Cordelia asks whether Charles thought that it was a shame she had grown up to be a plain spinster. Charles admits that his first thought was the word “thwarted.” Cordelia counters that she used that word to think about Charles and Julia. 

As Charles gets ready for bed that night with Julia beside him, he has an image of a small dwelling in an avalanche that eventually won’t survive the storm.

Analysis: Book 3: Chapter 4

This chapter puts Charles in touch with his relationships with Sebastian and Julia and forces him to consider what connects the two. Whereas Julia believes Charles has forgotten Sebastian, Charles believes that his feelings for Sebastian and Julia are different manifestations of the same love.  His answer understandably doesn’t comfort Julia, but it offers insight into Charles’s emotional journey throughout the novel, which he begins by describing going to lunch at Sebastian’s Oxford rooms as a search for love. Charles believes that people love each other not for who they are but because they represent something a person needs in life, similar to how Cara describes Lord Marchmain as hating Lady Marchmain because she reminds him of something he hates within himself. Charles falls in love with Sebastian because he represents a world of beauty. He falls for Julia because she possesses Sebastian’s looks and background and because she, like Charles, has wearied of modern people without substance. What he loves in both siblings has less to do with who they are as people and more with the fact that they are Marchmains, and Charles loves the tradition their heritage represents.

Cordelia represents the power of spiritual love. Before this chapter, Charles has always thought of Cordelia as a girl who will one day grow up to engage in typical heterosexual romance, and therefore, he finds her plainness in adulthood tragic. However, when he sees her love for her family, he changes his mind, representing that he’s recognized the power of a love that goes beyond the worldly, romantic, or sexual. When Cordelia talks about her and Charles’s love for Sebastian, she uses the present tense, shocking Charles, who had not considered that love for someone needn’t fade with estrangement. Cordelia in this chapter and previously has taught Charles about divine grace, or the Catholic concept of God’s unconditional love, and her consistent, present-tense love here emulates the concept. Notably, Cordelia uses the word “passion” to describe Charles and Julia’s relationship, not love, implying that worldly lust drives their relationship. Cordelia’s gentle rebuke causes Charles to think seriously about the potential futurity of his relationship with Julia because Cordelia is a voice of spiritual truth.

Sebastian’s bittersweet end demonstrates the workings of divine grace. When Sebastian last appeared in the novel, he appeared hopeless, choosing a life of drinking without regard for his health or safety. However, as Cordelia predicted, he has found his way back to God despite the odds. In addition, Sebastian finding his way back to the church evokes Charles’s theory of people loving others that symbolize what they are searching for in their life. Sebastian has always wanted someone to guide and care for, prefigured in his relationships with Charles and Kurt. When he begs the monks to become a missionary, he’s asking for a job in which he’ll offer many people what he believes to be the ultimate form of loving guidance: shepherding nonbelievers to Catholicism. Even though he lacks the strength to accomplish this goal, his job at the monastery as an under-porter allows him to care for a Catholic center, expressing a love of Christ in his work.