Julia Flyte and the Quality of Mercy

An article on the Christian concept of mercy in the recent opinion pages of the Times of Malta opens with a quote from Waugh:

In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – that great Catholic novel on life, death, the fall from grace and the possibility of redemption – Julia Flyte says these words: “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… 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.”

After explaining Julia’s plight and her decision not to marry Charles Ryder, the article goes on to launch into an explanation of mercy in its broader religious context. The concept also has a secular dimension as reflected in these lines from The Merchant of Venice (Act 4, Scene 1):

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

There is not much of evidence of mercy in Charles’s response to Julia in the novel, but perhaps it is a beginning: “I don’t want to make it easier for you,…I hope your heart may break; but I do understand.” 


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