Charles begins with a long, ornate discussion of memory. Memories are mysterious, he says, unexplainable. He compares them to those times in history when civilizations that have always been peaceful and constructive suddenly fall apart through violence and crime.
While we’re on the topic of large-scale abstractions, he adds that every man keeps company with different versions of himself. We end up getting swept through life without our permission until we take the time to pause and reflect.
This is what happened to Charles – his friendship with Sebastian is the time he felt the most alive.
After that part of his life was over, Charles became an architectural painter. He paints buildings because he thinks they are greater than the men who built them. He was often commissioned to paint great houses which, in part due to economic decline, were about to be destroyed. (The same way he painted Marchmain House).
Charles travels to Central America to paint the architecture there. While he’s gone, he makes little attempt to stay in touch with those back in England.
His work abroad is a great success; the critics praise Charles, but his wife (!), while thinking the paintings brilliant, doesn’t believe they are quite him.
Charles meets up with his wife in America, noting that she left "her son" at home and remembering vaguely some mention of her new daughter.
His wife is surprisingly unperturbed at the fact that Charles forgot he now had a second child. She explains that she named her daughter Caroline, because that is the female equivalent of "Charles."
While the two of them lie in bed that night, Charles’s wife asks him if he still loves her; he evades the question.
In narration, Charles explains that he married his wife six years before, and that she helped launch his artistic career. They own a house in "her part of the country" in England.
Charles’s wife (we still don’t know her name) explains that she had their barn turned into a studio for Charles to paint in. He is reticent and unappreciative.
When she asks if Charles got her letter about boy, we are told (parenthetically, no less) that Boy Mulcaster is her brother. (Now is when you flip all the way back to the middle of Chapter Five and find that Boy Mulcaster has a sister named Celia.) Celia explains that Boy was going to marry some horrid girl but that Johnjohn, with all the wisdom of youth, somehow talked him out of it.
Celia remarks that she and Charles can pick up where they left off two years ago when he went abroad. They forget about the incident which is now all over and forgotten. (Hmm.)
We cut to Charles and Celia on their ship back to Europe. Celia is popular with the Americans, so their cabin is full of gifts (flowers, books, etc.) wrapped in cellophane.
When she decides to throw a cocktail party that night, the first person she calls is a mutual friend who is also aboard – Julia Mottram.
Charles hasn’t seen Julia for several years, since the day he got married. In fact, he hasn’t seen any of the Flytes since then. As far as he knows, Sebastian is still abroad and Julia and Rex are unhappy together.
Charles explores the ship and concludes that wealth here is vulgar compared to what he saw in Central America.
He bumps into Julia while walking around the ship. They have drinks together, and Julia remarks that she never sees Charles or anyone else that she likes anymore. He finds it odd that she acts as though they were great friends when they left off, when in fact they never knew each other very well.
He asks what she’s been up to, and Julia answers that she thought she was in love with someone, but "it didn’t turn out that way." Charles feels she’s grown up considerably, gained a humility that she never had before.
Julia tells Charles that he’s changed, grown "harder" than the youthful boy he used to be.
In his narration, Charles remarks that Julia is nearly thirty and just about as beautiful as she will ever be, which has a lot to do with the sadness she now possesses. He also mentions "the love [he is] soon to have for her."
Charles returns to his cabin and describes his and his wife’s rooms: they’ve been given a large VIP suite due to his wife’s ability to garner favor with important people. Also, the chief purser has sent a life-size swan carved out of ice and filled with caviar that is now dripping into a silver dish.
It’s clear that Celia is blissfully unaware of what really happened in Book I. She callously refers to Sebastian as a "dipso" and is somehow under the impression that her brother dated Julia.
Celia reminisces about the night she got engaged to Charles; he reminds her that she was the one who popped the question.
Charles’s wife explains that she’s invited some Hollywood people to the party, so that he can break into the scenery-design business. Charles isn’t exactly enthusiastic about the prospect.
So Charles suffers through his wife’s cocktail party, concerned only with when Julia will arrive.
He begins conversing with an eccentric little redheaded Englishman vacuuming up the caviar. This scene is essentially like the wild party in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, except that no one is drunk and they’re all far less interesting.
At last the party begins breaking up, while everyone talks about the impending storm they will surely suffer through.
