Brideshead Revisited Summary

Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited

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Brideshead Revisited Summary

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Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder is a 1945 novel by English author Evelyn Waugh. Taking place over twenty years from the 1920s to the 1940s, it follows the life and adventures, as well as many romantic connections, of its protagonist Charles Ryder. It focuses heavily on his friendship with the Flytes, a family of affluent English Catholics who live in a huge mansion known as Brideshead Castle. Over the course of the story, Ryder forms close relationships with two members of the Flyte family—Sebastian and Julia. Waugh’s novel is critically acclaimed for its in-depth look at English Catholic tradition, as well as its look at the decline of English nobility and the older British culture that faded away following the World Wars. The nature of Charles and Sebastian’s relationship is heavily debated, but Brideshead Revisited is believed to be one of the first modern western novels to include overt themes of homosexuality. It was adapted into an eleven-part television serial starring Jeremy Irons in 1981, and has also been adapted into radio dramas and a 2008 feature film. It remains widely read and taught in English literature classes today.

Brideshead Revisited begins in 1923, as protagonist and narrator Charles Ryder is an undergraduate studying history. He is befriended by Lord Sebastian Flyte, the younger son of Lord Marchmain, and an undergraduate at nearby Catholic college Christ Church. As the two become closer, Sebastian introduces Charles to his eccentric group of friends, including the haughty Anthony Blanche, who is mentioned as being gay. Sebastian takes Charles to visit his massive family home, Brideshead Castle, where Charles meets the rest of Sebastian’s family, including his sister Julia. During the summer holiday, Charles returns to London, where he moves back in with his widowed father, Edward. The two have an easy banter and frequently crack jokes, showing their close relationship. However, when Sebastian suffers a minor injury, he writes to Charles, and Charles returns to Brideshead to spend time with his friend.

While Charles’s family is not very religious, and Charles always viewed religion as without merit, the Flytes are devout Roman Catholics. Lord Marchmain converted to Roman Catholicism to marry, but later left his family and his new faith and now lives in Venice. Abandoned, his wife Lady Marchmain, became even more devout. Her older son, Lord Brideshead (or “Bridey”), and her younger daughter,Cordelia, are equally devout. Sebastian, however, is a troubled young man prone to drunkenness. He begins to drift away from his family and eventually flees to Morocco. After his drinking begins to affect his health, he finds work as an assistant gatekeeper at a Catholic monastery in Tunisia. With Sebastian gone, Charles becomes distant from the Flytes as well. He marries and has two children, but his wife is unfaithful to him, and their relationship is cold. He reunites with Julia, and the two begin a relationship. Julia is unhappily married to a coarse politician named Rex Mottram. Mottram is divorced, so Julia’s mother never accepted the relationship.

Charles and Julia make plans to divorce their spouses so they can marry each other. However, on the eve of World War II, a dying Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead to die in his family home. He is appalled by his eldest son’s childless marriage to a middle-class widow, and chooses to name Julia as his heir. This means that if Charles marries her, he will partially own Brideshead Castle. However, the return of her father makes Julia rethink her plans. Seeing her father return to his faith on his deathbed causes her to decide that she cannot enter a marriage outside of the Catholic faith. Although Charles is upset, he understands and has been moved by the power of faith as well. The story concludes in the early 1940s, as a loveless and depressed Charles has become an army officer. He is unexpectedly stationed at Brideshead Castle, which has been taken over for military use. Although the house is damaged, the private chapel has been opened for the soldiers’ use. It occurs to him, as the book ends, that in the end,Brideshead Castle may have been built for this moment, as part of God’s plan.

Evelyn Waugh, born Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, was an English author best known for his novels, including Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honour trilogy, set during World War II. A prolific writer, he wrote twenty novels between 1924 and 1965, as well as dozens of short stories, several biographies and collections of his letters and writing, and eight works of travel writing chronicling his trips around the world. Many of his undergraduate works are still available in college publications as well. A Roman Catholic convert and staunch traditionalist, a deep religious faith is evident in many of Waugh’s works. Politically active and vocal in his time, many of his opinions are seen as controversial today. However, he remains widely celebrated and read for his contributions to English literature.