In Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder, Evelyn Waugh explores the issues of religious faith and scepticism; the problematic associations of love and childhood which builds a vital Bildungsroman plot revolved around the main protagonist, Charles Ryder. Together with the Bildungsroman plot, the author of a Catholic apologia utilises realism, with strong emphasis on the role of Roman Catholicism, to depict emotional, moral, and spiritual development of its protagonist and the first person narrator, Charles Ryder, through his relations with the Flyte family. The examination of the religious influence and its power to transform human beings in the novel is significant as it allows the reader to explore the literature dimension of author’s treatment of the role of Catholicism and the substantial dimension of the transformation on humans.
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In his 190 Preface to the novel, Waugh mentioned the “perhaps presumptuously large” theme which is “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.” With the intervention of Roman Catholicism, the Bildungsroman plot develops and enacts the Catholic message of the novel, furthermore stresses on the emotional balance and structure of the novel. The depiction of Charles’s personal development and growing maturity divides his development into three clear cut stages: a young agonistic artist, an indecisive nonconformist of religious and secular life and a converted captain. Each status represents a certain degree of his emotional, moral and spiritual struggle, with the development of Roman Catholicism through his life.
The process of character development is depicted through Ryder’s flashback, which the author portrays the Arcadian ante-bellic society within. The structure of the novel, a Prologue and Epilogue set in the midst of the aimless comfortless manoeuvrings of troops during World War II, surrounding a retrospective, nostalgic look at the world of pre-war Britain, emphasises the bleakness of the world presented. The modern world is symbolised by Hooper who looks “scarcely human” and who inhabits a world which is as grey and colourless as the world of Winston Smith inNineteen Eighty-Four and is in sharp contrast to the traditional, aristocratic world of Brideshead and the idyllically represented world of Oxford where “leaf and flower and bird and sun-lit stone and shadow seem all to proclaim the glory of God.” Both the world of Brideshead and of Oxford have been irretrievably lost as the novel opens and all that is left to the narrator, Charles Ryder, is memory and a bitter acceptance that this has all been the divine purpose.
The first of the two sections, “Et in Arcadia Ego,” makes clear that the beauty and joy which the young men experience, and their sense of escape from the oppression of family, are illusory. The importance of the title of the second section, “A Twitch upon the Thread,” is made clear by Cordelia Flyte who reinforces the ‘Divine purpose’ throughout the novel. The emphasis on the biblical allegory of a prodigal son to Charles Ryder highlights his ultimate return to God after his wander between the “profound and secular life.”
Young Agnostic Artist Charles
Here, an indication that the young artist Charles Ryder at Oxford is agnostic is assumed from the very start of the novel through the subtitle: “The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder.” The diction with two contradicting adjectives stresses upon his memories of his life by associating with a decadent society. Furthermore, it suggests a certain degree of a potential religious conversion of Captain Charles Ryder, which appears true through the gradual character development in the novel, as he is influenced by both the magnetic pull of religion and the desires of his secular life. With an emphasis of the polarisation of the two words, Waugh from the very beginning of the novel foreshadows the journey of Charles from an agnostic student in love with the worldly possessive art into a devout Catholic captain with a great realisation of Catholic faith based epiphany.
After prologue, Waugh describes Charles Ryder’s discovery of a world of architectural beauty and his struggles to build a life as an artist in book one: Et In Arcadia Ego. The overriding theme created from the motto: Et In Arcadia Ego is intended to create a pastoral reminiscence, depicting a Young Ryder who is searching for love. This is shown through the author’s use of vivid imagery of his first encounter with Brideshead which is portrayed as an eternal, Utopian dream where he is captivated by the foreign beauty of the physical environment of Brideshead, “a new and secret landscape”. Sebastian drives to Brideshead with Ryder. They stop to picnic on strawberries and wine “on a sheep-cropped knoll”, a truly Arcadian, pastoral setting. Although a homosexual idyll may be suggested by the passage, of greater significance is Sebastian’s wish to escape to an idealized, timeless world. For him, the sunny knoll is a place “to bury a crock of gold” so that he can someday come back and “dig it up and remember”. In contrast to Charles’ fascination of the aesthetic dimension of Brideshead, Sebastian dreams for an escape, despite his recognition of its beauty. This further attracts Charles to the enchanted beauty of Brideshead as a whole.
