Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited

Infobox Book |
name = Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = "Brideshead Revisited", 1945 first UK edition.
author = Evelyn Waugh
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre =
publisher = Chapman and Hall
release_date = 1945
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder" is a novel by the English writer Evelyn Waugh, first published in 1945. Waugh wrote that the novel "deals with what is theologically termed 'the operation of Grace', that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself". This is achieved by an examination of the aristocratic Flyte family, as seen by the narrator, Charles Ryder.

"Time Magazine" included "Brideshead Revisited" in its list of "All-time 100 Novels." In various letters, Waugh himself refers to the novel a number of times as his "magnum opus"; however, in 1950 he wrote to Graham Greene saying "I re-read "Brideshead Revisited" and was appalled." In Waugh's preface to the 1959 revised edition of "Brideshead" the author explains the circumstances in which the novel was written, in the six months between December 1944 and June 1945 following a minor parachute accident. He is mildly disparaging of the novel, saying; "It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster — the period of soya beans and Basic English — and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful."

"Brideshead Revisited" was brought to the screen in the ITV drama serialisation of 1981, produced by Granada Television. A film adaptation of the book was released in July 2008.


After an unpleasant chance first encounter, protagonist and narrator Charles Ryder, a student at an unnamed Oxford University college (though critics have suggested Waugh used Hertford College as his model), and Lord Sebastian Flyte, the younger son of an aristocratic family and himself an undergraduate at Christ Church, become friends. Sebastian takes Charles to his family's palatial home, Brideshead, where Charles eventually meets the rest of the Flyte family, including Sebastian's sister, Lady Julia Flyte.

During the holiday Charles returns home, where he lives with his father. Scenes between Charles and his father Ned (Edward) provide some of the best-known comic scenes in the novel. During the holiday he is called back to Brideshead after Sebastian incurs a minor injury. Sebastian and Charles spend the remainder of the summer together.

Sebastian's family is Catholic, but only first generation: Lord Marchmain, an Anglican, converted to his wife's religion, Roman Catholicism. Religious considerations arise frequently among the family, and Catholicism influences their lives as well as the content of their conversations, all of which surprises Charles, who had always assumed Christianity to be "without substance or merit." Charles is also put off religion by Lady Marchmain, Sebastian's mother, a devout Catholic. Sebastian, in some ways a troubled young man, learns to find greater solace in alcohol than in religion, and descends into that habit, drifting away from the family over a two-year period, which occasions Charles' own estrangement from the Flytes. Yet Charles is fated to re-encounter the Flyte family over the years, and eventually forms a relationship with Julia, who by that time is married but separated from the wealthy but uncouth Canadian entrepreneur, Rex Mottram.

Charles plans to divorce his wife — who has been unfaithful — so he and Julia can marry. However, motivated by a comment by her brother and by her father's deathbed return to the faith, Julia decides that she can no longer live in sin, and for that reason can no longer contemplate marriage to Charles. Lord Marchmain's reception of the sacrament of Extreme Unction also influences Charles, who had been "in search of love in those days" when he first met Sebastian, "that low door in the wall...which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden," a metaphor that informs the work on a number of levels. Waugh desired that the book should be about the "operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters."

During the Second World War, Charles, now an army officer after establishing a career as an architectural artist, is housed at Brideshead, once home to many of his affections. It occurs to him that builders' efforts were not in vain, even when their purposes may appear, for a time, to be frustrated.

Motifs and other points of interest


Taking into account the background of the author, the most significant theme of the book is Catholicism. Evelyn Waugh was a convert to Catholicism and the book is considered to be an attempt to express the Catholic faith in secular literary form. Waugh wrote to his literary agent A. D. Peters, "I hope the last conversation with Cordelia gives the theological clue. The whole thing is steeped in theology, but I begin to agree that the theologians won't recognise it." Considering his readership, who were generally urbane and cosmopolitan, a sentimental or a didactic approach would not have worked. Sentimentalism would have cheapened the story while didacticism would have repelled a secular audience through excessive sermonising. Instead, the book brings the reader, through the narration of the atheist Charles Ryder, in contact with the severely flawed but deeply Catholic Marchmain family. While many novels of the same era portray Catholics as the flatfooted people put on the spot by brilliant non-believers, "Brideshead Revisited" turns the table on the agnostic Charles Ryder (and presumably the reader as well) and scrutinises his secular values, which are tacitly portrayed to fall short of the deeper humanity and spirituality of the Catholic faith.

