Study Guide

Brideshead Revisited Book 2: Chapter 2

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Book 2: Chapter 2

  • It is the day of Charles’s private exhibition of the paintings he did in Central America. Celia has arranged the whole thing in an attempt to please the critics as much as possible. During the preparation, Charles phones Julia and works out the details for what seems to be their impending romantic get-away.
  • When he meets up with Celia, she says she’s just been speaking with this guy Mr. Samgrass about Brideshead Castle. Charles remarks that the man is a crook.
  • Celia is not pleased when Charles says that he’s going to Brideshead that night. She wants him to stay at home with her, and adds that he hasn’t seen his daughter Caroline yet.
  • The exhibition begins and Celia sets to charming everyone, explaining to the critics that Charles lives for Beauty, was tired of finding it "ready-made" in England, so went off to Central America to create it for himself.
  • After lunch, an important critic who had dismissed Charles in the past finds him and says of his new work, "I knew you had it. I saw it there. I’ve been waiting for it." Others applaud the work as "virile" and "passionate," words that have never been used before to describe Ryder’s work.
  • Charles recalls that this week of his exhibition was also the week he detected that his wife was cheating on him. He felt that this knowledge freed him, somehow, and that she could not hurt him anymore.
  • At the end of the day, Celia remarks that she "wish[es] it hadn’t got to happen quite this way," which Charles takes to mean she knows what’s up.
  • Just then Charles hears a loud, dramatic voice at the entrance protesting that one shouldn’t need an invitation to come in and see the art. It is Anthony Blanche, and he hasn’t changed at all.
  • Anthony senses that all is not well in Charles’s love life, so he whisks him off to a shady bar to hear of his "other conquests."
  • As they sit together at the bar, Charles feels as though he is back at Oxford again. Anthony narrates his own reactions to Charles’s work. He found the earlier English works to be very charming, but not his own cup of tea.
  • Then he heard about Charles’s new work, which was described to him as "barbaric" and "unhealthy." Naturally, this sparked Anthony’s attention, and he rushed off to the exhibition at once. (Meanwhile, his conversation with the socialite Mrs. Stuyvesant Oglander revealed that Charles and Julia were having an affair, which means everyone knows about it.)
  • When he arrived to see the paintings, continues Anthony, he found that they weren’t as "barbaric" as everyone claimed. They seemed to him like "simple, creamy English charm, playing tigers."
  • Charles agrees with this assessment.
  • Anthony explains that this is why he took Charles out to dinner that night back at Oxford – to warn him of the dangers of charm, which he believes kills everything, including art and, by now, probably Charles as well.
  • Charles leaves Anthony at the bar and meets Julia on a train headed for Brideshead, as planned. He tells her that his wife knows about their affair. Julia just says that it had to happen eventually, and that it doesn’t matter if Rex knows or not because he isn’t a real person and doesn’t really exist.
  • At Brideshead Charles finds Rex and several of his friends, annoying politicians with loud voices and over-inflated egos. Charles notes that these men all fear Julia.
  • That evening, Charles listens to them all banter over current socio-political events. Later, he and Julia wonder whether it’s worse listening to this political chit-chat or dealing with Celia’s art and fashion.
  • Charles wonders why it is that his love for Julia makes him so hateful (of everyone else). They decide that they are happy in their isolation together, but when Julia declares that they can’t be hurt by others now, Charles forebodingly asks "for how many nights" that will remain the case.

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