Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Charles Ryder, a young man who in his days at Oxford meets Sebastian Marchmain and is gradually introduced to the Marchmain family of Brideshead. He becomes an architectural painter and marries the sister of another Oxford friend, but his ties to the Marchmain family persist, and later he falls in love with Sebastian’s sister Julia, who is also married. They plan to divorce their spouses and marry each other, and for a while they live together; but Julia’s Catholic faith claims her at last, and she gives up Charles.
Lady Marchmain, the stanchly Catholic mother of Sebastian and Julia, who are in revolt from her as well as from their religion. After her death, her rebellious husband and children are drawn back to the values of the Church.
The Marquis of Marchmain
The Marquis of Marchmain, Lady Marchmain’s husband and the owner of Brideshead. For many years he has lived with his mistress in Italy. After the death of his wife, he returns to Brideshead with his mistress to spend his last days. Although he is in failing health, he refuses to see a priest: but as he is dying, the priest is brought in, and Lord Marchmain makes the sign of the cross.
Brideshead (Bridey) Marchmain, the oldest of their children. A pompous man, he marries a self-righteous widow with three children.
(The entire section is 589 words.)
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Evelyn Waugh admitted to his first biographer, Christopher Sykes, that several of the dramatis personae of Brideshead Revisited were based upon his personal acquaintances. Sebastian Flyte, the doomed younger son of the family, is a composite portrait taken from two of his Oxford friends, and Charles Ryder's father is a much exaggerated version of some of the less admirable qualities of Arthur Waugh. Rex Mottram is a recognizable depiction of the politician and financier Brendan Bracken, and the outrageously aesthetic Anthony Blanche is drawn from the writer Harold Acton. This reliance upon real-life models permitted Waugh to sketch a large and almost uniformly well-developed cast of characters, with his minor figures in particular demonstrating a great advance over the comic stereotypes utilized in Decline and Fall (1928).
The two major characters who were not based upon actual people, Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte, are somewhat less convincing. Julia, in particular, does not always live up to the role Waugh wants her to play: She is supposed to be an intelligent, beautiful and sensitive woman, but her behavior — especially her final rejection of Ryder — often seems willfully capricious rather than rationally motivated. Charles Ryder's credibility is undermined by his passivity vis-a-vis the aggressive idiosyncrasies of everyone else he encounters, which tends to lessen one's interest in the climactic question as to whether or not...
(The entire section is 267 words.)
Lady Julia Flyte
Lady Julia is Sebastian's younger sister by a couple of years and the eldest daughter of Lord and Lady Marchmain. At the beginning of the novel, she is eighteen years old and involved in her debut to English society at parties in London. She is a classic beauty and is charming like her brother Sebastian, and her name appears in the newspapers frequently. She is a nonpracticing Catholic, like Sebastian.
She eventually marries Rex Mottram, an aspiring politician, but the marriage is not a solid one. She tries to provide Rex with a child, but the daughter is stillborn. Julia runs into Charles and Celia on a cruise ship crossing the Atlantic from New York, where she has been pursuing a love affair. She and Charles fall in love by the time the ship docks in London. She and Charles seek separations and divorces from their respective spouses, but never marry each other.
Julia, through the death of her father, acquires a stronger sense of her Catholicism. When Charles returns to Brideshead during World War II, he discovers that she is with Cordelia in Palestine, working for the war effort. She never remarries.
(The entire section is 193 words.)
Lord Sebastian Flyte
Sebastian is the charming youngest son of Lord and Lady Marchmain and Charles's closest friend at Oxford. They meet when Sebastian is drunk and vomits through Charles's window one night. The next day, Sebastian apologizes and asks Charles to lunch; they and others talk and drink until late in the afternoon.
Sebastian is not only charming; he is, in Charles's words, "magically beautiful." Charles becomes quite taken with Sebastian and even seems to fall in love with him although they do not appear to be lovers in the novel. Charles, while recounting his lonely and serious childhood, credits Sebastian with giving him a second, happier childhood through their joint escapades, even though those escapades include drinking heavily and spending lavish amounts of money on clothes and cigars.
The novel chronicles Sebastian's descent into an alcoholic haze, beginning with a drunk driving incident and ending with him very ill, nearly destitute (despite the money his family sends him), and living with monks in Tunis. Through Cordelia's report, the Brideshead family and Charles learn that Sebastian has become religious.
(The entire section is 177 words.)
Rex is Lady Julia's boyfriend and eventually her fiancé and husband. He is originally from Canada, which prompts many to see him as an inferior match for Julia. He is presented as somewhat stupid and dull when he takes lessons in Catholicism before marrying Julia. He is handsome and seems very open with information about himself and his business dealings. Ironically, his past catches up with him when he tries to marry Julia in the Catholic Church, and Brideshead discovers that he has been married before.
Rex is a member of Parliament and a businessman who knows all the right people and is always offering to connect friends and colleagues with one another. He bails out Charles, Sebastian, and Boy Mulcaster when they are thrown in jail and suggests a physician he knows for Lady Marchmain and a place where Sebastian can get treatment for alcoholism.
Eventually, Julia separates from Rex, and after two years she secures a divorce. His political power increases during World War II.
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Charles Ryder is the novel's narrator: everything the reader sees and knows is told through his eyes. He first appears as a captain in the English army during World War II, stationed in the Scottish countryside. He is a man who is filled with memories, a bit nostalgic for an earlier time in his life.
Later in the novel, Charles is in his first year at Oxford, studying history. He is very eager to do the right things in this new environment. When he meets Sebastian, he is swept off his feet by his charm and immediately becomes deeply and exclusively involved with his new friend. He feels that, as a child who had a grim, rather serious childhood, he is finally being given a chance to have fun. He and Sebastian spend time together drinking, attending parties, and avoiding their studies.
Charles is a budding artist and painter and occasionally works on a mural at Brideshead Castle, Sebastian's home. Eventually he leaves Oxford, sensing that he is not accomplishing much, and attends art school in Paris. He becomes a relatively well-known painter of buildings and architectural subjects.
Charles at one point declares himself an agnostic, but he is curious about what it means to be a Catholic. Lady Marchmain has many talks with him in her attempt to convert him to Roman Catholicism, but Charles steadfastly believes religion to be useless. At the end of the novel, at Lord Marchmain's death, he seems to have a sort of religious epiphany when...
(The entire section is 286 words.)
Mrs. Abel is Edward Ryder's cook. According to Charles, her cooking skills are not very good.
Alfred is one of Charles's cousins. Alfred gave advice to Charles's father about how to dress at school, which he steadfastly followed.
Aloysius is the teddy bear that Sebastian carries with him nearly everywhere he goes during his first year at Oxford, contributing to Sebastian's colorful reputation. Sebastian even goes so far as to refer to Aloysius as if he were a living creature, with likes and dislikes and moods. As Sebastian's drinking gets worse, he leaves Aloysius in a dresser drawer.
See Anthony Blanche
Lady Marchmain asks Monsignor Bell to give Sebastian a number of firm lectures about his failures at school and his heavy drinking. Sebastian's family later threatens to make him live with the monsignor if he does not straighten up, but Sebastian escapes this fate.
Anthony is a student at Oxford and Sebastian's friend. He is a boisterous character, interested in food, wine, and having a good time. Charles refers to him as an "aesthete par excellence." There are indications that he is homosexual. Everyone at school is in awe of Anthony. Charles remarks that even though he was barely older, Anthony seemed more mature and knowledgeable about the world than any of his...
(The entire section is 1631 words.)