However, from the opening sentence my reservations dissolved and I became absorbed in the meandering tale of the protagonist, Charles Ryder. Throughout, I felt as if Charles himself was softly relating his tale to me over a cup of tea. I was gradually immersed into his ambling account of idle college lunches, hedonistic weekend jaunts and carefree merriments.
As well as being an indulgent foray into a world tinged with luxury bordering on gluttony, it also delves into the murky swathes of Catholicism and atheism. Despite obediently reciting my Hail Mary’s at a Catholic school for five years, I had never thought much about the hazy debates surrounding Catholicism until I became engrossed in this book - each character’s actions are defined by their attitude to religion.
One evening, midway through my Brideshead adventures, I was surprised to find myself hooked on a televised debate about Catholicism, where the mighty Stephen Fry, paired with razor-sharp journalist Christopher Hitchens, argued a motion that the Catholic Church was not a force for good in the world.
The bumbling ramblings of Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, and conservative MP Ann Widdecombe were no match for articulate Fry and bulldog debater Hitchens, and the duo mercilessly lambasted the church. Fry’s final punch, which centred on the notion that celibacy is fundamentally unnatural and leads to a distorted perception of one of the body’s most instinctive instincts, reverberated with the conclusion that the Catholic Church is paradoxically obsessed with sex.
Following this verbal onslaught I read Brideshead with sharpened interest, closely following each character’s inner turmoil and their sensitivity to religion. Some surrendered to devout, unquestioning piety whereas others were ensnared in a paradoxical moral debate, trying to rebel from stifling moral expectation but remaining tied by embedded Catholic loyalties.
Overall, glimpses of Catholicism in a positive light seem far and few between - whether that is the flaw of a pessimistic press or a reflection of the church is anyone’s guess. Either way, such a sparse smattering of praise for such a powerful religion is not particularly encouraging.