holiday posting continues, ash wednesday edition

As luck (or the Divine Plan) would have it, I finished Brideshead Revisited today. It’s, you know, about Catholics. And today is, um, a Catholic holiday. It has the will of God written all over it.

Anyhoo, I was quite excited about Brideshead, because I like books that take religion seriously, and because it would give me a good reason to watch Matthew Goode in the movie version (which incidentally was co-written by Andrew Davies, master of the costume dramas). It turned out to be quite an engaging story, until the narrator got a wife (whom he always referred to as simply ‘my wife’, as if she had no name or, god forbid, individuality apart from her relationship with him) and then talked about possessing his lover once they had sex. Not exactly winning this reader over with an overwhelming display of touching humanity.

I get that the point of some books is that the reader doesn’t identify with the narrator or with any of the characters. But the discussion of Catholicism never really made sense to me, either. Towards the end, one of the characters makes an explicit bargain with God, “that if I give up this one thing I want so much, however bad I am, He won’t quite despair of me in the end.” Now, I do have fond memories of bargaining with God myself. Say, for one snow day with the help of His divine providence, freed from the drudgery of first grade, I will help mother with the dusting later. Or two Hail Mary’s and the bogeyman who may or may not be hiding under my bed will not murder me in my sleep. Things of that nature. But for the book to end on that note, with a decided air of Fowler’s stage three synthetic-conventional faith (someone correct me if I’m wrong here), was a bit baffling. Of course, there could have been nonverbal indications of a more appealing faith that would convince someone that he should convert to Catholicism (as our lovely narrator apparently does), but they were lost on this reader.

This is coming off a bit harsh, so I’ll say that besides a lot of the Catholic bits, and the bits that deal too much with women, it was altogether not a bad– I might say good– book. Especially the art bits:

Sebastian (he’s a Cath-o-lic): “ ‘Does anyone feel the same kind of emotion for a butterfly or a flower that he feels for a cathedral or a picture?’ Yes. I do.” Me too, Sebastian!

Sebastian’s brother, to our narrator: “You take art as a means not as an end. That is strict theology, but it’s unusual to find an agnostic believing it.” Uh, I think I get it. It does sound fancy, though, right?

Part of me has to rebel just a little against a book with the blurb “This is Waugh’s best. Can one say more of genius?” on the back. I realize that’s a rhetorical question, Mr Critic, but yes, one can say more of genius, and likewise exude less pomposity.

Happy Lent, folks!


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