Summary Book 3: Chapter 5

Before Bridey and Mrs. Muspratt take over Brideshead, Lord Marchmain announces his intention to spend his twilight years there. Julia and Charles return to Brideshead to greet him. Lord Marchmain looks ill. He cannot make it to his room upstairs and asks Wilcox to have the Chinese drawing room made up with an elaborate antique bed. Cara confirms that Lord Marchmain is dying. When Lord Marchmain met Mrs. Muspratt in Rome, he found her rude, and he now wants to leave Brideshead Castle to Julia and Charles. 

Bridey returns when Lord Marchmain’s condition deteriorates. He insists that his father should have a priest perform his last rites. Charles is appalled that the family wants to force religion on Lord Marchmain. A few days later, Bridey insists on calling Father McKay. Charles asks Julia to stop him, calling Catholicism “hypocrisy.” Julia doesn’t understand Charles' adamance. 

Cordelia brings Father McKay, but Lord Marchmain orders him out. Charles feels smug. He believes that being right about Lord Marchmain has averted the crisis he’d feared when Julia had her breakdown at the fountain. Furthermore, he believes Bridey’s insistence on bringing a priest will secure Charles and Julia’s inheritance. 

As Julia’s divorce draws nearer, she speaks of marrying Charles more “wistfully,” as if she believes it might not happen. War also grows closer, and both Julia and Charles sign up to aid the war effort. 

Lord Marchmain appears to be at death’s door, and Julia calls for Father McKay. Charles asks the doctor to stop her because the shock might kill Lord Marchmain, but the doctor refuses. When Father McKay arrives, Charles asks him if he thinks Lord Marchmain can really be saved. Father McKay believes grace makes anything possible. 

Father McKay asks Lord Marchmain to make a sign if he’s repented of his sins. Charles sees Julia praying and hopes, because he loves her, that Lord Marchmain will offer a sign. Finally, Lord Marchmain makes the sign of the cross. Charles feels his eyes have been opened.

After Lord Marchmain dies, Julia tells Charles she cannot marry him. Charles, by this point, has known this was coming. Julia says she needs God in her life, and she believes marrying Charles would shut her away from God forever. She thinks Charles doesn’t understand, but he does.

Summary: Epilogue

The quartering commandant shows Charles around Brideshead, which has taken some damage from its use as a barracks. To protect the fountain, the commandant had to shut off the water and put a fence around it. Nevertheless, the men throw trash in it. 

Nanny Hawkins still lives in the house, and she updates Charles on the lives of the Marchmain family. Rex’s career has soared thanks to his anti-Hitler speeches. Bridey has joined the Yeomen. Julia and Cordelia are both with the women’s service in Palestine. 

Charles finds Hooper. Hooper doesn’t understand why a single family would need such a large house. Charles counters that the Army has made use of it. Hooper insists that doesn’t matter because that’s not why the house was built. Charles says that part of building is not knowing the edifice’s ultimate use. 

Finally, Charles visits the reopened chapel. He prays devoutly. At first, he’s upset that the likes of Hooper now overrun Brideshead. However, he realizes that the Army’s presence has led to the chapel’s reopening. He leaves with a newfound cheer. 

Analysis: Book 3: Chapter 5 and Epilogue

Charles becomes vehemently antagonistic toward religion for the first time in this chapter because he sees Catholicism as taking Julia away from him. The previous chapter set up Julia as having to choose between her passion for Charles and God. Her desire for Lord Marchmain to take the last rites threatens Charles because if Lord Marchmain acquiesces, Catholicism triumphs. Charles’s sudden anti-theism also coincides with him actively coveting Brideshead Castle for the first time. This development represents the worldly nature of his relationship with Julia, connecting his encouragement of her to choose passion with his desire for material gain. This shift also highlights Charles’s misunderstanding of what connects his loves of Julia and Sebastian. As we have seen, Charles always portrays Catholicism as being at the heart of Brideshead. If Charles loves Julia and Sebastian in part for what their heritage represents, then Catholicism is an intrinsic part of that heritage. Notably, when Lord Marchmain’s repentance vindicates Catholicism, Charles isn’t angry anymore because he sees a larger purpose. Charles thought that losing Julia and Brideshead would erase meaning from his life, but awakened to grace, he finds a deeper meaning.

Lord Marchmain’s death bed acceptance of Catholicism demonstrates the ultimate triumph of divine grace. Throughout the novel, Lord Marchmain has been in an exile of his own making. His flight from both Lady Marchmain and Catholicism evokes Cordelia’s allegory of the thief who runs to the ends of the world. Just as the priest’s thread can bring the thief back at any moment, so too does God bring Lord Marchmain, for all his anger, back to the fold. That he makes a distinctly Catholic gesture like the sign of the cross highlights that this repentance isn’t merely Christian but Catholic. Lord Marchmain thus proves to Julia that she can still return to God, encouraging her to prioritize her soul over her passion for Charles. This moment also convinces Charles of the power of grace because he believed Lord Marchmain to be staunchly anti-Catholic. Therefore, Charles sees Lord Marchmain’s death bed return to Catholicism as proof of God’s existence. Because Charles has spent the novel searching for wisdom through love, this clear proof of God’s love finally gives him what he has been seeking.

The epilogue retreads Charles’s emotional journey throughout Book 3, tracing his concern from worldly matters to the spiritual. Throughout most of the epilogue, Charles despairs over the Army using Brideshead Castle as a barracks. He considers the lack of respect soldiers like Hooper show to the place as emblematic of the lack of respect for heritage and tradition that he associates with modernity. Similarly, throughout Book 3, Charles blames his loveless marriage and the way his life with Celia forces him to embrace London society for his unhappiness. However, when he realizes that the Army’s presence has caused the chapel to reopen for the first time since Lady Marchmain’s death, Charles sees the bigger picture because this represents a resurgence of Catholic faith. Whereas the damage to the house is cosmetic and material, Charles now sees Catholicism as the actual truth of the universe, far more important than a single building. Just as Lord Marchmain’s death bed repentance convinced Charles of the reality of divine grace, the chapel now reminds him that where there is God, there is hope, no matter how bleak and meaningless modernity may seem.