Shortly after, Charles and his wife go to dinner, where they are seated at the Captain’s table. Julia is there as well and explains that she couldn’t come to the party because her maid had disappeared and she had nothing to wear.
Diner conversation is absurd and aristocratic and full of good old Waugh-style mocking humor. You should read it if you feel like a British laugh or two.
Charles can’t handle it, especially since he’s just come back from the jungles of Central America. He believes that he is like King Lear on the heath.
Then the impending storm finally arrives – Charles notes that Julia, like himself, is relieved to have the dinner broken up. Everyone clears out until Julia, Celia, and Charles are left alone at the table. Julia remarks that this is like King Lear, which is amazing and not at all contrived to show kindred between her and Charles. They banter that the three of them are like the three characters weathering the storm together in Lear – the Fool, Kent, and Lear himself.
Celia doesn’t get it.
The three of them head to the lounge, which is nearly empty, and then go back to their cabins for bed. During the night, Celia is sick from the tossing of the boat, and Charles can think of nothing but Julia.
The next morning, Celia is still sick and essentially confined to the cabin all day. He has one of their flower bouquets sent to Julia, and she telephones him for what seems to be the sole purpose of bantering over the phone and arranging to meet before lunch.
When they meet, Charles and Julia walk around the promenade together. He bonds with her over the fact that they are both seemingly immune to the storm. She is the only woman they see out and about.
Julia says she’s glad Charles sent her the roses this morning. They were a shock and made her think they were "starting the day on quite the wrong footing." Charles knows what she means and expresses (in narration) that the love he and Julia will share is always based on this sort of communication.
They end up lunching with a gentleman they meet while wandering the ship. This new guy likes Julia and thinks that she and Charles are married. Charles finds this amusing.
They all return to their respective cabins to take a nap. That night, they meet again to attend a party thrown by the gentlemen who thinks they’re married. A group of them end up in Charles’s sitting room to play roulette.
Charles and Julia spend the entire next day together, too. At one point they make out in her room, though later that night she refuses to have sex with him. "I don’t know if I want love," she says.
Charles explains that he’s not asking for love, but Julia insists that he is.
Julia and Charles talk all night; this is where he hears the whole story of her past, including her marriage to Rex and all the technical problems that went with it (because of the conversion and his prior marriage). There was also some messy business around whether or not they should have a child, and their baby was ultimately born dead.
Julia says that Rex isn’t "intentionally unkind," it’s just that "he isn’t a real person at all." Two months after their honeymoon was over, he was sleeping with Brenda Champion again – worst of all, he couldn’t imagine why it hurt Julia for him to do so.
Charles partakes in the "share my pain" session; he says that he was happy when he found out Celia was having an affair, because it meant that he was justified in disliking her. (Ouch!)
Julia wants to know why he married Celia (good question). Charles responds that she was the ideal wife for a painter, that he was lonely, that he missed Sebastian, etc. He calls Sebastian "the forerunner" and says that "Julia understood" what he meant.
(Note: it sounds to us like he’s referring to Sebastian as the forerunner to Julia, or rather, his relationship with Sebastian as the forerunner to his relationship with her.)
Charles hears more news of Julia’s family, too. Lord Marchmain remains in Venice, Sebastian has "disappeared," Cordelia is working as a nurse in Spain, and she and Rex live at Brideshead, with her brother.
Rex is disappointed with Julia as a wife; he writes her off completely until someone he thinks is important takes a liking to her. Despite all this, she’s been faithful to him…until now.
Julia adds that, although she has lost religion herself, she wanted to raise her daughter as a Catholic when she thought she was going to have a baby. Of course, Rex didn’t mind that the baby was stillborn since it was a girl. Julia feels she’s been punished somehow for marrying Rex.
The next day, after some accidental storm-induced physical contact while wandering the deck, Charles and Julia finally sleep together in her cabin. He stays the night, and the next day the storm is essentially over.
That morning Charles makes his way back to the cabin and finds his wife awake and feeling much better. She makes a joke about him picking up other women. When he responds that he spent the time with Julia, Celia remarks that she "always wanted to bring the two of [them] together." Hardy-har-har.
That night they all have dinner together at the Captain’s table. Celia looks beautiful, and Julia no longer looks sad.
Before they leave the ship, Charles and Julia make plans to meet again in London.
As the voyage draws to a close, Celia wants Charles to come home with her so he can see their new daughter, Caroline. But Charles insists that he needs to go to London for his work.