Monday, December 22, 2008

Brideshead Revisited

Back in October I noted a list of books I wanted to read before I die. I quickly finished the two Mario Vargas Llosa books I ordered and then got to work on Brideshead Revisited, by Englishman Evelyn Waugh. Waugh was a convert to Catholicism and like most who come to Catholicism as adults, he takes the faith extremely seriously. All too often, us cradle Catholics view the faith with too much complacency -- it is a nice cozy blanket that keeps us warm but we often never really think about it.

Waugh saw Brideshead as being a "theological" novel but while he obviously had a point, to limit readership to Catholics or committed Christians would be a mistake. The novel is often seen as a valedictory to prewar England, but even there you might be missing the point. For while Waugh looks unhappily at modern society -- "The Age of Hooper" he calls it contemptuously (after a rather ridiculous minor character), the pre-war aristocracy is not entirely looked upon with approval. Comic relief is often provided by "Boy Mulcaster," the heir apparent to an English title who comes across as the stereotypical upper class twit.

Rather, the novel is about redemption. Most of the characters are flawed persons, as we all are, and all try in their way to make right with themselves and with God. The imagery of this call is so perfect -- repeating Chesterton's line of the "twitch upon the thread." In the end, things do not turn out quite as everyone expected, yet the narrator realizes that it turned out well.

The novel, though is replete with humor, most of it revolving around drinking. But my favorite passage regards Rex Mottram, a rather disreputable character who decides to convert to Catholicism to marry into a noble family to further his political career. Mottram is extremely uninterested in Catholicism. When a priest asks Mottram if he has any questions regarding the faith, his reply is to ask the priest to tell him what he should believe. The intended bride's younger sister then gets hold of Mottram and fills his head with such silliness that Mottram believes, among other things, that there are sacred monkeys in the Vatican.

Maybe that is where Dan Brown got his ideas from!


Rodak said...

"Brideshead Revisited" is certainly a novel that can be suggested reading for anyone who reads. It must be remembered that it was made into a hugely popular PBS mini-series back in the day. I would imagine one could acquire that on DVD. If so, it would be worth doing.
Other explicitly Catholic novelists that everybody should check out would include: J.F. Powers (his novel, "Morte d'Urban" won a National Book Award), Georges Bernanos ("Diary of a Country Priest"), Graham Greene ("The Power and the Glory"), and Francois Mauriac ("A Woman of the Pharisees" is a good one), and, of course, Walker Percy("Love in the Ruins", "Lancelot", "The Second Coming").

William R. Barker said...

Thank you Anthony and Rob for the reading suggestions.