It was the last novel of the year, Evelyn Waugh's languorous attempt to capture the nostalgia of youth. The deep friendship between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, the son of an aristocratic family, is at the centre of the novel in the first half of the book; it leaves its shadowy bitter scent in the final section as Sebastian descends into incurable alcoholism.
Castle Howard – location of Brideshead Revisited, the 1981 TV series with Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder
Meanwhile, Charles with an artistic bent goes off to study art in Paris and paints pictures, full of charm, for the English public. Later, he seeks adventure in the New World and returns in triumph to an exhibition of his exotic paintings of Mexico and S America, arranged by his wife, Celia. At about this time, Julia, the sister of Sebastian enters his life and both have an extramarital fling. The love is short-lived.
Brideshead Revisited (1981, ITV) is one of television’s greatest literary adaptations. It's utterly faithful to Evelyn Waugh's novel yet it's somehow more than that, too
All this takes place against the impending crisis of a war to come, and it is the billet of Charles’ battalion at Brideshead, the home of the Flytes he knew so well, that starts off the novel as a re-visit. It's impossible not to fall in love with the Oxford University described in the early scenes, although there is very little about studies and much more about escapades, dining, going for rides, encounters with women, and so on; the only don in the novel is venal and comic.
Brideshead Revisited – Jeremy Irons (left) pictured as Charles Ryder, with Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte
There are many snatches of comedy in a satirical vein: Charles’ father Edward Ryder, Lord Marchmain in Venice, Rex Mottram taking Catholic instruction, the absurdity of an aristocratic Catholic family marooned in Anglican England, and so on. But above all it is Oxford we remember:
‘still a city of aquatint’,
‘her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days’,
‘exhaling the soft vapours of a thousand years of learning’.
Christchurch College, the setting of Evelyn Waugh’s
Preeti, Priya, Hemjith, Saras, KumKum, Pamela, Zakia, Joe
Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited
Full Account and Record of the Reading on Nov 11, 2016
Evelyn Waugh's prose is rich and exquisite
Six of us met to read the novel by Evelyn Waugh, filled with nostalgia for youth, love, and fine writing — selected by Joe and KumKum. It was the 32nd wedding anniversary of Saras; everyone congratulated her and a round of coffee was ordered with lovely chocolates she gave to the readers.
Present: Joe, KumKum, Saras, Priya, Pamela, Zakia
Guest: Hemjith Bharathan
Absent: Thommo (busy with his book publication), Kavita, Shoba, Sunil
Present, non-reading: Preeti
The date for the next reading is as follows:
Fri Dec 2, 2016, 5:30 pm – Poetry
Joe as a selector of this novel introduced it to the readers in the following words.
Evelyn Waugh (1903 – 1966) produced 28 books, mainly novels, but also several biographies (e.g. of Ronald Knox, a priest known for his translation of the Bible), travelogues, and an incomplete autobiography. Brideshead Revisted is his best-known novel written in just 4 months before June 1944 while Waugh was recovering from war duties, having crashed in a plane over Yugoslavia. It celebrates many of his enthusiasms:
- the English aristocracy, which he admired
- Catholicism, to which he converted in 1930
- satirical writing, which was the mould of his usual conversation
It is a nostalgic recounting of Charles Ryder's days in Oxford where he meets the great love of his life, Sebastian Flyte, the son of a Marquis, who lived in a house resembling a castle – Sebastian was ‘not very well endowed in the top storey,’ according to Anthony Blanche, leader of the group of aesthetes with whom they consorted at Oxford. Charles visits Sebastian's home and is gradually inducted into the life of the Flyte family: Sebastian himself who will remain an innocent forever, his mother, Teresa, whose Catholic piety settles uncomfortably like a suffocating incense over the lives of her elder son, Bridey, and the two daughters, Julia and Cordelia.
Many of the characters have been traced to friends and acquaintances of Waugh at Oxford, re-imagined, of course.
High living at Oxford in Sebastian's rooms, Boy Mulcaster reclining, Anthony Blanche at the table, behind Sebastian foreground - where is Aloysius?
There are two love stories here. One of Charles and Sebastian, which in modern terms would be called a bromance, a close, emotionally intense, non-sexual bond between two men. Most young men experience this, says Cara (Lord Marchmain's mistress in Venice) to Charles:
‘I think you are very fond of Sebastian ... I know of these romantic friendships of the English and the Germans. They are not Latin. I think they are very good if they do not go on too long. ... It is a kind of love that comes to children before they know its meaning. In England it comes when you are almost men; I think I like that.’
The other which blooms quite late in the novel is when Charles (who has lost what small interest he had in his wife, Celia) comes onto Julia aboard a transatlantic liner in a memorable phrase: ‘It was as though a deed of conveyance of her narrow loins had been drawn and sealed. I was making my first entry as the freeholder of a property I would enjoy and develop at leisure.’
