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Charles begins by speaking of Julia. In the early years of when they knew each other, she was only slightly intrigued by him, but she caught his interest because of her likeness to Sebastian.
He recalls the first time he met her, in 1923, when Sebastian had his supposedly fatal foot injury and she picked Charles up at the railroad station. She was eighteen and at the center of the London aristocratic social scene.
Charles knows that the night Julia met him, she had no interest in him. She was in her own little world, wondering whom to marry, and, as Charles was not a contender, he had no place in her thoughts.
Not that she really cared about whoever she was going to marry – an arranged partnership would have been just fine with her.
While Julia was the best catch of her friends, she still lost points for a few issues: her father’s scandal, her religion. For a variety of reasons, many different categories of men were unavailable to her. Tragically, she had to hunt out those who are suitable.
So Julia created in her mind the perfect man for her: thirty-two, recently widowed, a great political career ahead of him, "mildly agnostic" but OK with a Catholic household, etc. So when Julia met Charles by the train station, she knew he was not her man.
Charles learned all this gradually, he explains, over the years that he knew her. He learned it the way one learns the life of a woman he loves…
Julia thought more on this imaginary perfect man, whom she called "Eustace." The problem is, he became a sort of joke to her, so that when she did meet a man just like the imaginary "Eustace," and he fell in love with her, she sent him away.
Julia liked the fact that Rex was much older than she. Dating older was the chic thing to do among her friends. He knew the right people, he had money, and there was a mysterious air of danger about him, as though he were involved in something illegal. (Tony Soprano syndrome.)
She also liked that he was carrying on an affair with socialite Brenda Champion. That made him far more appealing to her. (Charles interprets it this way: Julia sensed that Brenda was the kind of woman she might become, and she fostered a rivalry between Brenda and herself for the affections of Rex Mottram.)
Charles delves back into his narrative at the time when Rex and Julia haven’t yet started dating. They’re in France; Julia is staying with her aunt, Lady Rosscommon, and Rex is staying nearby…with Brenda.
Rex is getting tired of Mrs. Champion. He wants a more exciting life, and Julia seems as good a prize as any to go chasing after. Of course, there’s not much he can do in the way of courtship, considering he’s living with another woman at the time, but he "establish[es] a friendliness."
Lady Marchmain hears about said friendliness and warns Julia to stay away from Rex, since he’s not very nice. Julia responds that no, he’s not, but that she doesn’t entirely like nice people.
Once they are both in London together, Rex shamelessly pursues Julia. He plans his entire life around her – always trying to show up where he thinks she might be, ingratiating himself with her family, driving her anywhere she wanted to go, etc. He becomes indispensable to her, and then she falls in love with him.
Then, one evening, Rex tells Julia he’s busy and can’t see her. She finds out later that he was with Brenda. The next morning, she refuses to see him, ignores all his phone calls, and stands him up for lunch.
Finally, Rex comes by the house. Julia says she doesn’t want to see him, but her mother insists that she be polite and not just "take people up and drop them" this way.
So Julia talks with Rex, alone, and agrees to marry him. Her mother is not pleased, but Julia explains that the only way she could justify her jealousy and anger was if she and Rex were officially involved.
Lady Marchmain starts plotting to fix the situation. She tells Julia not to speak of the engagement to anyone.
Meanwhile, Julia and Rex "made love." Note: Some think that this term means sex, and others maintain that, during this time period, it didn’t necessarily mean rounding home base. Take it as you will. Either way, Julia finds "making love" with Rex more enjoyable than previous encounters with "sentimental and uncertain boys." But then she remembers that she’s a Catholic, and this sort of pre-marital passion is not OK. She puts an end to the monkey business.
So Rex gets it somewhere else, namely from Brenda Champion. Julia tries explaining this to her priest – that she should be allowed to commit a small sin (pre-marital sex) to prevent Rex from committing a larger one (adultery).
The priest is having none of it.
So Julia is having none of the priest, or her religion for that matter. She drops Catholicism like a hot potato and gets back into bed with Rex.
Lady Marchmain, who now has an alcoholic son, a sexually active daughter, a husband living with another woman in Italy, and an inappropriate future son-in-law, continues to go to church on a daily basis.
As the year continues, it gets harder and harder to keep the engagement a secret. In her despair, Lady Marchmain plans to forbid the marriage, close Marchmain House, and take Julia away for six months.
That’s when Rex goes to Italy to visit Lord Marchmain who, upon hearing that his wife detested Rex, immediately consented to the marriage.
There’s some trouble with the lawyers when Rex wants to have Julia’s dowry to manipulate for himself – he doesn’t want it tied up in trustee stock because he’s used to using money to make money (that’s sort of what he does).
Then there’s the religion problem. Rex is Protestant, but cheerily agrees to convert to Catholicism as though he were changing his socks. Lady Marchmain dismally remembers her own husband converting, with equal nonchalance, when she was married.
Rex doesn’t want to learn anything, he just wants to sign the form that says he’s Catholic. Lady Marchmain explains that it doesn’t quite work that way and sets him up to meet with a priest.
Rex plays along. ‘Whatever you say, father" is his general mantra, but it’s obvious he’s just trying to please. The priest declares him impossible (he sees right through the cheerful veneer), but finally submits and makes Rex a Catholic.
In the meantime, Cordelia has been telling him all sorts of fairy-tale lies about Catholicism, like everyone having to sleep with their feet pointing east so they can walk towards heaven if they die. She calls Rex a "chump" for buying her crock.
Then, three weeks before the wedding, Brideshead announces that the wedding is off. It seems that Rex was already married and divorced.
Rex thinks it’s no big deal; he married young and divorced long ago – why should it matter? Julia explains that Catholics don’t believe in divorce. OK, says Rex, he’ll get an annulment; just tell him how much it costs.
What must be several painful days of banter later, Rex understands that he can’t make this problem go away. So he decides to get married in a Protestant church.
Lady Marchmain tries to argue, but Julia just declares that she’s been sleeping with Rex for some time, and if they don’t get married she’ll just keep on being his mistress.
And that’s the end of Lady Marchmain for the night; she hobbles up to bed.
Years later, Charles asks Julia why she would tell her mother that. Julia explains that she was so deeply involved with Rex she couldn’t just call the whole thing off. She wanted to make "an honest woman" of herself. Plus, she was only twenty.
Rex got permission from Lord Marchmain to have a Protestant wedding and that was that.
It was a "gruesome" wedding, she says, and no family from her mother’s side attended.
Cordelia was disappointed that she didn’t get to be a bridesmaid after all. She found Julia, begged her not to get married, and then said she hoped Julia would be "always happy."
Then Julia comments that the priest who tried to convert Rex to Catholicism understood him best: he "wasn’t a complete human being." Julia didn’t realize this until a year after they were married.
This is what she said to Charles, ten years after her marriage, in a storm on a ship in the Atlantic.