Brideshead Revisited is a narrative story told from the perspective of one Charles Ryder, an agnostic young man who becomes friends with Sebastian Flyte, a cradle Catholic who struggles with his faith. Charles is quite taken with the members and dynamics of the Flyte Family, (a family of Catholic’s living in 1920s Protestant England) and each of them have their own particular relationship with him. A family torn between a pious mother and a rogue father, each of the four siblings has his/her own struggles. Two are committed Catholics. Two are confused, lost, and somewhat repelled by their faith. Charles witnesses the lives of these different characters as they live out the consequences of their decisions, some outwardly suffering but inwardly excelling in virtue and holiness, others materially excelling but inwardly suffering as they ignore and have anger towards their faith.
Charles himself develops an animosity towards the Catholic faith through the years of knowing the Flyte family. But during WWII, he is brought back to the family estate and as he reflects on his life’s entwinement with this family, he slowly realizes the purpose, the point, the whole mystery of the Catholic faith.
This whole story was a very real example of family circumstances regarding the faith. The mother, a cradle catholic, is a pious soul, whose intuition and ability to communicate do her service in managing and dealing with those she loves. The father, a lapsed convert, is living abroad with his mistress and holds hostile resentment towards his wife. The eldest son is a committed catholic, and goes about his staunch but slightly odd way, never outwardly reprimanding his lapsed siblings but calling things as they are, and not pretending they are otherwise. The elder sister defies her mother and religion by marrying a protestant for his social position, leading her down a path of hardship and saddness. Sebastian feels he can never quite aspire to be the good man he should be, always having an under-lying suspicion that he is too much like his father, and falls into a habit of drunkenness at a young age. The youngest daughter is a pious thing, and although she does not live the life she thought she would, she grows in piety and holiness the older she gets.
Waugh writes about living the catholic faith with such reality. The temptations and struggles each character deals with are very apparent in our day-and-age. The father’s decisions and life choices also affect the children and the struggles they have later in life. This is something I often ponder – generational sin and how our spiritual lives will affect the spiritual lives of those who come after us, just as our spiritual lives are affected by our ancestors. (Generational sin – there are excellent sermon’s online about it). Just as the mother’s piety affects those of her children who are inclined towards that, so the father’s various sins affect those of his children also inclined to those particular sins. It’s a complex thing, but at the same time, simple. The father’s virtue and vice affects his children. The mother’s virtue and vice affects her children. And each child will be affected by it differently, therefore living very different lives, each with his own struggles and successes.
Charles doesn’t quite understand many things within the household, of the dynamics and relationships between various members of the family. But, despite the unsettling feeling the wayward children have towards their mother and more pious siblings, there is still an under-lying understanding of their family and faith. Sebastian comments to Charles a few times that he “just can’t understand” because Charles is not a catholic. Speaking as a cradle catholic, this is more often then not, quite true. Sometimes I find myself in conversations with others who simply can’t grasp what I mean. And it comes down to faith. It’s not something you can explain to another person, particularly if they aren’t wanting or willing to understand. Faith is also a gift, and not everyone has been given it – although all they need do is ask for it.
The “wayward” children know the choices they should make, even if they can’t put a concrete reason as to exactly why. Also what struck me was the emotional outrage stirred up in one character during a particular scene, when her older brother spoke simply and openly about her choice to live in mortal sin. The brother wasn’t unkind or accusatory at all in his speech, but speaking openly and truthfully about her actions ultimately brought her guilt to the forefront. This is too true a scenario. When one runs one’s life catering to the passions, it is naturally the emotions which take over whenever an opposition comes about. It usually ends in an ugly scene where said outraged person is illogical, full of self-pity, and contempt for the opposition (and, I might add, all in the name of “being judged”).
We also see the compassion within the catholic characters, the forgiveness which is such a core part of the faith, and the mercy shown it’s most bitter and ornery children, even if it’s merely moments before death. Because ultimately the catholic faith is about Love and making sure we spend eternity with our one True Love.
I really found this story intriguing. It’s written in a captivating style, keeping every moment interesting. And because it is written in first person, there is a vast chance to ponder the reasons behind different characters actions, which adds so much to the story, if you’re one who likes ruminating on various aspects of life and the soul.