Sunday, July 31, 2016

Lady Teresa

"It's witchcraft" the way Lady Teresa Marchmain controls her children and the people around her. "There's no other explanation," according to fop par excellence Anthony Blanche. You can see the toothmarks on all her victims. Why is Teresa Marchmain so disagreeable that woman my co-blogger called an overbearing matriarch last year?

At the surface she superficially spoils the lives of two vivacious characters in Brideshead Revisited, her flapperesque daughter and her puerile, dipsomaniacal son. They are unhappy figures who seemingly would enjoy their lives more thoroughly if not for the matriarch's religious rearing and burdensome oversight. Julia could freely marry Rex Mottram and his few developed faculties without the social stigma of a wedding in a divorcee chapel and Sebastian could dote upon his fellow aesthetes with as much Cointreau as his lubricated heart desired. The Catholic within screams "No, they have a God-sized hole and are filling it with frivolities. Their saintly mother knows better." The first statement is true, but the second does not necessarily follow.

Waugh sets up Anthony Blanche at the beginning of the novel as the seer of the story, as Tiresias, the clairvoyant prophet who dispassionately advises a wanderer. Blanche's disdain for the Marchioness dampens our impression during the few direct encounters with her in the novel. He paints a gruesome picture of Teresa Marchmain as manipulative with a compulsive victim complex, a woman who would make her husband appear to have eaten her children and danced about "wreathed in all the flowers of Sodom and Gomorrah."

Blanche, however, is not the only seer in the story. The younger daughter, Cordellia, is also a prophet, albeit a minor one when contrasted with Blanche. Blanche sees the characters in three dimensions and with five senses, often more clearly than they see themselves. Cordellia sees them through spiritual lenses. She recognizes Sebastian's spiritual struggle masked in drink, Rex's vapidity, Bridey's misplaced piety, and her mother's near sanctity; Teresa is nearly a saint, but not quite. She lost her brothers during the First World War and then her husband to an Italian dancer after it; she accepts loss, but does not deal well with it. While she is not unholy, she may be bitter, and it causes her to hew to her children until they find themselves constricted in a way they might not otherwise be. She could be a saint, but saints are detached and Lady Marchmain is not detached for fear of loss. In a cruel twist, her fear only ensures that she does lose her son, at least for her lifetime.

J interestingly compared Lady Marchmain and her unreasonable expectations to the Church and Her high standards for salvation. In fact, Lady Marchmain is not the Church in Brideshead Revisited, the house Brideshead is the Church, built atop sturdy old foundations and calling all who belong back to her. All the characters eventually return both to the Church and to the house, at least the ones who have left. Likewise, Lady Marchmain is not the cornerstone of the house, but she is one of the better bricks in it. Christ is the cornerstone.


  1. Every time I read "Brideshead" or watch the miniseries, I come away with a new impression of Lady Marchmain. She is more complex than she appears to the other characters, or to the reader at first glance.

  2. Can there be witchcraft without the actual craft of the wicca and practice of the rituals involved? People can send thoughts as curses and blessings even while looking at an icon of Christ in Church, but will it come to terms? In any case, God hears anything we send to the icons of the Saints and everything else. And any curse is a sin for which will surely have to pay for.
    The prayer of St. Cyprian, Martyr, former grand wizzard killed by witches for betraying their secrets, is aimed against curses (whether they refer to invoking Divine justice against someone or just plain wishes of evil). From it is quite clear that spells have to be bound with matter in this world and pieces of the subject's body (what happens to our DNA probes we leave in hospitals..? one might wonder).
    Evelyn Waugh, a convert, was probably expressing his angst, that also great atheists of Europe (like Pierre Onfray, Umberto Ecco) express against what they perceive as witchcraft related to devotional Christianity. Pierre Onfray calls witchcraft the fact that people fast and suffer and ask Christ for charisma or graces. Deep down inside he shows he's more superstitious than a hermit living to read only signs of the unseen world of God and Heaven by saying this. I have also observed superstitious fears in many atheists I have met - belief in strange personal practice (e.g. I cut my hair and it rained; I want some rain, should I cut my hair?) which may be a vague mood sent by God to bring them back. Many communist leaders were superstitious too despite their claims. But without Christ the supernatural is only seen as chaotic torment and nightmare.
    Just because someone is aloof, talks of strange things does not make them neither a witch nor a terrorist. Witches practice witchcraft, terrorists practice terrorist war. It is however also knowledge from the Holy Fathers of the Church that being aloof, depressed, incapable of coherence, one could be cursed and bounded. Demonized is a different state and it doesn't happen to just everyone. The Church says Demonized is being unable to converse with the world. The Saints were out there, by Creation and/or by their own effort, but they were usually capable of talking with the world, some even demolished Pagan arguments, God would send them the words.
    Wouldn't a mother get desperate if she sees her children are not okay? Give up her romantic love for her husband, get insane, torment herself and even those around her, until she finds Christ and manages to trust Him with her children and things get a move. Was it easy for Virgin Many to entrust Christ to Himself when she saw him suffering? But He loved His mother, saw she suffered, and told her aiming at John: "woman, that is your son." (which is one of the invisible ways in which Theotokos works through the Church, mother of many yet with only one Son). Because it was written the one with many children will have none and the one with no children will have many - Isaiah ch. 54.

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  3. Waugh includes an exchange between Ryder and Lady Marchmain after it becomes clear that Sebastian is almost completely off the wagon. In it we see how deeply LM reveres her dead brothers and (I think also) her father as ideals of manhood, making clear that she has compared her husband and son to them and found them to be cowardly and lacking in virtue in the balance.

    This may reveal the character defect of greatest importance in justifying Blanche's harsh opinion of her. I was left with the thought that of course this was not the first time that unattainable expectations were placed upon those closest to her, and we see in her a character who will not accept what God has given to her as He has chosen to give it to her, but insists that her way and timing are better, even to the point of driving her husband and son away from her when they despair of living up to her expectations of being other than who they are.

    That said, Blanche is too harsh in his critique, likely a result of his own personal shortcomings. The trap of false comparisons LM makes is an easy one to become ensnared in, and Cordelia's merciful understanding of her is the better one, even as Cordelia makes faulty attempts to compensate for LM's faults, e.g., sneaking liquor to Sebastian during LM's imposed restriction.