The novel is nostalgic. Its recounting of Oxford student life is presumably faithful to the time and the place since Waugh studied there. It is part of the pervasive nostalgia, that to be truly savoured it has to be accompanied by sadness. Therefore both loves come to an impasse. We never know quite why Julia forsakes Charles, although she comes up with some chest-thumping twaddle about salvation. And Sebastian has fled as an incurable alcoholic to Morocco.
Sebastian convalescing in Morocco
Cordelia who truly loves her brother visualises how he will die, washed up one day drunk and dead outside the monastery where he worked as a cheerful lay brother, who keeps going off on binges from time to time.
Like brother, like sister ... Diana Quick as Julia Flyte in the 1981 Granada Television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited
Waugh was divorced from his first wife (before he converted) and lived happily with his second wife by whom he had numerous children. ‘I am very contentedly married. I have numerous children whom I see once a day for ten, I hope, awe-inspiring minutes.’
Of his own writing he said, ‘I put the words down and push them a bit.’ But he confessed he could not write fluently until he was seven. For an extended interview with the author in 1960 see:
The whole novel is available on Youtube in a series of episodes made for TV by Granada in 1981;
(Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte and Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder)
659 min. (11 episodes). It's a wonderful evocation!
The Waugh Society publishes a journal and has many references and links. There's also a humorous account of Waugh's attempt at suicide.
An obituary in the NY Times gives a summary of Waugh's accomplishments and provides many biographical details:
Nickolas Grace and Jeremy Irons in Brideshead Revisited (1981)
Joe read the passage where Charles receives some ‘well-reasoned abuse’ about his pictures from his old friend, Anthony Blanche, the aesthete who has just viewed his new collection of paintings from Mexico and S America. It reveals that Anthony or Antoine (he is an Argentinian by birth) has been following Charles’ career as an artist from a distance in Paris. He was hoping for a development that would elevate the artist from the mere charm which characterised English art, to the serious stuff of a Gauguin or a van Gogh. His frank critique delivered in the manner of an aesthete, in rarefied language is engrossing, the kind of dialogue only Evelyn Waugh could write. In the 1981 ITV adaptation it is one of the high points of the acting, and Nickolas Grace plays the part of Antoine wonderfully.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brideshead_Revisited_(TV_serial)
Jeremy Irons, Joe noted, only has to look beautiful throughout the film, with mighty little acting to do, but other actors contribute a great deal to bring out the irrecoverable nostalgia of Oxford and the charms of aristocratic life.
Teresa Flyte, Marchioness of Marchmain (Claire Bloom) - A member of an ancient Catholic family (the people that Waugh himself most admired)
In this passage we discover that a distance has grown between Charles and Sebastian as Charles grew more intimate with other members of his family. Sebastian suspects his mother has set Charles to spy on him. He descends into drink in a way that alarms his friend.
Charles and Sebastian lounge at Brideshead
There was a debate at the reading whether Charles converts to Catholicism at the end of the novel. Does his making a sign of the cross in the chapel upon his return as an Army officer signify he has converted, or merely that he pays respect to the place which has a unique architecture, a subject that interested him always? Saras talked of the ending where there's a reference to a ‘newly learned’ prayer. Here is a an excerpt from Shmoop on the subject:
Surprise! Charles is now a Catholic. ... we only get two small clues that Charles has converted by the time he’s in the army in the 1940s. The first hint actually comes in the prologue, when an army man named Hooper tells Charles of their new lodgings at Brideshead: "There's a sort of R.C. church attached. I looked in and there was a kind of service going on – just a padre and one old man. I felt very awkward. More in your line than mine." "R.C." means "Roman Catholic," and Hooper’s comment that it’s "more in [Charles’s] line than [his]" is the clue we’re talking about. ...
Charles Ryder in the chapel of Brideshead
The second comes in the epilogue, and is part of this big ending ... Charles enters the chapel and "says a prayer, an ancient, newly learned form of words." The "newly learned" bit is our second clue and confirms that Charles has in fact recently converted. This is the twitch upon the thread we’ve been waiting for. We know that Charles was raised in religion ("I was taken to church weekly as a child" he earlier confessed), so his newfound Catholicism is actually a return to God.
But sadly though Charles was ready to marry Julia, and she would have inherited the Marchmain house, she decides that the salvation of her soul according to Catholic doctrine demands the sacrifice of her love! This must be one of the most improbable motivations in novelistic history for deserting your lover.
