Essential Passages by Character: Charles Ryder
Essential Passage 1: Book I, Chapter 1
I had been warned against the dangers of these rooms by my cousin Jasper, who alone, when I first came up, thought me a suitable subject for detailed guidance. My father offered me none. Then, as always, he eschewed serious conversation with me. It was not until I was within a fortnight of going up that he mentioned the subject at all; then he said, shyly and rather slyly: “I’ve been talking about you. I met your future Warden at the Athenaeum. I wanted to talk about Etruscan notions of immortality; he wanted to talk about extension lectures for the working-class; so we compromised and talked about you. I asked him what your allowance should be. He said, ‘Three hundred a year; on no account give him more; that’s all most men have.’ I thought that a deplorable answer. I had more than most men when I was up, and my recollection is that nowhere else in the world and at no other time, do a few hundred pounds, one way or the other, make so much difference to one’s importance and popularity. I toyed with the idea of giving you six hundred,” said my father, snuffling a little, as he did when he was amused, “but I reflected that, should the Warden come to hear of it, it might sound deliberately impolite. So I shall give you five hundred and fifty.”
I thanked him.
Charles, as a student at Oxford University, is thrown in among a different class of people from that which he has encountered previously. Well-to-do, but not socially elite, Charles’ family remained on the outskirts of society. Since his wife’s death, Mr. Ryder has developed an uncomfortable relationship with his son. Charles has unwisely chosen rooms on the ground floor, with windows opening up on the front quadrangle. Charles’ cousin Jaspar (of the same personality as Charles’ father) warns him how inappropriate these rooms will be, considering that they are within easy access to any passersby. Not in the sense of theft, however, but in the sense of sociability. Jaspar fears that Charles’ rooms will become a way-station for all the other students who are not as committed to social proprieties and study as Jaspar is and thinks Charles should be. Charles’ father, however, is indifferent to anything that Charles does. He explains to Charles about his allowance, being more of a desire to show someone else that Mr. Ryder is better than he, rather than a concern for Charles’ personal welfare.
Essential Passage 2: Book I, Chapter 6
I was unmoved; there was no part of me remotely touched by her distress. It was as I had often imagined being expelled from school. I almost expected to hear her say: “I have already written to inform your unhappy father.” But as I drove away and turned back in the car to take what promised to be my last view of the house, I felt that I was leaving part of myself behind, and that wherever I went afterwards I should feel the lack of it, and search for it hopelessly, as ghosts are said to do, frequenting the spots where they buried material treasures without which they cannot pay their way to the nether world.
“I shall never go back,” I said to myself.
A door shut, the low door in the wall I had sought and found in Oxford; open it now and I should find no enchanted garden.
I had come to the surface, into the light of common day and the fresh sea-air, after long captivity in the sunless coral palaces and waving forests of the ocean bed.
I had left behind me—what? Youth? Adolescence? Romance? The conjuring stuff of these things, “the Young Magician’s Compendium,” that neat cabinet where the ebony want had its place beside the delusive billiard balls, the penny that folded double and the feather flowers that could be drawn into a hollow candle.
“I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions—with the aid of my five senses.”
I have since learned that there is no such world; but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay...
(The entire section is 1740 words.)
Essential Passages by Theme: Religion
Essential Passage 1: Book I, Chapter 5
“I believe God prefers drunkards to a lot of respectable people.”
"For God’s sake,” I said, for I was near to tears that morning, “why bring God into everything?”
“I’m sorry. I forgot. But you know that’s an extremely funny question.”
“To me. Not to you.”
“No, not to me. It seems to me that without your religion Sebastian would have the chance to be a happy and healthy man.”
“It’s arguable,” said Brideshead. “Do you think he will need this elephant’s foot again?”
Charles has learned that Sebastian is to be placed under guard with a Catholic priest, to prevent his further descent into alcoholism. Naturally upset, Sebastian plans on cabling his father, who has no love for the Catholicism of his estranged wife. He hopes that Lord Marchmain will intervene and prevent this from occurring. Sebastian thinks that Charles is being drawn in by his mother into spying for her, something which Charles denies. Charles continues to drink with Sebastian, despite his concern for his health. Eventually, Sebastian is withdrawn from Oxford by his mother, and his brother Bridey comes to collect his things. Bridey and Charles discuss Sebastian’s alcoholism, leading Bridey to state that he believes God prefers drunkards to respectable people. Charles does not attempt to argue this premise, but only the fact that religion is such as constant topic among the Brideshead family. Charles, who is at best agnostic, resents that everything must be viewed in relation to religion. Bridey, a Catholic with marginally strong views, does not resent Charles’ agnosticism, and admits that the strict standards of Catholicism may have some blame in Sebastian’s rebellion against his family’s expectations, yet not to the point that he would reject the faith.
Essential Passage 2: Book II, Chapter 5
...Then I knelt, too, and prayed: “O God, if there is a God, forgive him his sins, if there is such a thing as sin,” and the man on the bed opened his eyes and gave a sigh, the sort of sigh I had imagined people made at the moment of death, but his eyes moved so that we knew there was still life in him.
I suddenly felt the longing for a sign, if only of courtesy, if only for the sake of the woman I loved, who knelt in front of me, praying, I knew, for a sign. It seemed so small a thing that was asked, the bare acknowledgement of a present, a nod in the crowd. All over the world people were on their knees before innumerable crosses, and here the drama was being played again by two men—by one man, rather, and he nearer death than life; the universal drama in which there is only one actor.
The priest took the little silver box from his pocket and spoke again in Latin, touching the dying man with an oily wad; he finished what he had to do, put away the box and gave the final blessing. Suddenly Lord Marchmain moved his hand to his forehead; I thought he had felt the touch of the chrism and was wiping it away. “O God,” I prayed, “don’t let him do that.” But there was no need for fear; the hand moved slowly down his breast, then to his shoulder, and Lord Marchmain made the sign of the cross. Then I knew that the sign I had asked for was not a little thing, not a passing nod of recognition, and a phrase came back to me from my childhood of the veil of the temple being rent from top to bottom.
Lord Marchmain has come home to England, to Brideshead, to die. Surrounded by family (except for Sebastian and the deceased Lady Marchmain), Lord Marchmain has resisted the last rites of the Catholic church, on the grounds that he has been so long absent from the faith. Yet at the end, the priest is allowed to administer the rites. Charles, who has had a long-term relationship now with Julia, prays for a sign, not for his own sake, but for Julia’s. Julia has grown closer of late...
(The entire section is 1707 words.)