Saturday, July 27, 2013

7/7, Day 6: Revisiting "Brideshead"

Earlier this week, I started rereading "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh. The last time I read it, I was in high school, and it's always fun rereading books after a long gap, because you get different things out of them as an adult.

Sebastian with Aloysius, Lady Julia and Charles
from the 1981 miniseries
 Back then, I read it the first time (for fun, mind, not for school) in large part because I'd discovered the miniseries with Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Diana Rigg and Sir Laurence Olivier through reruns on Bravo, and would come home and watch episodes of it after school (often in the same afternoon as more atypical early 90s teen fare like "Saved by the Bell." How's that for opposite ends of the spectrum?). After I bought the book (which actually has a tie-in cover to the mini-series, even though it was produced in the early 1980s), I was somewhat amazed to discover that Evelyn was in fact a man (baby!), but I do remember enjoying it, more so for its plot of how the upper crust lived in pre-WWII England than anything else.

"Brideshead" is a very Catholic book, dealing as it does with the wealthy and aristocratic Flyte family, who are Catholic, seen through the eyes of the agnostic Charles Ryder (Irons), who is befriended by the younger son, Sebastian Flyte, Lord Marchmain (Andrews), while the two are students at Oxford. When I read it in high school, while I went to church and was involved in youth group activities, I wasn't as passionate about my faith as I am now, and, while I knew and recognized the blatant Catholicism of it, much of the book's depth was lost on me at the time.

Now, even only 100 pages in, I'm just floored by a)Waugh's amazing skill with language -- the lengthy paragraph where, in the preface, he describes the older Charles' disillusion with his Army career just took my breath away, the bitingly dry and sometimes not-so-subtle comedy, the vocabulary (although Waugh allegedly poo-pooed the book after re-reading it several years following its publication) and, b) the simple yet powerful truths he conveys as Charles -- who is quite puzzled by this new world he's entered -- learns about the (sometimes ill-practiced) faith of his new friend and his family.

"Often, almost daily, since I had known Sebastian, some chance word in his conversation had reminded me that he was a Catholic," Charles says on page 86, and again, on 89, the following exchange takes place between Sebastian and himself:

C: "They (Catholics) seem just like other people."
S: "My dear Charles, that's exactly what they're not ... they've got an entirely different outlook on life; everything they think important is different from other people. They try and hide it as much as they can, but it comes out all the time. It's quite natural, really, that they should."

A few pages later, Charles, in talking with Sebastian's younger sister, Cordelia, he asks her if her family talks about their religion all the time. "Not all the time," she replies. "It's a subject that just comes up naturally, doesn't it?" To which Charles responds, "Does it? It never has with me before."

It all reminded me a bit of this quote I read on someone else's blog (forgive me for not noting who's blog that was) last week:

"Writing is a vocation and, as in any other calling, a writer should develop his talents for the greater glory of God. Novels should be neither homilies nor apologetics: the author's faith, and the grace he has received, will become apparent in his work even if it does not have Catholic characters or a Catholic theme." —Piers Paul Read, "The Death of a Pope"

That said, I'm now catch passing Catholic references I never would have recognized in the book when I was 15. The first page of chapter one, for instance, describes Oxford's "spacious and quiet streets" where "men walked and spoke as they had in Newman's Day..." Newman, of course, is Blessed John Henry Newman, who was a teacher and Anglican pastor at Oxford but then later in life converted (Waugh, too, was a convert) to Catholicism. Filled with nerdy glee, I made a margin note about it.

As an aside, does anyone else make copious margin notes in some books? I remember having a discussion with a guy I sort-of dated years ago (sort of because we talked around it for ages and he only finally asked me out to dinner the night before he moved across the country, but that's a story for another day) about taking notes in a book. I am (quite obviously) in favor, and will happily mark up, jot notes, underline and draw arrows to points/words/passages I find interesting or compelling (does it bother anyone else to switch ink colors while taking notes in a book? I'm not Type A about many things, but that's one of them) because it gives immediate access to said notes when and if they're needed again, as well as serves as a quasi-journalish, time capsule of sorts, documenting thoughts had at the time.

He was in the opposite camp, preferred his books pristine, and instead chose to create a file on his computer for whatever book he was reading, then take type in his notes or observations there, rather than in the book's margins. It almost goes without saying that he was an (albeit very well read) engineer.

But I've digressed...

Anyway, what struck me about the above passage from "Brideshead" is that it's true. When your faith is part of your life, it becomes obvious, even if you're not proclaiming it from the housetops. It simply (profoundly, deeply) colors your life and, as Cordelia Flyte said, "comes up naturally."

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