In the passage KumKum chose, Lord Marchmain speaks with some consternation about his daughter-in-law, Beryl, the widow of a match-box collecting Admiral, whom his son decided to marry although she was past the age when she could bear him an heir. To his family Lord Marchmain confides the wry comment made by Beryl coming from an audience with the Pope, ‘I felt as though it was I who was leading in the bride.’ The pun on the word bride is not wasted on Lord Marchmain, and the reader chuckles. Nanny is the one who comes through the book as wholly loving and accepting of people, and the family has great regard for her too, all its members.
Saras mentioned she had a hard time with the first 100 pages or so of the book, until she got into the story of the family and its many internal tensions. Joe found it hard to go on reading after Sebastian falls into his drunken stupor, unable to recover and become whole again. All the wonder and innocence of the love between Sebastian and Charles is impotent to save him from his descent into alcoholism. The reader feels great pity, and the prescient words describing Sebastian at Oxford come true: ‘He was entrancing, with that epicene beauty which in extreme youth sings aloud for love and withers at the first cold wind.’ And later, ‘He did not fail in love, but he lost his joy of it, for I was no longer part of his solitude.’
Jeremy Irons (left) pictured as Charles Ryder, with Anthony Andrews as Sebastian Flyte, with Aloysius
Sebastian was no doubt the great love of Charles’ youth, but the natural question to ask is: was theirs a homosexual love? There is no hint of it in the writing, although commentators note that it was quite common at Oxbridge then. “Everyone was queer at Oxford in those days!” exclaimed John Betjeman, the poet, in a biography of Waugh by Philip Eade. It is more like a deep friendship, said KumKum.
Charles and Sebastian share a gondola in Venice
With her usual housekeeping instincts, her one thought was: how did they manage to keep that huge mansion clean?
Rex comes to visit Paris where Charles is pursuing his studies in art, and he gets to dine at a fine restaurant at Rex’s expense. Joe said it is a glorious gourmet scene. Evelyn Waugh describes writing the book in 1943, while recovering from an injury incurred in the War:
It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster — the period of soya beans and basic English — and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past
Rex Mottram raising a glass of cognac
Their dinner conversation was boring to Charles because it was all about Rex, his inside information on the Marchmain family, the ill-health Lady Flyte, and the declining fortunes of the Marquis. We are gradually introduced to the full menu at dinner, from the Grand Cru burgundy (Clos de Bèze) to open the proceedings, the duck, the salad of watercress and chicory in a faint mist of chives, and then the cognac followed by a cigar. In between we hear Rex hold forth about himself and how he is going to negotiate his society wedding to Julia.
Rex Mottram & Julia Flyte wedding in an Anglican church
KumKum mentioned that Bridey, the elder son of Lord Marchmain had investigated and found Rex had divorced a former wife in Canada. That had to be squared away before the marriage to Julia could take place.
The wonderful description of Oxford Zakia read is sprinkled with numerous topical references:
irrecoverable as Lyonnesse – a country in Arthurian legends, near Cornwall, thought to have been sunk beneath the sea
Eights Week – A 4-day regatta at Oxford when men's and women's coxed eights boat crews compete in separate divisions for their colleges, with some colleges entering as many as five crews for each sex.
Newman's day – Cardinal Newman, originally an academic at Oxford and priest of the Church of England, became the foremost convert to the Catholic Church in the 1830s
Isis – the river through Oxford, an extension of the Thames
Union – the University Debating Society
There's an Oxford Glossary at
where you can find the difference between ‘going down’ and being ‘sent down’.
KumKum mentioned it was the week when girls had a good time in Oxford, and she referred to the other occasion when all the guys are in London and after drinking too much go to Ma Mayfield’s at Boy Mulcaster’s urging; it's a bawdy house where you could continue drinking. Afterwards they drive off, drunk, and when a copper stops them, Boy Mulcaster tries to bribe him and gets put in the clinker with his friends for the trouble. Rex Mottram has to come and bail them out next morning.
The description Priya took up was the magical summer Charles spent with Sebastian at Brideshead after their first year at Oxford. He will remember Sebastian for the rest of his life as he was that summer — their wandering through the enchanted gardens, terraces, fountains, and greenhouses that were laid out for their sole enjoyment. ‘I believed myself very near heaven, during those languid days at Brideshead.’ It was also an aesthetic education, for Charles to live within those walls and wander from room to room; he satisfies his architectural curiosity and makes a drawing of the ornate fountain. Later he will do a fresco on the walls of one of the sunlit rooms.
Charles and Sebastian share a drink at Brideshead
Priya mentioned that toward the end of the novel Julia in a fit of pique slaps Charles near the fountain. What did that signify, asked Joe? Oh it was just ‘menopausal’ said Priya, as though slapping a familiar man were the most natural outlet for a woman's depressive state at menopause!
Bridey has told Julia she's ‘living in sin.’ Is that when she starts entertaining doubts about her fling with Charles?
