Some days ago I found my copy of “The Lord” by Romano Guardini. I had left the book without finishing it two years ago. I opened it with the firm resolution to finish the job, and was gladly surprised to find my bookmark still there. My fancy bookmarks consist of a blank sheet of paper were I usually take notes of interesting ideas or “happy phrases” with the hope of copying them to my database when I finish the book. That, of course, almost never happens.
In the third entry of my paper it was written:
“82, 1: Brideshead. Sebastian’s mother. Nobody can hate God, that’s why they hate her”
Here is page 82, paragraph 1 of my copy of The Lord. It’s part of the commentary of the scandal in Nazareth.
Here counter-revelation–revelation of scandal and hate. Outbursts of man’s irritation against the living God. At the bottom of the human heart, side by side with the longing for the eternal source and fulfillment of all things, lurks resistance to that source: elementary sin in its lair. Seldom does it confront holiness openly; almost always it strikes at the bearer of holiness: at the prophet, the apostle, the saint, the confirmed believer. Such people do irritate. Something in us finds the very presence of the one dedicated to God unbearable (Romano Guardini, The Lord, VIII: Scandal in Nazareth)
I don’t know if Evelyn Waugh read The Lord -published in English in 1940- while he was writing Brideshead Revisited, which was published five years after that, but certainly there is a striking similarity between the quote above and a conversation between Charles and Cordelia:
-“I sometimes think when people wanted to hate God, they hated mummy.” -“What do you mean by that, Cordelia?” -“Well, you see, she was saintly, but she wasn’t a saint. No one could really hate a saint, could they? They can’t really hate God either. When they want to hate him and his saints they have to find something like themselves and pretends it’s God and hate that…”
This conversation -as almost all Cordelia’s words- leaves me feeling powerless and totally evil, because I also hated Lady Marchamain. Everybody hates her, I guess: she’s too tough against Sebastian, against her husband… but if you leave you anger aside and think about it calmly, she did very few things wrong. Sebastian was destroying his life by drinking, and her husband was the one that left the family, not she. The only real mistake I can think of is approving the marriage of Julia to that king of hollowness named Rex (By the way, I think this is a sound piece of advise to any girl: never marry a mean who’s kitsch enough to give you a diamond-studded tortoise).
So why do we…, -sorry!-, Why do I dislike Lady Marchmain? There can be a thousand possible answers: she manipulates people with her charm, she is too pious, she… but the real one seems to be that lair that Guardini mentions. Sin is a scary word -aversio a Deo is even scarier-, but it seems the most appropriate one. The dislike towards Teresa Flyte, Marchioness of Marchmain, is a consequence of the fact that she is the one in charge of telling people what they do wrong. It’s easier to be a Cordelia -all sweetness and charity- than the head of a family.
Lady Marchmain cannot be considered a symbol in the way I spoke about them in the previous entry. But if she represents something in the spiritual level of Brideshead, I think it is the third part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church -the one on moral law-. She is the one that reminds the reader and her family what an adultery is (another ugly word), she sets the standard of behavior, and her “little talks” are nothing but reminders to people of that uncomfortable aspect of life called morality.
I think we should be more understanding with her. If I’m allowed to use an Spanish macho-style expression -and I am, because this is my blog- I could say she had “to dance with the most ugly girl in the party”, a task boys don’t like, but a necessary one. I mean, you can always leave a poor girl sitting alone and feeling miserable…, but noblesse oblige. Happiness, the happiness of all, depends on having somebody brave enough to take the uncomfortable tasks on his shoulders.