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Theological Notebook: Waugh's Revising Brideshead and Charles' Discussion of the Faith

I have been re-watching the 1981 masterpiece of the BBC's production of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited over meals this last week, having recently purchased the new DVD edition at bargin price on eBay. A passage struck me that had me turn to the internet in curiosity, and I found my way to a website discussing the Preface to the book which I realized I had visited under the same circumstances when I first borrowed the videos from the Lloyds.

The website writer drew my attention to Waugh's discussion in the Preface to the 1960 edition of having revised the text from the 1946 version that had bearing on that passage that had caught my ear, when Charles and Sebastian are touring the treasures of Venice together:
EW mentions many small additions and some substantial cuts. It would take some effort and much time to give details of all EW’s changes, but I should like here to point out one change I find notable. (Others are signalled in the Companion itself.) It concerns the account of Charles Ryder’s attitude to religion which EW places at Brideshead at the time Charles becomes aware of the way in which religion colours Sebastian’s whole life. The original version reads as follows :
I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The view implicit in my education was that the basic narrative of Christianity had long been exposed as a myth, and that opinion was now divided as to whether its ethical teaching was of present value, a division in which the main weight went against it: religion was a hobby which some people professed and others did not; at the best it was slightly ornamental, at the worst it was the providence of ‘complexes’ and ‘inhibitions’ - catch words of the decade - and of the intolerance, hypocrisy, and sheer stupidity attributed to it for centuries. No one had ever suggested to me that these quaint observances expressed a coherent philosophic system and intransigent historical claims; nor, had they done so, would I have been much interested.
The replacement passage (on page 83 of the latest Penguin edition) emphasises indifference and mild scepticism towards Christianity rather than outright hostility. It contains two sentences that accurately describe EW’s own experience at Lancing College. Many might consider the new passage more suitable for fleshing out the agnostic that Charles maintains he is during his first summer at Brideshead :
I had no religion. I was taken to church weekly as a child, and at school attended chapel daily, but, as though in compensation, from the time I went to my public school I was excused church in the holidays. The masters who taught me Divinity told me that biblical texts were highly untrustworthy. They never suggested I should try to pray. My father did not go to church except on family occasions and then with derision. My mother, I think, was devout. It once seemed odd to me that she should have thought it her duty to leave my father and me and go off with an ambulance, to Serbia, to die of exhaustion in the snow in Bosnia. But later I recognised some such spirit in myself. Later, too, I have come to accept claims which then, in 1923, I never troubled to examine, and to accept the supernatural as the real. I was aware of no such needs that summer at Brideshead.
I can see why EW thought the second version more suitable – it gives a background of home and school of greater naturalness, it tells us more about that intriguing but unknown character Mrs Ryder, it reveals a self-sacrificial nature in Charles - but I regret the loss of the splendid obloquy of the first. One of the decisions of the Granada Television production that pleased me at least was to reinstate these first thoughts, along with parts of the second version.
I had to agree with him that the Granada production's weaving of the two versions is masterful. It gets the best of both versions: the personal introspection of the revised version, and the articulation of the first version, which very accurately summarizes what would have been the fashionable educated (but not very educated) opinion of the day in the 1920s in Europe. That's the same thinking at the root of today's learned dismissal, but today it is more of an inherited position, less able to be clearly articulated, much less actually defended, as much as it is assumed it needs no defense.
Tags: books, catholicism, christianity, cultural, europe, faith and reason, favourite shows, historical, literary, movies/film/tv, quotations, secularism/modernity, theological notebook, waugh, writing

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