Here, the physical standard of beauty in the novel is established and Ryder begins his immature love for Sebastian. His longing for someone like Sebastian is stated when he first joins Oxford, which explains why they were able to develop a close friendship.
“[â€¦ ] and my earliest friends fitted well into this background; they were Collins, a Wykehamist, an embryo don, a man of solid reading and childlike humour, and a small circle of college intellectuals, who maintained a middle course of culture between the flamboyant “aesthetes” and the proletarian scholars who scrambled fiercely for facts in the lodging houses of the Iffley -Road and Wellington Square. [â€¦] but even in the earliest days [â€¦] I felt at heart that this was not all that Oxford had to offer. 28″
The list of many types of kinds Oxford had did not satisfy what Charles was looking for, it was Sebastian that Charles was captivated by. This is shown through Charles insisting on Sebastian’s “beauty, which was arresting”, elsewhere describing him as “entrancing, with that epicene beauty which in extreme youth sings aloud for love and withers at the first cold wind.” Furthermore, the discovery of an “enclosed and enchanted garden” begins his journey captivated by the Brideshead castle and later on by the charm of the Flyte family. This beauty does not stop with just Brideshead and Sebastian; it continues to reach the entire Flyte family. Sebastian’s description of his family as “madly charming42” acts as a trigger which allows artistic Charles to further investigate the family, and eventually the Catholicism which lies within them.
While Ryder is captivated by the superficial beauty of a new society he is entering, Waugh depicts the emotional intensity of Ryder’s love for Sebastian. From the very first visit of Brideshead, Ryder encounters the traces of Catholicism that is embedded in Flyte family’s life. This is suggested by the subtle use of Catholic symbolism “there was a rocking horse in the corner and an oleograph of the Sacred Heart over the mantelpiece.” The old nursery room which has turned into Nanny Hawkin’s private room is surrounded by the blended remains of childhood and faith which acts as an indirect trigger of Charles first step into the “Scared” society to further develop his love relationship with Sebastian. The imagery of the Sacred Heart acts as the first revelation exposed to Ryder. Moreover, the image sometimes portrays thorn crowned Jesus Christ’ pointing at his firing heart with his hands covered with Stigmata. Such biblical reference alludes to the manner of His death which represents the transformative power of love and the progress of the articulation of His love. In the novel, the theory seems to apply to Charles Ryder, from his first encounter with the Divine love as an agnostic artist; he develops a fonder love towards Sebastian.
The combination of the signs of religious faith with the relics of childhood becomes increasingly ironic as the novel progresses, and as Catholicism comes to be strikingly and problematically associated with both childhood and youthful love.
Indecisive Nonconformist of Religious and Secular Life
The association between the three elements that develops Charles Ryder, as a whole through the Bildungsroman plot, is first made in two nostalgic comments by Charles about his youthful self’s state of mind soon after the beginning of his friendship with Sebastian. Charles says that:
“It seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about u that fell little short of the joy of innocence.”
Then, a little later, he observes:
“There is no candour in a story of early manhood which leaves out of account of home-sickness for nursery morality, the regrets and resolutions of amendment, the black hours which, like zero on the roulette table, turn up with roughly calculable regularity.”
The underlined phrases, “nursery freshness,” “the joy of innocence,” and “the home-sickness for nursery morality,” perhaps suggest that Charles’s later conversion to Catholicism should be seen not only as a late attempt to share Flyte siblings’ childhood experiences of religious faith, but also as an unconscious effort both to attain the innocence and bliss of the “happy childhood” he never knew in reality and to regain the Utopian bliss of his early love for Sebastian. Charles, growing up with a male inarticulate single parent, did not receive a chance to have a comfortable experience with his family. Charles describes his relationship with his father as very superficial and restricted by his father’s obsession with deep solicitude.
“If we met in a passage or on the stairs he would look at me vacantly and say “Ah-ha” or “Very warm,” or “Splendid, splendid,” but in the evening, when he came to the garden-room in his velvet smoking suit, he always greeted me formally.”