The Catholic themes of divine grace and reconciliation are pervasive in the book. Most of the major characters undergo a conversion in some way or another. Lord Marchmain, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, who lived as an adulterer, is reconciled with the Church on his deathbed. Julia, who is involved in an extramarital affair with Charles, comes to feel this relationship is immoral and decides to separate from Charles in spite of her great attachment to him. Sebastian, the charming and flamboyant alcoholic, ends up in service to a monastery while struggling against his alcoholism. Even Cordelia has some sort of conversion: from being the "worst" behaved schoolgirl her headmistress has ever seen, to serving in the hospital bunks of the Spanish Civil War. Most significant is Charles's apparent conversion, which is expressed very subtly (otherwise, it would have been sentimental); at the end of the book, set 19 years after the main thread of the novel, Charles kneels down in front of the tabernacle of the Brideshead chapel and says a prayer, "an ancient, newly learned form of words" — implying recent instruction in the catechism. Waugh speaks of his belief in grace in a letter to Lady Mary Lygon: "I believe that everyone in his (or her) life has the moment when he is open to Divine Grace. It's there, of course, for the asking all the time, but human lives are so planned that usually there's a particular time — sometimes, like Hubert, on his deathbed — when all resistance is down and Grace can come flooding in." Waugh uses a quote from a short story by G. K. Chesterton to illustrate the nature of Grace. Cordelia, in conversation with Charles Ryder, quotes a passage from the Father Brown detective story "The Queer Feet:" "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread." [Chesterton, G. K., The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, story "The Queer Feet", Ignatius Press, 2005: p. 84.] This illustrates how the hand of God works invisibly in each person's life, allowing him his free will until he is ready to respond to Grace, at which point God will intervene in his life. Aside from Grace and Reconciliation, other Catholic themes in the book are the Communion of Saints, Faith and Vocation.

The same themes were criticised by Waugh's contemporaries. Henry Yorke, a fellow novelist, wrote to Waugh, "The end was not for me. As you can imagine my heart was in my mouth all through the deathbed scene, hoping against hope that the old man would not give way, that is, take the course he eventually did." And Edmund Wilson, who had praised Waugh as the hope of the English novel, wrote "The last scenes are extravagantly absurd, with an absurdity that would be worthy of Waugh at his best if it were not — painful to say — meant quite seriously."

Nostalgia for the age of English nobility

The Marchmain family, to some, is a symbol of a dying breed — the English nobility. One reads in the book that Brideshead has "the atmosphere of a better age," and, referring to the deaths of Lady Marchmain's brothers in the Great War, "these men must die to make a world for Hooper ... so that things might be safe for the travelling salesman, with his polygonal pince-nez, his fat, wet handshake, his grinning dentures." This is viewed by some as elitism. According to Martin Amis, the book "squarely identifies egalitarianism as its foe and proceeds to rubbish it accordingly." [Amis (2001)]

Charles and Sebastian's relationship

The precise nature of Charles and Sebastian's relationship remains a topic of considerable debate; are they simply close friends, or does Waugh mean to imply a physical relationship between the characters? Given that much of the first half of the novel circles around the initial encounter, friendship, and falling-away of these central characters, this issue continues to pique the curiosity of readers.

A frequent interpretation is that Charles and Sebastian had a passionate yet platonic relationship, an immature albeit strongly felt attachment that prefigures future heterosexual relationships. Indeed Cara, Lord Marchmain's mistress, says as much to Charles in the context of the novel itself—that his relationship with Sebastian forms part in a process of emotional development "typical to the English and the Germans". Waugh himself said that "Charles's romantic affection for Sebastian is part due to the glitter of the new world Sebastian represents, part to the protective feeling of a strong towards a weak character, and part a foreshadowing of the love for Julia which is to be the consuming passion of his mature years."

Others draw an alternative conclusion from the line "naughtiness high on the catalogue of grave sins." Reference is made at one point to Charles' impatiently anticipating Sebastian's letters in the manner of one who is love-smitten. Also, it is hinted in the book that one of the reasons why Charles is in love with Julia is because of the similarity between her and Sebastian. Indeed, in the book, and the 1981 film adaptation with Jeremy Irons, when asked by Julia if he loved Sebastian, Charles replies; 'Oh yes! He was the forerunner.'

Principal Characters

Charles Ryder - The protagonist and narrator of the story grew up with his father as his sole family connection. His background is comfortable, but not passionate in any sense, whether with regard to wealth, emotion, or spirituality. He is unsure about his desires or goals in life, but finds a kindred spirit in Sebastian Flyte. Unlike Sebastian, Ryder, though dissatisfied with what life seems to have on offer, is able to make a go, doing reasonably well as a student and as a painter. He repeatedly encounters the Flyte family, and each time they are able to awake something deep within him.

Edward "Ned" Ryder - Charles's father is a somewhat distant and eccentric man, but with a keen wit. He seems determined to teach Charles to stand on his own two feet. When Charles is forced to spend his holidays with his father because he has already spent his allowance for the term, Ned, in some of the funniest portions of the book, strives to make Charles as uncomfortable as possible, teaching him to mind his finances more carefully.

Alexander Flyte, the Marquess of Marchmain - As a young man, Lord Marchmain fell in love and converted to Catholicism in order to marry. He was unhappy in marriage and, after the First World War, refused to return to England, settling in Venice with his Italian mistress.

