Study Guide

Brideshead Revisited Book 2: Chapter 4

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Book 2: Chapter 4

  • Charles works out the details of his divorce with Celia’s brother, Boy. She gets the kids and he pays for their education. She also gets to keep the house with her new boyfriend, Robin.
  • Boy doesn’t seem too upset about the divorce; he even tells Charles that he’s always had a soft spot for Julia himself.
  • Charles’s father is disturbed that his son is getting divorced at thirty-four. He thought that they were a happy couple. Charles corrects him and explains that he’s getting married again first thing.
  • Mr. Ryder thinks this is stupid and advises Charles to "give up the whole idea."
  • Rex adds his opinion to the pot. He thinks that if Charles wants to get divorced, fine, but he shouldn’t ruin Rex’s own happy marriage to Julia. He asks Charles to talk her out of wanting a divorce.
  • Charles narrates that Rex’s life isn’t going well. He hasn’t played his political cards right and there’s always too much written about him in the papers.
  • Even Brideshead’s new woman, Beryl, puts in her two cents: every family has one lapsed Catholic, and they’re usually the nicest one.
  • Julia finds Beryl to be old, friendly, and bossy. Julia believes that she’s exaggerating her religious nature in order to get Brideshead to marry her. Meanwhile, he is in an "amorous stupor, poor beast."
  • Charles’s cousin Jasper wonders why Charles is buying the cow when he can get the milk for free.
  • The divorces are made final.
  • In November, Charles and Julia are together at Brideshead when they are informed that Cordelia is on her way. Charles hasn’t seen her for twelve years.
  • Julia explains that Cordelia was in a convent for a bit, but that didn’t work out. She then went to Spain to help as a nurse in the war effort. She calls her sister "odd" and adds that Cordelia has grown up "quite plain."
  • When she finally arrives, Charles believes her to now be an ugly woman, which is a shame, since she used to possess what he calls a "burning love." He wonders at how she, Brideshead, Julia, and Sebastian could all possibly be siblings.
  • After dinner, the three of them go upstairs to see Nanny Hawkins. Charles recalls that, when he broke it to her about the divorces and upcoming marriage, all she said was that she hoped it was for the best. She also thinks it’s about time that Brideshead got married already.
  • Only now, while Charles watches Cordelia converse with her old nanny, does he realize that she (Cordelia) has her own sort of beauty.
  • Cordelia announces that she saw Sebastian last month, and that now he is with the monks in Tunis.
  • Nanny compares Brideshead to Sebastian, noting that the latter was never one for church and was always so beautiful and clean looking, whereas Brideshead looked ragged all the time.
  • Julia has a talk with Charles. She is surprised that he has forgotten Sebastian, who was, as Charles said in the storm, "the forerunner." Julia wonders if she, too, is just a forerunner…
  • Charles (internally) wonders the same thing. Maybe every love is simply a forerunner to another, he wonders. He adds that he has not forgotten Sebastian, that his friend lives daily with him in Julia, or rather Julia lived through Sebastian way back when.
  • The next day, while they walk around the grounds together, Cordelia tells Charles that she heard Sebastian was dying and so went to find him. When she got to Tunis, she heard the whole story. Sebastian refused to eat despite his plentiful wealth and so was emaciated by the time he arrived at the monastery. She said he wanted to live in the bush with cannibals. Or lepers. But he didn’t want any training at being a missionary or anything. The Superior told him he needed a missionary himself; Sebastian agreed and left.
  • But he kept coming back to the monastery, drunk, several times a week. Cordelia explains to Charles that the Superior was a very holy man and could sense this holiness in Sebastian, which is why he tolerated him. Charles is at a loss to understand any sort of holiness in his friend.
  • Anyway, Sebastian got so ill from not eating and drinking too much that the monastery had to take him in.
  • When Cordelia arrived, Sebastian explained that Kurt had been very sick, and that he took him to Greece to get better. Somehow or another Kurt was arrested and hauled back to Germany, which left Sebastian alone again.
  • Or not. Sebastian chased after Kurt, but found him newly reformed and a member of Hitler’s growing regime. That lasted about five minutes before he admitted he hated Germany and tried to skip town with Sebastian again. Kurt was caught and thrown in a concentration camp, where he hanged himself.
  • Sebastian continued to drink alone until he decided to live amongst the savages, which is how he ended up in Tunis. She says that she and Sebastian are similar in that they don’t fit in either to the real world or the monastic rule.
  • In their stroll about the Brideshead estate, Charles and Cordelia come to a bridge. She says that she had a governess who once jumped off and drowned herself. Charles says he knows this, that it’s the first thing he ever heard about Cordelia.
  • He asks if she told Julia all this about her brother. Most of it, she answers, but adds that Julia never loved him the way she and Charles do.
  • Cordelia envisions Sebastian living out his days as an alcoholic yet repentant part of the monastery abroad. "It’s not such a bad way of getting through one’s life," she says.
  • She agrees with Charles’s assessment that he is indeed suffering (from his alcoholism), but asserts that "no one is ever holy without suffering."
  • Cordelia asks if Charles thought she was "thwarted" when he saw her for the first time after so many years. He says yes, and she responds that she thought the same thing about him and Julia.
  • At dinner that night, Charles finds himself staring at Julia, "unable to turn away for love of her beauty." He decides that Julia regained what first drew him to her that night on the ship, the "store of magical sadness" that seems to say, "Surely I was made for some other purpose than this?"
  • As the evening draws to a close, Charles has in mind the image of an ice fisher, warm and content inside his hut, soon to be eradicated by an avalanche rolling towards him.

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