Cordelia on the other hand was judged a paavam (innocent and helpless) girl by Zakia.
Cordelia and Lord Marchmain (Laurence Olivier)
Charm, says Anthony Blanche, is the blight of the English. Charles receives some well-reasoned abuse about his pictures from his old friend, Anthony Blanche, the aesthete in a pansy bar.
Anthony dropped his voice to a piercing whisper: 'My dear, let us not expose your little imposture before these good, plain people' - he gave a conspiratorial glance to the last remnants of the crowd - 'let us not spoil their innocent pleasure. We know, you and I, that this is all t-t-terrible t-t-tripe. Let us go, before we offend the connoisseurs. I know of a louche little bar quite near here. Let us go there and talk of your other c-cconquests.' It needed this voice from the past to recall me; the indiscriminate chatter of praise all that crowded day had worked on me like a succession of advertisement hoardings on a long road,
'Well, Antoine' I said, affecting an ease I was far from feeling in that den, what have you been up to all these years?' 'My dear, it is what you have been up to that we are here to talk about. I've been watching you, my dear. I'm a faithful old body and I've kept my eye on you.' As he spoke the bar and the bar-tender, the blue wicker furniture, the gambling-machines, the gramophone, the couple of youths dancing on the oilcloth, the youths sniggering round the slots,. the purple-veined, stiffly-dressed elderly man drinking in the corner opposite us, the whole drab and furtive joint seemed to fade, and I was back in Oxford looking out over Christ Church meadow through a window of Ruskin-Gothic. 'I went to your first exhibition,' said Anthony; 'I found it - charming. There was an interior of Marchmain House, very English, very correct, but quite delicious. "Charles has done something," I said; "not all he will do, not all he can do, but something." 'Even then, my dear, I wondered a little. It seemed to me that there was something a little gentlemanly about your painting. You must remember, my dear, I am not English; I cannot understand this keen zest to be well-bred. English snobbery is even more macabre to me even than English morals. However, I said, "Charles has done something delicious. What will he do next?" 'The next thing I saw was your very handsome volume "Village and Provincial Architecture", was it called? Quite a tome, my dear, and what did I find? Charm again. "Not quite my cup of tea," I thought; "this is too English." I have the fancy for rather spicy things, you know, not for the shade of the cedar tree, the cucumber sandwich, the silver cream-jug, the English girl dressed in whatever English girls do wear for tennis - not that, not Jane Austen, not M-m-miss M-m-mitford. Then, to be frank, dear Charles, I despaired of you. "I am a degenerate old d-d-dago," I said "and Charles - I speak of your art, my dear - is a dean's daughter in flowered muslin."
'Imagine then my excitement at luncheon today. Everyone was talking about you. My hostess was a friend of my mother's, a Mrs Stuyvesant Oglander; a friend of yours, too, my dear. Such a frump! Not at all the society I imagined you to keep. However, they, had all been to your exhibition, but it was you they talked of, how you had broke away, my dear, gone to the tropics, become a Gauguin, a Rimbaud. You can imagine how my old heart leaped. ' "Poor Celia," they said, "after all she's done for him." "He owes everything to her. It's too bad." "And with Julia," they said, "after the way she behaved in America." "Just as she was going back to Rex." ' "But the pictures," I said; "Tell me about them." 'Oh, the pictures," they said; "they're most peculiar." "Not at all what he usually does." "Very forceful." "Quite barbaric." "I call them downright unhealthy," said Mrs Stuyvesant Oglander.
'My dear, I could hardly keep still in my chair. I wanted to dash out of the house and leap in a taxi and say, "Take me to Charles's unhealthy pictures." Well, my dear, I went, but the gallery after luncheon was so full of absurd women in the sort of hats they should be made to eat, that I rested a little - I rested here with Cyril and Tom and these saucy boys. Then I came back at the unfashionable time of five o'clock, all agog, my dear; and what did I find? I found, my dear, a very naughty and very successful practical joke. It reminded me of dear Sebastian when he liked so much to dress up in false whiskers. It was charm again, my dear, simple, creamy English charm, playing tigers.' 'You're-quite right,' I said. 'My dear, of course I'm right. I was right years ago - more years, I am happy to say, than either of us shows - when I warned you. I took you out to dinner to warn you of charm. I warned you expressly and in great detail of the Flyte family. Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art; and I greatly fear, my dear Charles, it has k-killed you.'
Pamela, KumKum and Saras
As Charles' intimacy with the Flyte household grows, Sebastian becomes more distant; Charles realises that Sebastian is becoming a drunkard to escape life.
