Evelyn Waugh. Imagination and Catholicism

Jeremy H.C. Rowe

This article examines how Waugh’s imagination leads the protagonist and the reader to religious understanding. References are to the final chapter of Brideshead Revisited and to Helena in its entirety. Jeremy Rowe is a former senior lecturer in Drama and English at Canterbury Christ Church University. In retirement, he became the librarian at The Institute of St Anselm in Cliftonville, Kent.

Brideshead Revisited

Beginning at the end
In the final chapter of the book, Lord Marchmain has come home to die. He had become a Catholic when he married, but he left his family, and has been living with his mistress Cara in Venice. He has not set foot in a church, except to admire its building, for twenty-five years. His children, Cordelia, Julia and Bridie (Lord Brideshead), are thrown into disarray at his sudden return. Bridie recently married a zealously Catholic widow; Julia, who is separated from her husband, has been living a sequestered life with Charles Ryder, the narrator of the novel, in an upstairs apartment. Charles is an atheist; Bridie is a rigidly traditional Catholic; Julia has left the Church, but cannot entirely abandon her faith; Cordelia, the youngest, is a firm believer. Over all, there hangs the spirit of the long-suffering Lady Marchmain, the former Catholic tyrant of the family. There is a falseness about this stately home and its occupants. The puzzle that faces Waugh’s imagination is how to procure an authentic resolution.

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