We finished Brideshead Revisited last night on the way home from Charleston. We both longed to and hated to. Reading that book together has been a moving and sweet experience for Philip and me, in the same class as A Severe Mercy. I can’t stop thinking about it. All day the various elements have been uniting in my mind as a beautiful and satisfying whole. Indeed, the more I dwell on it the more perfect it becomes.
The thing that simply stupefies me about this book is how much Evelyn Waugh could say without ever explicitly stating it. He never said, “Charles had a profound religious experience,” or, “Julia had a profound religious experience,” or, “Sebastian had a profound religious experience…” He revealed, un-curtained, as it were, the merciful operations of divine grace with a subtlety and reverence that would have been completely cheapened by familiar phrases and specific ideas. He showed God’s pursuit of man in a way that has affected me deeply, made me want to just stop and bask in a favor I could never hope to deserve. He made me care for his characters, not just for the slice of life that his story gave me, but for their very souls.
Evelyn Waugh had the ability to weave analogies that were both artistic and enlightening, word pictures that paint upon the imagination a depiction of the underlying truths of the story that bald-faced text could never hope to portray. In much the same way, his use of Chesterton’s ‘twitch upon the thread’ has left me with an indelible image of the love and grace of God.
Daddy said it was ‘the most beautiful and bittersweet book he has ever read’. I’m inclined to agree. For unlike so many other realism writers of the 20th century, Eveyln Waugh writes of the heartaches and longings of human nature with a gentle and redemptive hand.
“Perhaps, I thought, while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke—a thought to fade and vanish like smoke without a trace—perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.”
“If he is saying what I think he is,” mused Philip after I had read the above quote twice, “then he just said it better than C. S. Lewis.”
* a footnote—because of some of the subject matter, Brideshead is a book I would recommend for people who already have established convictions, not for those whose convictions are in the formative stages.