And, since Sebastian counted among the intruders his own conscience and all claims of human affection, his days in Arcadia were numbered. For in this, to me, tranquil time Sebastian took fright. I knew him well in that mood of alertness and suspicion, like a deer suddenly lifting his head at the far notes of the hunt; I had seen him grow wary at the thought of his family or his religion, now I found I, too, was suspect. He did not fail in love, but he lost his joy of it, for I was no longer part of his solitude. As my intimacy with his family grew, I became part of the world which he sought to escape; I became one of the bonds which held him. That was the part for which his mother, in all our little talks, was seeking to fit me. Everything was left unsaid. It was only dimly and at rare moments that I suspected what was afoot.
Outwardly Mr Samgrass was the only enemy. For a fortnight Sebastian and I remained at Brideshead, leading our own life. His brother was engaged in sport and estate management; Mr Samgrass was at work in the library on Lady Marchmain's book; Sir Adrian Porson demanded most of Lady Marchmain's time. We saw little of them except in the evenings; there was room under that wide roof for a wide variety of independent lives.
After a fortnight Sebastian said: 'I can't stand Mr Samgrass any more. Let's go to London,' so he came to stay with me and now began to use my home in preference to 'Marchers'. My father liked him. 'I think your friend very amusing,' he said. 'Ask him often.'
Edward Ryder, Charles’ father, played by John Gielgud
Then, back at Oxford, we took up again the life that seemed to be shrinking in the cold air. The sadness that had been strong in Sebastian the term before gave place to kind of sullenness, even towards me. He was sick at heart somewhere, I did not know how, and I grieved for him, unable to help.
When he was gay now it was usually because he was drunk, and when drunk he developed an obsession of 'mocking Mr Samgrass'. He composed a ditty of which the refrain was, 'Green arse, Samgrass - Samgrass green arse', sung to the tune of St Mary's chime, and he would thus serenade him, perhaps once a week, under his windows. Mr Samgrass was distinguished as being the first don to have a private telephone installed in his rooms. Sebastian in his cups used to ring him up and sing him this simple song. And all this Mr Samgrass took in good part, as it is called, smiling obsequiously when we met, but with growing confidence, as though each outrage in some way strengthened his hold on Sebastian.
It was during this term that I began to realize that Sebastian was a drunkard in quite a different sense to myself I got drunk often, but through an excess of high spirits, in the love of the moment, and the wish to prolong and enhance it; Sebastian drank to escape. As we together grew older and more serious I drank less, he more. I found that sometimes after I had gone back to my college, he sat up late and alone, soaking. A succession of disasters came on him so swiftly and with such unexpected violence that it is hard to say when exactly I recognized that my friend was in deep trouble. I knew it well enough in the Easter vacation.
Julia used to say, 'Poor Sebastian. It's something chemical in him.'
That was the cant phrase of the time, derived from heaven knows what misconception of popular science. 'There's something chemical between them' was used to explain the over-mastering hate or love of any two people. It was the old concept in a new form. I do not believe there was anything chemical in my friend.
The Easter party at Brideshead was a bitter time, culminating in a small but unforgettably painful incident. Sebastian got very drunk before dinner in his mother's house, and thus marked the beginning of a new epoch in his melancholy record, another stride in the flight from his family which brought him to ruin.
Lord Marchmain speaks without reserve about his new daughter-in-law, Beryl.
Lord Marchmain seemed to derive comfort from the consequences of his whim; he sat by the fire watching the bustle, while we stood in a half circle - Cara, Cordelia, Julia, and I – and talked to him. Colour came back to his checks and light to his eyes. 'Brideshead and his wife dined with me in Rome,' he said. 'Since we are all members of the family' – and his eye moved ironically from Cara to me – 'I can speak without reserve. I found her deplorable. Her former consort, I understand, was a seafaring man and, presumably, the less exacting, but how my son, at the ripe age of thirty-eight, with, unless things have changed very much, a very free choice among the women of England, can have settled on – I suppose I must call her so – Beryl...' He left the sentence eloquently unfinished.
