November/December – Brideshead & Beyond: The Genius of Evelyn Waugh
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In Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, nearly all of the characters spend their lives wrestling with Catholicism in some form or another. Cordelia, the youngest daughter and the most pious of them all, remarks to Charles that “the family haven’t been very constant, have they?”. But, surprisingly, her family’s impiety does not seem to trouble her. She assures a disbelieving Charles that “God won’t let them go for long, you know”. Then she goes on to quote a passage from a G. K. Chesterton Father Brown story which Lady Marchmain had read aloud to the family years before. In the story, the detective says that he had “caught [the thief] with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread”. The significance of this intertextual reference to Father Brown’s “unseen hook” is apparent from the fact that Waugh titled the second section of the novel: “A Twitch Upon the Thread”. This image of God’s grace as an invisible, inescapable line sheds light on the spiritual conflicts within several of the main characters—especially Sebastian, Julia, and Charles—and their roles as runaway thieves on the thread of God’s grace. I would argue that, as thieves, they have all attempted to steal their own lives, to place their own happiness above the goodness of God. Sebastian and Julia, knowing they are hooked on the thread, still attempt to escape, whereas Charles does not understand and does not notice, not until the very end, that he has also been caught. They all find, eventually, that no one on this thread is ever far from God, or from each other, and that God’s grace is what surrounds and makes sense of the whole world.