmain or Julia put it forward in the novel, that either Charles or we are meant to be entirely insensible of, entirely closed off from, its frank and undeniable appeal.

    So. Sorry to have come and gone so quickly earlier. If the comment is worth answering, I am interested to read your response. And, of course, there is the fact that Waugh himself did the editing and deleting. Still, some of us who loved the book in its initial more Romantic form can wish he hadn't done.

    Really a nice series. I liked meeting you here and will come around sometimes to read more.

    Yours in Christ.

  3. Jules,
    Here is what I wanted to tell you about what came into my mind on waking this morning.

    To start, your post series insists often on sex being at or near the center of the book. I agree with just about everything you have to say about a bygone England and Waugh's generation and same sex experimentation. I also agree with you (and I came to this quite gradually, too, over a period of years) that Sebastian's relationships, both with the youthful Charles and later with the puss-plagued-foot-sore Kurt (yuck!), are actively homo-sexual relations, whatever else they may be into the bargain. (It seems probable that, back at Eton, he'd had such relations Blanche as well.)

    Next, you bring up the Song of context of Et in Arcadia Ego, I think, mentioning the low door into the secret garden of love. Spot on, again.

    Now, add on this, which I've held in mind in connection with the novel for most of the two decades since I first read it--the important Christian image, originating in the vision of the temple described in Ezekiel, I believe: the image of a spring of water with its source inside the temple, and flowing out to give life to all the world. The spring and the flood itself being Christ, or the life that's in him. Well, doesn't take much invention to understand the fountain at Brideshead to be a symbol of that Font of Life, and I, for one, long have done. And, further, the Church is the Bride of Christ, so that the fountain at Brideshead is both a physical source of life-giving water and symbol of the Church's bridely dependence on him.

    Now, go back and overlay Song of Songs, together with rampant (often illicit) sexual relations which are (despite being illicit) all bound up necessarily with both Eros and Caritas. Hold in thought the central physical (real-estate) image of the fountain. Think of the taking of Julia onboard ship in the storm and the possession of a piece of property metaphor with which that is described. Think of Charles and Julia, living at Brideshead, beside the fountain, by night and day (and the old visits there with Sebastian).

    Think, of course, of Brideshead and Maidenhead, and the physical piece of property that implies.

    Think of the title, Brideshead Revisited. ...

    The whole novel--the pivotal and central theme of it--is blatantly and inescapably sexual. It is a proto-cryptical allusion to a way of understanding a mystery, which way is today most generally referred to as Theology of the Body. (That is a discussion unto itself, but let's assume that some way of understanding ToB is both orthodox and helpful.)

    I don't know whether you'll like that better or worse than my own acknowledged Franciscan sympathies (mixed with a myriad other sympathies). But, now that I see it, I can't unsee. And I can't but believe I understand the book itself a whole lot more fully because of it. It is not something I'm imposing as reader. It is (I am convinced) exactly what Waugh intended. (And, God, how he must have laughed with anyone in on the joke, as the book sold millions and no critical reviews uncovered the central source of mirth!)

    And, like the content of our Catholic faith itself, it is just too GOOD not to be (in a sense that wholly surpasses our understanding) TRUE.

    I wouldn't have seen it all so clearly without you. in X.

  4. Good job you've decided to collate the Bridesheads in an easily accessible way. I find I'm often have to come back to them as a reference point for my own 'hints and guesses'. I was thinking of putting them all into a PDF for myself!