That night Lord Marchmain reverted to the topic of his new daughter-in-law; it had never been long out of his mind, finding expression in various sly hints throughout the day; now he lay back in his pillows and talked of her at length. ‘I have never been much moved by family piety until now,’ he said, ‘but I am frankly appalled at the prospect of - of Beryl taking what was once my mother's place in this house. Why should that uncouth pair sit here childless while the place crumbles about their ears? I will not disguise from you that I have taken a dislike to Beryl. ‘Perhaps it was unfortunate that we met in Rome. Anywhere else might have been more sympathetic. And yet, if one comes to consider it, where could I have met her without repugnance? We dined at Ranieri's; it is a quiet little restaurant I have frequented for years - no doubt you know it. Beryl seemed to fill the place. I, of course, was host, though to hear Beryl press my son with food you might have thought otherwise. Brideshead was always a greedy boy – a wife who has his best interests at heart should seek to restrain him. However, that is a matter of small importance. ‘She had no doubt heard of me as a man of irregular life. I can only describe her manner to me as roguish. A naughty old man, that's what she thought I was. I suppose she had met naughty old admirals and knew how they should be humoured ... I could not attempt to reproduce her conversation. I will give you one example. ‘They had been to an audience at the Vatican that morning; a blessing for their marriage – I did not follow attentively something of the kind had happened before, I gathered, some previous husband, some previous Pope. She described, rather vivaciously, how on this earlier occasion she had gone with a whole body - of newly married couples, mostly Italians of all ranks, some or the simpler girls in their wedding dresses, and how each had appraised the other, the bridegrooms looking the brides over, comparing their own with one another's, and so forth. Then she said, “This time, of course, we were in private, – but do you know, Lord Marchmain, I felt as though it was I who was leading in the bride.” ‘It was said with great indelicacy. I have not yet quite fathomed her meaning. Was she making a play on my son’s name, or was she, do you think, referring to his undoubted virginity? I fancy the latter.’ Anyway, it was with pleasantries of that kind that we passed the evening.
Charles and Rex Mottram have dinner in a fashionable Paris restaurant.
'I'll tell you a thing, Charles, that Ma Marchmain hasn't let on to anyone. She's a very sick woman. Might peg out any minute. George Anstruther saw her in the autumn and put it at two years.'
'How on earth do you know?'
'It's the kind of thing I hear. With the way her family are going on at the moment, I wouldn't give her a year. I know just the man for her in Vienna. He put Sonia Bamfshire on her feet when everyone including Anstruther had despaired of her. But Ma Marchmain won't do anything about it. I suppose it's something to do with her crackbrain religion, not to take care of the body.'
The sole was so simple and unobtrusive that Rex failed to notice it. We ate to the music of the press - the crunch of the bones, the drip of blood and marrow the tap of the spoon basting the thin slices of breast. There was a pause here of a quarter of an hour, while I drank the first glass of the Clos de Bèze and Rex smoked his first cigarette. He leaned back, blew a cloud of smoke across the table, and remarked, 'You know, the food here isn't half bad; someone ought to take this place up and make something of it.'
Presently he began again on the Marchmains.
'I'll tell you another thing, too - they'll get a jolt financially soon if they don't look out.'
'I thought they were enormously rich.'
'Well, they are rich in the way people are who just let their money sit quiet. Everyone of that sort is poorer than they were in 1914, and the Flytes don't seem to realize it. I reckon those lawyers who manage their affairs find it convenient to give them all the cash they want and no questions asked. Look at the way they live - Brideshead and Marchmain House both going full blast, pack of foxhounds, no rents raised, nobody sacked, dozens of old servants doing damn all, being waited on by other servants, and then besides all that there's the old boy setting up a separate establishment - and setting it up on no humble scale either. D'you know how much they're overdrawn?'
'Of course I don't.'
'Jolly near a hundred thousand in London. I don't know what they owe elsewhere. Well, that's quite a packet, you know, for people who aren't using their money. Ninetyeight thousand last November. It's the kind of thing I hear.'
Those were the kind of things he heard, mortal illness and debt, I thought.
I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a, reminder that the world was an older, and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his. By chance I met this same wine again, lunching with my wine merchant in St James's Street, in the first autumn of the war; it had softened and faded in the intervening years, but it still spoke in the pure, authentic accent of its prime, the same words of hope.
'I don't mean that they'll be paupers; the old boy will always be good for an odd thirty thousand a year, but there'll be a shakeup coming soon, and when the upper-classes get the wind up, their first idea is usually to cut down on the girls. I'd like to get the little matter of a marriage settlement through, before it comes.'
We had by no means reached the cognac, but here we were on the subject of himself. In twenty minutes I should have been ready for all he had to tell. I closed my mind to him as best I could and gave myself to the food before me, but sentences came breaking in on my happiness, recalling me to the harsh, acquisitive world which Rex inhabited. He wanted a woman; he wanted the best on the market, and he wanted her at his own price; that was what it amounted to.
'...Ma Marchmain doesn't like me. Well, I'm not asking her to. It's not her I want to marry. She hasn't the guts to say openly: "You're not a gentleman. You're an adventurer from the Colonies." She says we live in different atmospheres. That's all right, but Julia happens to fancy my atmosphere...Then she brings up religion. I've nothing against her Church; we don't take much account of Catholics in Canada, but that's different; in Europe you've got some very posh Catholics. All right, Julia can go to church whenever she wants to. I shan't try and stop her. It doesn't mean two pins to her, as a matter of fact, but I like a girl to have religion. What's more, she can bring the children up Catholic. I'll make all the "promises" they want...Then there's my past. "We know so little about you." She knows a sight too much. You may know I've been tied up with someone else for a year or two.'
