Saturday, June 18, 2005

from Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh

I am attempting the impossible; to give a significant excerpt of a novel without spoiling it. Thus I have omitted the names. Still, if you mean to read this book and don't want it spoiled, I suggest you skip at least my commentary, and perhaps the whole post.

A summary is this: the main speaker, in rediscovering her faith, has realized that she can't go through with her planned marriage to the other speaker, because it is against Church law. The other speaker has no faith.

'Oh, my dear, if you could only understand. Then I could bear to part, or bear it better. I should say my heart was breaking, if I believed in broken hearts. I can't marry you . . . I can't be with you ever again.'

. . .

'What will you do?'

'Just go on -- alone. How can I tell what I shall do? You know the whole of me. You know I'm not one for a life of mourning. I've always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can't shut myself out from his mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without him. One can only hope to see one step ahead. But I saw today there was one thing unforgivable -- like things in the school-room, so bad they were unpunishable, that only mummy could deal with -- the bad thing I was on the point of doing, that I'm not quite bad enough to do; to set up a rival good to God's. Why should I be allowed to understand this, and not you . . . ? It may be because of mummy, nanny . . . keeping my name in their prayers; or it may be a private bargain between me and God, that if I give up this one thing I want so much, however bad I am, he won't quite despair of me in the end.

'Now we shall both be alone, and I shall have no way of making you understand.'

'I don't want to make it easier for you,' I said; 'I hope your heart may break, but I do understand.'

* * *

It was this scene, and a few others, which made this book so extremely worth reading. To find a book this good, and simultaneously this Catholic, seemed nearly miraculous. And it also happened to be exactly what I needed at the moment I read it.

This dialogue carries one of the most important ideas in the book: God is more important than anything, even more important than being with the one you love. Secular books have to let the characters get married, or else it's a tragedy. This book shows that being able to give up one of the best human things possible is not a tragedy -- it's a triumph. It's a sacrifice; it hurts very much, but it is worth it.

Because what is worth more than God? If one was to possess God and nothing else in the world, he would have everything. With everything else in the world, and without God, he has nothing.

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