Bridey and the Chapel

A posting on the Roman Catholic religious weblog Aleteia takes as its theme the passage containing the discussion between Charles Ryder and Lord Brideshead (“Bridey”) in Brideshead Revisited about the artistic value of the decorations in the family’s chapel. This is entitled “Truth, Relativism and Brideshead Revisited” and is written by Tod Worner, who frequently comments on Waugh’s works.  See previous posts. These decorations had earlier been described by Sebastian as “a monument of art nouveau” and that is followed by Charles’ own detailed description of the wall paintings, carvings and metal work as examples of the “arts and crafts movement of the last decade of the nineteenth century” (Brideshead Revisited, London, 1945, pp. 35-36). In a later scene, after Charles’ talent as an artist has been revealed to the family, Bridey starts the following conversation, quoted in the Aleteia post (bracketed language is from the posting):

Instantly enchanted by the sublime artistry and soaring architecture of Brideshead, Charles found himself engaged in a discussion on the nature of the estate’s chapel with Sebastian’s elder brother, Bridey. Bridey inquired:

“You are an artist, Ryder, what do you think of it aesthetically?”
“I think it’s beautiful,” said [Sebastian’s youngest sister] Cordelia with tears in her eyes.
“Is it Good Art?”
“Well, I don’t quite know what you mean,” [Charles] said warily. “I think it’s a remarkable example of its period. Probably in eighty years it will be greatly admired.”
“But surely it can’t be good twenty years ago and good in eighty years, and not good now?” [asked Bridey]
“Well, it may be good now.” [Charles answered.] “All I mean is that I don’t happen to like it much.”
“But is there a difference between liking a thing and thinking it good?”

Worner then continues with a discussion of the religious significance of Bridey’s question. This is thoughtful and well argued from a religious point of view but takes the discussion in the novel somewhat out of its context, since Bridey was not asking about what Charles thought of the religious significance of the decorations but rather his expert advice as to their artistic merit. Indeed, the quote stops just short of Sebastian’s response to Bridey’s question: “Bridey, don’t be so Jesuitical” (p. 83). Ironically, one might use the same term to describe the discussion that follows the quote in the weblog.

Another religious blogger (this one Protestant: One-Eternal-Day.com) has posted the conclusion to Waugh’s story Scott-King’s Modern Europe, including a copy of the US edition’s dustwrapper, with the explanation that it is reposted “because it is ‘very wicked indeed’ to deprive the young of historical perspective.”

Finally, a recent issue of the Catholic Herald contains an article entitled “Meeting the Evelyn Waugh of Wall Street”. This is written by William Cash and is based on an interview of novelist Tom Wolfe that Cash had conducted in the 1990s. The article is behind a paywall, but the epithet in the title apparently applies to Wolfe.

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