I knew; everyone who had ever met Rex knew of his affair with Brenda Champion; knew also that it was from this affair that he derived everything which distinguished him from every other stock-jobber; his golf with the Prince of Wales, his membership of Bratt's, even his smoking-room comradeship at the House of Commons, for, when he first appeared there, his party chiefs did not say of him, 'Look, there is the promising young member for north Gridley who spoke so well on Rent Restrictions.' They said: 'There's Brenda Champion's latest'; it had done him a great deal of good with men; women he could usually charm.
'Well, that's all washed up. Ma Marchmain was too delicate to mention the subject; all she said was that I had "notoriety". Well, what does she expect as a son-in-law – a sort of half-baked monk like Brideshead? Julia knows all about the other thing; if she doesn't care, I don't see it's anyone else's business.'
After the duck came a salad of watercress and chicory in a faint mist of chives. I tried to think only of the salad. I succeeded for a time in thinking only of the soufflé. Then came the cognac and the proper hour for these confidences. '...Julia's just rising twenty. I don't want to wait till she's of age. Anyway, I don't want to marry without doing the thing properly...nothing hole-in-corner...I have to see she isn't jockeyed out of her proper settlement. So as the Marchioness won't play ball I'm off to see the old man and square him. I gather he's likely to agree to anything he knows will upset her. He's at Monte Carlo at the moment. I'd planned to go there after dropping Sebastian off at Zurich. That's why it's such a bloody bore having lost him.'
The cognac was not to Rex's taste. It was clear and pale and it came to us in a bottle free from grime and Napoleonic cyphers. It was only a year or two older than Rex and lately bottled. They gave it to us in very thin tulip-shaped glasses of modest size.
'Brandy's one of the things I do know a bit about,' said Rex. 'This is a bad colour. What's more, I can't taste it in this thimble.'
They brought him a balloon the size of his head. He made them warm it over the spirit lamp. Then he rolled the splendid spirit round, buried his face in the fumes, and pronounced it the sort, of stuff he put soda in at home.
So, shamefacedly, they wheeled out of its hiding place the vast and mouldy bottle they kept for people of Rex's sort.
'That's the stuff,' he said, tilting the treacly concoction till it left dark rings round the sides of his glass. 'They've always got some tucked away, but they won't bring it out unless you make a fuss. Have some.'
'I'm quite happy with this.'
'Well, it's a crime to drink it, if you don't really appreciate it.
He lit his cigar and sat back at peace with the world; I, too, was at peace in another world than his. We were both happy. He talked of Julia and I heard his voice, unintelligible at a great distance, like a dog's barking miles away on a still night.
Rex Mottram and Julia Flyte
At the beginning of May the engagement was announced. I saw the notice in the Continental Daily Mail and assumed that Rex had 'squared the old man'. But things did not go as were expected. The next news I had of them was in the middle of June, when I read that they had been married very quietly at the Savoy Chapel. No royalty was present; nor was the Prime Minister; nor were any of Julia's family. It sounded like a 'hole-in-the-corner' affair, but it was not for several years that I heard the full story.
[Rex Mottram & Julia Flyte wedding]
Zakia, Pamela, KumKum, Saras, Preeti
Oxford, in those days, was still a city of aquatint
"I have been here before," I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were white with fool's-parsley and meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, such as our climate affords once, or twice a year, when leaf and flower and bird and sun-lit stone and shadow seem all to proclaim the glory of God; and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest. That day, too, I had come not knowing my destination. It was Eights Week. Oxford -- submerged now and obliterated, irrecoverable as Lyonnesse, so quickly have the waters come flooding in -- Oxford, in those days, was still a city of aquatint. In her spacious and quiet streets men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman's day; her autumnal mists, her grey springtime, and the rare glory of her summer days -- such as that day when the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft vapours of a thousand years of learning. It was this cloistral hush which gave our laughter its resonance, and carried it still, joyously, over the intervening clamour. Here, discordantly, in Eights Week, came a rabble of womankind, some hundreds strong, twittering and fluttering over the cobbles and up the steps, sight-seeing and pleasure-seeking, drinking claret cup, eating cucumber sandwiches; pushed in punts about the river, herded in droves to the college barges; greeted in the Isis and in the Union by a sudden display of peculiar, facetious, wholly distressing Gilbert-and-Sullivan badinage, and by peculiar choral effects in the college chapels. Echoes of the intruders penetrated every corner, and in my own college was no echo, but an original fount of the grossest disturbance. We were giving a ball. The front quad, where I lived, was floored and tented; palms and azaleas were banked round the porter's lodge; worst of all, the don who lived above me, a mouse of a man connected with the Natural Sciences, had lent his rooms for a Ladies' Cloakroom, and a printed notice proclaiming this outrage hung not six inches from my oak.
