Summary: Book 3: Chapter 3

Two years later, Charles sketches Julia by the fountain at Brideshead while they reminisce about their affair up to this point. They spent dismal Christmases apart, with Celia determined to keep up appearances for the sake of their children. They began summering together, even visiting Lord Marchmain. Altogether, they believe they have only spent one hundred days apart in the course of two years. Julia asks how many more days they’ll have together. She wants to marry Charles as soon as possible because she fears war is coming. She doesn’t consider what they have to be real peace because to get married, they’ll have to navigate two divorces. 

Bridey arrives in the middle of dinner. He announces that he’s engaged to marry a Catholic widow named Beryl Muspratt who has three children. He met her through her deceased husband, who shared a love of collecting matchboxes with Bridey. Julia asks why Bridey didn’t bring Beryl to meet the family, but Bridey cryptically responds that it would not be proper to bring Mrs. Muspratt to Brideshead. When pressed, Bridey explains that he thinks Mrs. Muspratt would find Charles and Julia’s relationship offensive because they’re “living in sin.” Julia leaves the room. Charles accuses Bridey of rudeness, but Bridey insists he was merely stating the truth.

Charles finds Julia outside by the fountain. He asks why she cares what Bridey thinks, but she explains that she’s crying from the shock of hearing the truth of their relationship put so bluntly. The phrase “living in sin” means to continue doing wrong despite knowing better. Julia laments the buildup of her sins that began with her marriage to Rex. She thinks of Lady Marchmain dying with knowledge of Julia’s sin, tying that to Christ’s death. She sees no way out. Charles is speechless, feeling spiritually alienated from her. Abruptly, Julia pulls herself together and makes light of the situation, claiming a bout of hysteria. She insists they go back to Bridey to celebrate his engagement.

When they rejoin Bridey, he mentions that he intends to live at Brideshead with Mrs. Muspratt, so Rex and Julia will have to move out. After Bridey goes to bed, Charles shows Julia a Pre-Raphaelite painting that reminds him of how sad she just was. He tells her he knows she must have been feeling upset for a while, not just because of Bridey’s comment, and tells her religion is foolish. Julia argues with him. She says there’s no hope for her now, especially considering Charles’s agnosticism. She hopes to put her life in order and have a child, which is why she wants to marry Charles. 

They walk to the fountain, and Charles comments that their constant returns to the fountain makes it seem like they’re in a play. Julia asks him why he lives life secondhand, like he’s viewing a work of art. She hits Charles and asks if it hurt. It did. She wonders if she’s going crazy, and Charles takes her up to bed.

The next evening, they have dinner with Rex and his political friends. They talk about how they don’t believe Germany can actually pose a credible threat, and they want Britain to declare war. Charles and Julia leave to walk in the moonlight.

Analysis: Book 3: Chapter 3

Julia’s breakdown in this chapter reveals that her estrangement from Catholicism has taken an immense toll on her psyche. Although Bridey only refers to Julia’s affair when he says she’s “living in sin,” Julia sees her whole life since marrying Rex as a life of sin because she abandoned the church in order to marry him. Therefore, her affair with Charles isn’t a new sin but an extension of her sinful life. Her comparison between Lady Marchmain dying with the weight of Julia’s sin and Christ’s death highlights how corrosive she believes her actions to be. In Christianity, Christ’s death allows mankind a chance for redemption. Julia believes she’s rejected this opportunity, shutting herself permanently away from God and hastening her mother’s death with the anguish of it. Her comment that she wants to marry Charles before England goes to war reflects her hopelessness. She wants to marry Charles in order to have children, presumably to raise them as Catholics and offer the closeness to God that she believes herself shut out from. Much like someone dying, Julia is trying to put her spiritual affairs in order before the war. 

Throughout this chapter, Charles uses art as a distraction from reality. By comparing Julia’s mood to a specific painting, he focuses on what she looks like instead of the underlying reason for her feelings. Paintings are objects for consumption and study, and Charles, as an artist, has authority in the realm of art. Because he doesn’t truly understand Julia’s spiritual mindset, putting that mindset in the context of a painting puts him back in a place of control. The painting acts as a mediator between Charles and reality, allowing him to keep the implications of Julia’s breakdown at arm’s length. Charles behaves similarly when he compares their returning to the fountain to stage directions in a play. Plays can only have so many settings, and characters often return to a specific place more often than they do in real life. Therefore, Charles’s comparison diminishes the significance of the spiritual discussions taking place at the fountain by setting them in a fictional context. Throughout the novel, the fountain has symbolized baptism and Catholicism, and Julia returning to it to consider the fate of her soul represents a serious desire to return to the church. By hitting Charles, Julia forces him to experience how things feel in the moment, without art to mediate.

The coming of World War II looms in the background of this chapter, but Charles refuses to acknowledge it. His desire to focus on Julia instead of current events brings to mind his first semester at Oxford, during which his life of pleasure caused him to nearly bankrupt himself. At the beginning of the chapter, Charles doesn’t understand Julia’s desire to marry so quickly because he refuses to consider either the logistics of them marrying or the impending war. Whereas Julia cannot consider their current relationship peaceful because she’s too aware of tumult in their future, Charles lives entirely in the present and ignores the consequences to come. Charles taking Julia to walk in the moonlight at the end of the chapter also symbolizes his closed mindset. Although Rex and his political friends may not have ideas of substance about Germany’s aggression, they do have an awareness of current events and plans of action. In contrast, by leaving to walk in a moonlit garden, a romantic and idyllic action, Charles and Julia create a temporary bubble outside of reality. However, the night will end and so will Charles’s ability to ignore the war.