Teresa Flyte, the Marchioness of Marchmain - Abandoned by her husband, Lady Marchmain rules over her household with a strong hand, enforcing her Catholic morality on her children.

Earl of Brideshead ("Bridey") - The elder son of Lord and Lady Marchmain follows his mother's strict Catholic beliefs, and, indeed, once aspired to priesthood. However, Bridey is unable to connect in an emotional way with most people, who are put off by his cold approach to matters. He is only referred to by his nickname or his courtesy title; it is likely that his given name is the same as his father's.

Sebastian Flyte - The younger son of Lord and Lady Marchmain is plagued by a profound unhappiness, brought on by the oppression of his mother's religion. An otherwise charming and attractive companion, he numbs himself with alcohol, although he finds a deep emotional attachment in his friendship with Charles. Over time, the numbness becomes his sole desire.

Julia Flyte - The elder daughter of Lord and Lady Marchmain moves in circles in which it is difficult to find a suitable Catholic mate.

Cordelia Flyte - The youngest of the siblings is the most devout and least conflicted in her beliefs. She aspires solely to serve her god.

Anthony Blanche - A friend of Charles and Sebastian's since college and what would now be called an "out" homosexual. Of all the characters, Blanche has the keenest insight into the self-deception of the people around him. Although he is amiable and always an interesting companion, he manages to make Charles uncomfortable with his stark honesty.

Viscount Mulcaster (Boy Mulcaster) - An acquaintance of Charles from Oxford, whose bumbling caricatures the image of an upper class twit.

Celia Ryder - Sister of Mulcaster, former schoolmate of Julia, and Charles's wife. Charles and Celia marry for less than the best of reasons, which is revealed by Celia's infidelity. Charles feels freed by Celia's betrayal and decides that from then on, he can do as he pleases.

Rex Mottram - A Canadian with great ambition, Mottram wins a seat in the House of Commons and latches on to the Flytes as another step on the ladder to the top. He is disappointed in the results.

Mr. Samgrass - Lady Marchmain's "pet don" at Oxford. Lady Marchmain funds Samgrass's projects and Samgrass does his best to keep Sebastian in line.

Related works

A fragment about the young Charles Ryder entitled "Charles Ryder's Schooldays" was found after Waugh's death, and is available in collections of Waugh's short works.

"Brideshead Regained, Continuing the Memoirs of Charles Ryder" by Michael Johnston was published in 2003 by akanos. The book deals with Ryder's career as a war artist and his subsequent reunion with the major characters from "Brideshead Revisited". Currently the book's legal status is in dispute and the sequel is unauthorised by the estate of Evelyn Waugh with sales limited to certain Internet sites.

Film adaptations

References in other media

"Brideshead Revisited" has been referenced on television a few times, such as on "Frasier". In the "Family Guy" episode "The Story on Page One," Stewie compares Brown University to "Brideshead Revisited." In the film "Dear Wendy", the Dandies congratulate one another with what they refer to as a "Brideshead stutter."

In scene 2 of Tom Stoppard's 1993 play " Arcadia", one character refers to another character who attends Oxford as "Brideshead Regurgitated." Stoppard's phrase may have been inspired by the 1980s BBC comedy series "Three of a Kind", starring Tracey Ullman, Lenny Henry and David Copperfield, which featured a recurring sketch entitled "Brideshead Regurgitated", with Lenny Henry in the role of Charles Ryder. Et in Arcadia ego, the Latin phrase which is the title of the first chapter of "Brideshead Revisited", is also a central theme to Tom Stoppard's play.

In the early 1980's, following the release of the television series, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (from 1983, Australian Broadcasting Corporation) produced a radio show called 'Brunswick Heads Revisited'. Brunswick Heads is a coastal town in northern New South Wales. The series was a spoof, and made fun of the 'Englishness' of "Brideshead" and many amusing parallels could be drawn between the upper class characters from "Brideshead" and their opposite numbers from rural Australia.



*cite book | last=Waugh | first=Evelyn | title=Brideshead Revisited | location=Boston | publisher=Little, Brown and Company | origyear=1946 | year=1973 | isbn=0316926345
*cite book | last=Amis | first=Martin | title=The War Against Cliché | location=New York | publisher=Hyperion | year=2001 | isbn=0786866748

External links

* [ Official UK site for Brideshead Revisited movie (2008)]
* [ 1945 New York Times Book Review on "Brideshead Revisited"]
* [ A Companion to "Brideshead Revisited"] (adapted for both book and serialisation)
* [ Downloadable audio about "Brideshead Revisited" and "Evelyn Waugh"] from EWTN
*imdb title|id=0083390|title=Brideshead Revisited — 1981 mini-series
*imdb title|id=0412536|title=Brideshead Revisited — 2008 movie adaptation
* [,6000,1221962,00.html#down Article Regarding Waugh and Hollywood]
* [ Filming the first scenes of the 2008 movie adaptation]

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