The examination of Mr Ryder’s two attitudes: bitter and completely formal reveals the effect of his cold treatment to Charles: his emotional attachment to Sebastian and the Flytes. As shown by Charles’ wishful thinking, “Perhaps I am rather curious about people’s families- you see, it’s not a thing I know about. There is only my father and myself,” he is more drawn to Sebastian and his family to indirectly re-experience his happy childhood. Waugh also creates a contrast with Ryder’s experience of childhood to Sebastian’s. While Charles lost his mother and lived with a father who believes that family is just a burden and solicitude is all he left to enjoy, Sebastian lost his father to the decadent society and lived with a saintly mother, whom he wanted to escape from. The fact that Charles is interested in aforementioned aesthetic beauty of the family and the environment shows that he will begin to immerge himself more in Catholicism as the Flyte family is deeply associated with it.
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Nevertheless, Charles continues with his old secular life after his first visit to Brideshead. Together with Sebastian, he “infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language,” which gluttony is comprised as one of the seven most deadly sins in the Bible. It is important to note that Charles’ views Sebastian as an aesthetic identity, which makes him very “charming” and hard to get out of. He further develops his passion for visual arts when he visits Brideshead for the second time and explores the heavenly period at Brideshead again which enacts as his escape to his paradise. Charles’ narration “I, at any rate, believed myself very near heaven, during those languid days at Brideshead 4.91” portrays his passion to stay closer to Brideshead and his homosexual love for Sebastian. The connotations of the word “heaven” are, at a literal level, the paradise depicted by Catholicism and pure happiness, with no negatively associated emotions. His stay at Brideshead brings him closer to the religion and God as he subconsciously experiences the God’s promises to the earthly beings, eternal happiness in Heaven, if they believe in God.
His indecisive nature in his religious and secular life is further depicted as he grows his love for art. Charles starts picturing the fountain at Brideshead which “one might expect to find in a piazza of Southern Italy,” and wine-tasting since “those tranquil evenings with Sebastian that he first made a serious acquaintance with wine and sowed the seed of that rich harvest which was to be my stay in many barren years.95” Moreover, he fully gets to know of Sebastian, who appears to be the ultimate aesthete. Sebastian’s description of Christmas is merely “a lovely idea,” so Charles further investigates why he has to “believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”And the answer comes as “that’s how I believe.(63-66)” He discovers Sebastian’s tendency to turn everything in his life into art, such as religious beliefs into art. This allows Charles to wonder between the religious and secular life within the novel as an indecisive nonconformist as he gets more attracted to arts but at the same time experiencing the role of religion in his peers’ lives. Earlier on in the novel, Sebastian is scared of his charming family taking Charles away from him, and when Charles goes to Brideshead again, through an epiphany, “that night I began to realise how little I really knew of Sebastian, and to understand why he had always sought to keep me apart from the rest of his life. He was like a friend made on board ship, on the high seas; now we had come to his home port.”His realisation shows that religion is the discord between them but also that by exploring more of Catholicism; he can be more intimate with Sebastian and his aesthetic beauty.
After his years at Oxford, Charles gets married but is gloom as he cannot find the equivalent sensation he could get from his relationship with Sebastian. Waugh establishes that Charles’ cannot get his mind off the beauty of Sebastian, so in the prologue as a reminiscent, Charles narrates his wife was “stripped of all enchantment now and I knew her for an uncongenial stranger to whom I had bound myself indissolubly in a moment of folly (5).” Charles admits that he “knew Sebastian by sight long before I met himâ€¦eccentricities of behaviour which seemed to know no bounds.” Moreover that he could guide him artistically by introducing him to Brideshead and his family. While dwelling in the pagan world, without Sebastian, Charles finds Julia, Sebastian’s sister and possibly his alter ego. The first person narration “she so much resembled Sebastian thatâ€¦I was confused by the double illusion of familiarity and strangeness. (116)” indicates the shift of his love from Sebastian and his wife to Julia.
Converted Captain Charles Ryder
His conversion is most importantly triggered immediately by Julia’s determination to return to God in the “Twitch upon the thread.” The “twitch upon the thread” embodies the religious epiphany of the characters, firstly by Sebastian, Lord Marchmain, Julia and Charles. Sebastian who attempted to physically get away from Lady Marchmain, the living Eucharist,
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