Summary: Book 3: Chapter 4
Charles and Julia’s relationship becomes even more notorious in high society. Celia makes it very clear that Charles is to blame for the fall of their relationship. In addition, no one understands why Julia and Charles are bothering to marry.
As Julia prepares to move out of Brideshead, she and Charles worry they may have to leave it forever once Bridey and his new family move in. Wilcox interrupts to announce that Cordelia will arrive soon. In the twelve years since Charles last saw her, Cordelia tried convent life but left to volunteer with an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War, and she has been in Spain since.
When Cordelia arrives, Charles is shocked to find her unattractive in adulthood. Julia and Charles catch Cordelia up on family news as they take her up to see Nanny Hawkins. Cordelia responds politely to the news of Julia and Charles’s upcoming marriage, unwilling to question them despite her religious beliefs. She wryly comments that Mrs. Muspratt must be marrying Bridey for his title. As Nanny Hawkins greets Cordelia with delight, Charles looks at how loving Cordelia’s eyes are and realizes that she is, in fact, beautiful in her own way. Cordelia has news of Sebastian. He’s staying with a group of monks in Tunis and has become very religious.
Later, Julia comments how disconcerting it is that Charles has forgotten Sebastian. Charles explains Sebastian was the “forerunner” to their relationship, and Julia wonders if she, too, prefigures another love. Charles says that perhaps all loves are merely symbolic of other loves they don’t yet know.
Charles asks Cordelia for more news of Sebastian. She explains that Sebastian is deathly ill. He arrived at the monastery in Tunis and begged to become a missionary. However, the monks didn’t believe an alcoholic had the strength to do so. Nevertheless, Sebastian kept appearing, and the monks eventually gave him a room at the monastery and employment as an under-porter. They respect his sincere faith. Sebastian lost Kurt years ago when he was called back to Germany for military service. Kurt tried to escape but was caught and imprisoned, and he committed suicide. Cordelia notes that caring for Kurt made Sebastian happy.
Cordelia explains that she hasn’t told Julia the full story of Sebastian because Julia doesn’t love Sebastian like Cordelia and Charles do. Charles hears the present tense of love in Cordelia’s sentence and is angry at himself. Cordelia doesn’t see a bad future for Sebastian. She knows he’ll be beloved by those at the monastery and find spiritual satisfaction. He will suffer though, which is part of what she believes makes Sebastian holy.