Evelyn Waugh is, of course, a master of language. His descriptions, dialog and transitions are a work of art. They are as perfect as we get on this earth and yet are always convey his thought without drawing attention to the writing itself. There is no flourish for flourish sake.


Evelyn Waugh

So, I venture the type of post I’ve not written before: a book quote. Mr. Waugh has written one of the most moving scenes in the English language of a person’s sense of sinfulness crashing down on their awareness with an overwhelming weight. It also shows what a foreign notion this sense of sin is to any non-believer and what a burden when there is no received grace. So we have Julia Flyte evoking this weight of sin to her lover Charles in Brideshead Revisited.


All in one word, too, one little, flat, deadly word that covers a lifetime.

“ ‘Living in sin’; not just doing wrong, as I did when I went to America; doing wrong, knowing it is wrong, stopping doing it, forgetting. That’s not what they mean. That’s not Bridey’s pennyworth. He means just what it says in black and white.

“Living in sin, with sin, always the same, like an idiot child carefully nursed, guarded from the world. ‘Poor Julia,’ they say, ‘she can’t go out. She’s got to take care of her sin. A pity it ever lived,’ they say, ‘but it’s so strong. Children like that always are. Julia’s so good to her little, mad sin.’ ”

“An hour ago,” I thought, “under the sunset, she sat turning her ring in the water and counting the days of happiness; now under the first stars and the last gray whisper of day, all this mysterious tumult of sorrow! What had happened to us in the Painted Parlor? What shadow had fallen in the candlelight? Two rough sentences and a trite phrase.” She was beside herself; her voice, now muffled in my breast, now clear and anguished, came to me in single words and broken sentences.

“Past and future; the years when I was trying to be a good wife, in the cigar smoke, while the counters clicked on the backgammon board, and the man who was ‘dummy’ at the men’s table filled the glasses; when I was trying to bear his child, torn in pieces by something already dead; putting him away, forgetting him, finding you, the past two years with you, all the future with you, all the future with or without you, war coming, world ending—sin.

“A word from so long ago, from Nanny Hawkins stitching by the hearth and the nightlight burning before the Sacred Heart. Cordelia and me with the catechism, in mummy’s room, before luncheon on Sundays. Mummy carrying my sin with her to church, bowed under it and the black lace veil, in the chapel; slipping out with it in London before the fires were lit; taking it with her through the empty streets, where the milkman’s ponies stood with their forefeet on the pavement; mummy dying with my sin eating at her, more cruelly than her own deadly illness.

“Mummy dying with it; Christ dying with it, nailed hand and foot; hanging over the bed in the night-nursery; hanging year after year in the dark little study at Farm Street with the shining oilcloth; hanging in the dark church where only the old charwoman raises the dust and one candle burns; hanging at noon, high among the crowds and the soldiers; no comfort except a sponge of vinegar and the kind words of a thief; hanging for ever; never the cool sepulcher and the grave clothes spread on the stone slab, never the oil and spices in the dark cave; always the midday sun and the dice clicking for the seamless coat.

“No way back; the gates barred; all the saints and angels posted along the walls. Thrown away, scrapped, rotting down; the old man with lupus and the forked stick who limps out at nightfall to turn the rubbish, hoping for something to put in his sack, something marketable, turns away with disgust.

“Nameless and dead, like the baby they wrapped up and took away before I had seen her.”

Between her tears she talked herself into silence. I could do nothing; I was adrift in a strange sea; my hands on the metal-spun threads of her tunic were cold and stiff, my eyes dry; I was as far from her in spirit, as she clung to me in the darkness, as when years ago I had lit her cigarette on the way from the station; as far as when she was out of mind, in the dry, empty years at the Old Rectory, and in the jungle.

So brother and sister sat and talked about the arrangement of the house until bed-time. “An hour ago,” I [Charles] thought, “in the black refuge in the box hedge, she wept her heart out for the death of her God; now she is discussing whether Beryl’s children shall take the old smoking-room or the school-room for their own.” I was at sea.

Brideshead Revisited, pp 329-332 of Book IV