Study Guide

Brideshead Revisited Religion

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Catholicism is a main focus of Brideshead Revisited. From hurried pre-wedding conversions to dinner-table debates on dogma, religion dominates the novel’s thematic focus. Every character struggles with religion in one way or another, even the agnostic central character. The one concept everyone seems to agree on is that to be holy is to suffer. In accordance with this principle, the most religious characters in the novel choose to suffer to be closer to God. Waugh explained that his intention was for every character to accept divine grace in his own way, though critics disagree on whether the novel ultimately reads for or against Catholicism.

Questions About Religion

  1. Sebastian claims he believes in religion because it is "a lovely idea." Why does Julia base her faith on?
  2. Why is Charles so adamantly against Lord Marchmain having a priest at his death? He says that the answer to this question is "unformed" but laying "in a pocket of [his] mind"…what is this getting at? Does he ever answer it for Julia? For himself?
  3. Julia believes one has to sacrifice happiness to be close to God. Sebastian seems to have done the same thing. But what does Charles willingly do in the way of sacrifice? What explains his apparent piety at the end of the novel?
  4. Charles tells Brideshead that, without religion, Sebastian might have had a chance to be happy. Cordelia in a way affirms this when she says that Sebastian is very holy, and no one is ever holy without suffering. If Cordelia is right, and one does need to suffer to be close to God, why do the characters in this novel choose to be religious? What’s the up side?

Chew on This

Religion tore Sebastian and Charles apart, yet drove Julia and Charles together.

Religion prevents Charles from ever being close to any of the Flyte children.

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