“Brideshead Revisited Revisited” is an excellent essay on one of my favorite books from one of my favorite critics.
Brideshead Revisited is the story of a religious conversion, whatever else it may be. Conversion is one of the topics that is most intractable, and most inhospitable to any attempt to come at it narratively. There is one sense in which the Catholic Faith itself may be said to be the heroine of the story. Certainly Charles is the protagonist. But the victor is the Faith that, in spite of�or, paradoxically, and far more profoundly because of�its shabby look when clothed with the flesh of Catholics themselves, triumphs, both in Charles, and also in each of the characters before they make their exits.
Waugh would have urged that this is the way it is. God shows up in the most inauspicious precincts: Israel�not one of the more impressive tribes of antiquity; Bethlehem�not one of the watering spots of the world; Calvary�scarcely an appropriate purlieu for the King of Heaven; the Church�not exactly a select group; and a flat, white, tasteless wafer�not a hopeful entry in the baked-goods sweepstakes. But the thing about all of these items is that God is to be found there.
Waugh has caught this in his novel and consequently offers the modern reader a work of moral imagination rare in modern fiction. The squalor, the bad taste, the st�rm und drang, the ineptness, show up, not just in remote contrast to some austere vision of the Faith. They are the very modality in which that Faith is, as often as not, mediated to us.