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Posted October 29, 2004

Book: Encyclopedia of Catholic Literature: Volume Number Two
Edited by Mary R. Reichardt
Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, pp. 842

The purpose of this book is already explained in the citation on Volume Number One on our website which can be accessed here.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Evelyn Waugh

Major Themes

Brideshead Revisited is complex in its structure, its characterization, and its use of language. The retrospective structure of the novel, in which Ryder (now converted to Catholicism) wistfully recalls his sybaritic and agnostic youth and young manhood, creates a number of unavoidable ambiguities. Importantly, the narrative never explicitly states that Ryder has converted. We have only clues to suggest this: Hooper referring to the “R.C. church” as “more in your line than mine.” Ryder admitting that when he visits the chapel in the Epilogue he utters “a prayer, an ancient, newly learned form of words”; and the occasional references to God and spirituality that subtly appear in the remembering narrative voice of the older man. Arguably, it is in the Epilogue that Ryder’s conversion is most apparent, but that is the briefest section of the novel, and the languorous descriptions of Ryder’s “pagan” youth, especially the episodes shared with Sebastian, have a compelling presence in the narrative, nt only for the reader but for Ryder himself. He clearly evokes those memories with a fondness that takes on an almost Wordswortian dimension: “This is the full account of my first brief visit to Brideshead; could I have known then that so small a thing, in other days, wold be remembered with tears by a middle-aged captain of infantry?”

Waugh’s own statements about the novel further mystify this ambiguity. In one letter, he describes the novel as “a very beautiful book, to bring tears, about very rich, beautiful high born people who live in palaces and have no troubles except what they make themselves and thos are mainly the demons sex and drink which after all are easy to bear as troubles go nowadays.: In another letter, he simply states that “the book is about God” However unhelpful Waugh’s own comments, the plot moves toward Ryder’s grateful acknowledgment of the presence of God in the world, not only symbolized in the altar lamp burning in the chapel but also manifest in Lord Marchmain’s return to god in his dying moments. Waugh recounts a personal experience behind this denouement and claims that he “wrote the book about that [real life] scene.” Waugh was present at his friend Hubert Duggan’s death, at which Duggan accepted the presence of a priest and the administration of the Last Rites. Lord Marchmain’s sign of the cross repeats Duggan’s own actions; Waugh remarks, “we spent the day watching for a spark of gratitude for the love of God and saw the spark.: Ryder, until then an agnostic, is never the same after this occurrence; like Julia, Sebastian, and Lord Marchmain, he turns to God. Book two concludes with an image that captures the spiritual triumph that is not articulated outright: “The avalanche was down, the hillside swept bare behind it; the last echoes died on the white slopes; the new mound glittered and lay still in the silent valley.”