High living at Oxford in Sebastian's rooms, Boy Mulcaster reclining, Anthony Blanche at the table, and Sebastian foreground
No one felt more strongly about it than my scout.
"Gentlemen who haven't got ladies are asked as far as possible to take
their meals out in the next few days," he announced despondently. "Will you be lunching in?"
their meals out in the next few days," he announced despondently. "Will you be lunching in?"
‘It is thus I like to remember Sebastian, as he was that summer, when we wandered alone together through that enchanted palace.’
THE languor of Youth - how unique and quintessential it is! How quickly, how irrecoverably, lost! The zest, the generous affections, the illusions, the despair, all the traditional attributes of Youth - all save this - come and go with us through life. These things are a part of life itself; but languor - the relaxation of yet unwearied sinews, the mind sequestered and self-regarding that belongs to Youth alone and dies with it. Perhaps in the mansions of Limbo the heroes enjoy some such compensation for their loss of the Beatific Vision; perhaps the Beatific Vision itself has some remote kinship with this lowly experience; I, at any rate, believed myself very near heaven, during those languid days at Brideshead.
'Why is this house called a "Castle"?'
'It used to be one until they moved it.'
'What can you mean?'
'Just that. We had a castle a mile away, down by the village. Then we took a fancy to the valley and. pulled the castle down, carted the stones up here, and built a new house. I'm glad they did, aren't you?'
'If it was mine I'd never live anywhere else.'
'But you sec. Charles, it isn't mine. Just at the moment it is, but usually it's full of ravening beasts. If it could only be like this always - always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe, and Aloysius in a good temper...' It is thus I like to remember Sebastian, as he was that summer, when we wandered alone together through that enchanted palace; Sebastian in his wheel chair spinning down the box-edged walks of the kitchen gardens in search of alpine strawberries and warm figs, propelling himself through the succession of hothouses, from scent to scent and climate to climate, to cut the muscat grapes and choose orchids for our buttonholes; Sebastian hobbling with a pantomime of difficulty to the old nurseries, sitting beside me on the threadbare, flowered carpet with the toy-cupboard empty about us and Nanny Hawkins stitching complacently in the comer, saying, 'You're one as bad as the other; a pair of children the two of you. Is that what they teach you at College?' Sebastian supine on the sunny seat in the colonnade, as he was now, and I in a hard chair beside him, trying to draw the fountain.
'Is the dome by Inigo Jones, too? It looks later.'
'Oh, Charles, don't be such a tourist. What does it matter when it was built if it's pretty?'
'It's the sort of thing I like to know.'
'Oh dear, I thought I'd cured you of all that - the terrible Mr Collins.' It was an aesthetic education to live within those walls, to wander from room to room, from the Soanesque library to the Chinese drawing, adazzle with gilt pagodas and nodding mandarins, painted paper and Chippendale fretwork, from the Pompeian parlour to the great tapestry-hung hall which stood unchanged, as it had been designed two hundred and fifty years before; to sit, hour after hour, in the shade looking out on the terrace.
This terrace was the final consummation of the house's plan; it stood on massive stone ramparts above the lakes, so that from the hall steps it seemed to overhang them, as though, standing by the balustrade, one could have dropped a pebble into the first of them immediately below one's feet. It was embraced by the two arms of the colonnade; beyond the pavilions groves of lime led to the wooded hillsides. Part of the terrace was paved, part planted with flower-beds and arabesques of dwarf box; taller box grew in a dense hedge, making a wide oval, cut into niches and interspersed with statuary, and, in the centre, dominating the, whole splendid space rose the fountain; such a fountain as one might expect to find in a piazza of southern Italy; such a fountain as was, indeed, found there a century ago by one of Sebasian's ancestors; found, purchased, imported, and re-erected in an alien but welcoming climate.
Sebastian set me to draw it. It was an ambitious subject for an amateur - an oval basin with an island of sculptured rocks at its centre; on the rocks grew, in stone, formal tropical vegetation, and wild English fem in its natural fronds; through them ran a dozen streams that counterfeited springs, and round them sported fantastic tropical animals, camels and camelopards and an ebullient lion, all vomiting water; on the rocks, to the height of the pediment, stood an Egyptian obelisk of red sandstone - but, by some odd chance, for the thing was far beyond me, I brought it off and, by judicious omissions and some stylish tricks, produced a very passable echo of Piranesi. 'Shall I give it to your mother?' I asked.
'Why? You don't know her.'
'It seems polite. I'm staying in her house.'
'Give it to nanny,' said Sebastian.
I did so, and she put it among the collection on the top of her chest of drawers, remarking that it had quite a look of the thing, which she had often heard admired but could never see the beauty of, herself.
For me the beauty was new-found.