The Case for Cordelia

Consider Cordelia. Her faith is just as certain as Bridey’s, but it is faith from the heart and faith in action.
What are Cordelia’s virtues? She not only has a sense of humor, she has a sense of humor about her faith: nice touch calling her pig ‘Francis Xavier’ She also has a down to earth piety with no time for frippery or sentimentality or spiritual blackmail: “I don’t think Our Lady cares two hoots whether my gym shoes are straight under my bed.”

She is honest and hates humbug. She speaks bluntly about Sebastian’s drinking when everyone else is hushing it up. She speaks openly about everything, but does so in charity–never with malice. When her father, on his deathbed, asks about his adultery and abdication, “Was that a crime?” She says, “I think it was Papa”, and it is this cutting truth which prompts his final repentance.

She has natural charity: witness her ‘little black Cordelias’ and her eventual pro active involvement as a nurse in the war.
She suffers in silence. Of course she wanted a coming out ball at Marchmain House, but that was ruined by her father’s indolence, pride and lust. Of course she wanted to be a nun, but she didn’t have a religious vocation. Of course she wanted a husband and family, but she was plain and not glamorous.

She is not self righteous. Consider how her reaction to Charles and Julia’s adulterous relationship contrasts to Bridey’s. Bridey says that Beryl Muspratt would not consider spending the night under the same roof as Julia and Charles and Rex. While decorous and correct, Bridey’s stance is self righteous and condemnatory. Cordelia never condones, but never condemns. She merely says to Charles, “You and Julia?” and allows him to draw his own conclusions.
She has enthusiasm. She has joy. She has trust. She has faith. She believes the best and is hurt by the worst.

Cordelia is the one who makes the faith attractive to Charles. He like her from the start, and is amused and intrigued by her faith. He is impressed with her selfless service in the war, and her courage in facing her life’s difficulties. He is attracted to her innocence, her passion and her charm–admitting that she is ‘enchanting.’ Waugh paints a portrait of a genuine, deep down, beautiful Catholic character.

Most of all, Cordelia exhibits love. She loves, she loves Sebastian, she loves Bridey, she loves Lady Marchmain, she loves herself properly, she loves Nanny Hawkins, she loves Julia and Charles, and Marchmain House, and Brideshead and North Africa, and the monks and the convent: in short she loves life and love and all things.
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  • The pick of the litter, and the only one with sense.

  • By the way, my grandfather named a mule Woodrow Wilson, but he never could take politics seriously.

  • Because of you I’ve decided I must again read Brideshead. I stop by my local Hasting’s Bookstore and do you think they have a copy? Nooooooo! Oh well, it will be much cheaper on Amazon.

  • Dwight dear boy,Glad to see you and your bloggers are thriving.Its a while since I’ve read Brideshead. Being a hack, I’ve always preferred Scoop.Don’t the book and the movie of Brideshead, have different endings? In the film, doesn’t Ryder drive off secure in his unbelief?But then movies tend to lack the courage of the written word. The other evening, I watched the film, Wilde, with British actor Stephen Fry.It is a very romantic, politically-correct depiction of old Oscar’s life and ends with him walking into the Tuscan sunset with Bosie or some other lover.I was reminded of the time I stayed at the Catholic parish in Paris, St Joseph’s ( was from here that Wilde, on his death bed, sent for a Passionist priest to hear his last confession. Strange that scene didn’t appear in the movie!Incidentally, I live about four miles from Waugh’s former family home in the beautiful English village of Combe Florey, Somerset. Its up for sale for a cool £3.5m, or $6m in Yankee money. Let me know if you want to make an offer. You could use it for literary retreats.BlessingsJames

  • Nice to hear from you James. I finished Mortimer’s film adaptation of Brideshead last night. You are incorrect. At the end we see Charles enter the chapel to pray.Tell you what: you purchase Combe Florey and I’ll run the retreats.

  • Cordelia always was my favorite character.

  • Oh one more thing, in the Wilde movie it ends with him and Bosie walking off together but the captions at the very end say that they split after a mere four months so “love” doesn’t triumph at all.

  • In the film, Cordelia’s punchy lines were so awesome I am baffled that they did not convert all England (or at least all those with TVs).And Ryder was most definitely touched by the Faith, ultimately by the dying man finally making the sign of the cross. It was one of the best things the BBC has ever done.By the way, did Waugh write the book before or after he saw the BBC production?

  • James, the film was actually produced by the English commercial television company–Granada–not the BBC. It is a faithful adaptation of Waugh’s book.

  • Anonymous

    So it’s ok to live in la-la land then?

  • could you explain your question anonymous?

  • The film adaptation is by far one of the best made. The deathbed conversion is very poignant.How about the Kenneth Moore Father Brown? I’ve watched the first set, and have yet to watch the second set. I find them somewhat in the same vein as the Brideshead adaptation. Of course cheaper production, and some episodes a little stagey, but still, all the more enjoyable for it. As with the Brideshead production, the Father Browns follow the stories very closely. They seem, at least to me, to sacrifice some of the innocent charm/awe of the stories, but they gain more tension thereby. Highly recommended.

  • As a friend related to me, I perceive Cordelia’s character through her name: Heart of the Lion or Lionhearted.She is courageous, as you have said, and always true to her faith, those around her, to the truth of things visible and invisible.

  • You nailed it again! Very good review.

  • Sorry to repeat myself, but a comment I made in the post on the Marchmain divorce I said something which belongs here.Cordelia is a beautiful person in every way but one. The problem is not that she’s plain, but that she is asexual. Somehow her youthful exuberance and joy was never transformed into full woman-ness. This, no doubt, is a consequence of not having a father around.

  • Anonymous

    but Cordelia doesn’t love Lady Marchmain, as she says in the book she never loved her. incredibly poigniant that she didn’t love her own mother, but its clearly written.