Quote 5

Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played . . . a small red flame . . . It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

Charles has these thoughts toward the end of the epilogue, after praying in the newly reopened chapel at Brideshead Castle. While previously he despaired upon seeing the beautiful house treated callously as an Army bunker, his realization that the soldiers’ presence has led to the chapel’s reopening renews his hope. The chapel at Brideshead initially closes because not enough Catholics live near the house for it to serve enough people, but with the amount of soldiers moving through it now, the Catholic chaplain requires its opening. Therefore, even if Brideshead no longer serves its intended purpose as the seat of an aristocratic family, it has found a deeper, more spiritual purpose. Charles decides that the opening of the chapel matters more than the overall state of the house. He lets go of worrying about the intentions of man (the builders) to trust that God has a greater plan.

This ending also ties into the theme of divine grace. Charles mentions his dealings with the Marchmain family alongside his description of the status of the house, which draws a comparison between his own losses and disillusionment with the house’s disrepair. The light that now shines in both the chapel and him is the light of faith, implying that Charles has converted to Catholicism. If Charles had not lost Sebastian and Julia, he would not have come to his understanding of the Catholic faith. During his conversations with Cordelia about grace, she stressed that people come to God in their own time and that holy people must suffer. For all Charles has despaired of the Army representing darkness and modernity, as Cordelia explained, this modern darkness may only pave the way for a greater spiritual awakening, just as the Army overrunning Brideshead has relit the chapel’s lamp. This passage portrays God’s plan as mysterious but his love as unconditional.