Friday, June 20, 2008

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The back cover describes Brideshead Revisited as “Evelyn Waugh’s best-loved, most passionate and most poignant novel” and I honestly tried very hard to like it.

Another book blogger wrote recently about not enjoying a book because it had redemption through suffering themes and as a non-Christian she just didn’t “get it”. In my case (as a believer) after reading almost 300 pages about drinking, adultery, and homosexuality I just didn’t “get” why anyone would enjoy reading a book about people who are so clueless! By the time some of the characters came around to seeing their need for faith they were on their death beds. I couldn’t help wondering, “Why couldn’t they find God in life and not just in death?” What a waste!

The “faith” in the novel is connected to Catholicism. Lady Marchmain, the matriarch of the story, is a devout Catholic and is rejected by her wayward son and husband because of it. In a conversation on page 254 we read:

“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 really 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 pretends it’s God and hate that…

It was interesting to me that the two people in the book who had a chance at happiness realized they could never achieve it because of the “Great Divide” brought about by religion (or lack thereof). Although Julia was a nominal believer she couldn’t accept the fact that her lover was an agnostic. At their breakup she says, “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… 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. (386)

Sadly, this is not how to experience God’s mercy – by giving up things to prove we are somehow worthy of it. I applaud Waugh for writing about the pull of grace on even the worst reprobate, but I felt dissatisfied with the lukewarm reactions of the characters to this same grace. If only they could have loved God as fervently as they had once hated Him!

Maybe to Waugh any reaction to grace is paltry in comparison to the extravagant love of the Giver. If you have a different take on this book I’d be happy to hear it.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Well, I don't have a different take. I didn't get the fascination people have with this book. I found it to be depressing and annoying -- after trying really hard to like it! Nothin' doin'.