Waugh’s Chapels

A traditionalist Roman Catholic blogger has posted a short entry on the connections between the fictional chapel described at Brideshead Castle in Waugh’s novel and the actual chapel at Madresfield Court. The connection between these chapels is well known and discussed in several places. There is also a quote from Brideshead Revisited in which Charles Ryder describes the chapel:

The whole interior had been gutted, elaborately refurnished and redecorated in the arts-and-crafts style of the last decade of the nineteenth century. Angels in printed cotton smocks, rambler-roses, flower-spangled meadows, frisking lambs, texts in Celtic script, saints in armour, covered the walls in an intricate patter of clear, bright colours. There was a triptych of pale oak, carved so as to give it the peculiar property of seeming to have been moulded in Plasticine. The sanctuary lamp and all the metal furniture were of bronze, hand-beaten to the patina of a pock-marked skin; the altar steps had a carpet of grass-green, strewn with white and gold daisies [Penguin, pp. 39-40].

The accompanying text, however, is a wee bit misleading:

With a little searching, I found that the chapel in the novel was based on an actual chapel – the chapel at Madresfield Court in Worcestershire. Waugh was a frequent visitor to this home in his youth, and he had said that he based the Flyte family in Brideshead Revisited on the Lygons who lived in this estate. (Emphasis supplied.)

Waugh was cautious not to say in so many words (at least in writing) that he had based the Flytes on the Lygons, although few of his friends and later scholars have missed the connection. He wished to preserve his friendships with Mary and Dorothy Lygon and was careful to distinguish the Flytes and the physical description of Brideshead Castle from Madresfield Court and the Lygons, except in the case of the chapel itself which was a ringer. The Lygons were Protestants and Madresfield was rebuilt in a Gothic Revival style unlike the Flytes who were Roman Catholic and their house, Baroque. The marital problems of the Lygons arose from homosexuality and those of the Flytes from religion and adultery. See, e.g., Dorothy Lygon, “Madresfield and Brideshead” in Evelyn Waugh and his World (ed. David Pryce-Jones). The blog post however has attached two photos which are worth a look. They illustrate perfectly how Waugh’s description of the chapel matches his model. 

This entry was posted in Brideshead Revisited, Catholicism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.