Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
The action of Brideshead Revisited describes providence, grace, and the redemption through suffering of a jaded, often hilarious modernism. Evelyn Waugh explores these themes in the memory of his fictional narrator, Charles Ryder. In the prologue, Ryder prepares to move from the military camp where he has been stationed for several months. At the age of thirty-nine, he reflects that he has begun to feel old, and his love for the army has died. His company travels to camp on the grounds of Brideshead Castle, a name that evokes Charles’s memories and propels him into the narrative, which comprises the body of the novel.
Charles first remembers his experience of college at Oxford, which essentially begins when he meets Lord Sebastian Flyte, a Roman Catholic of eccentric habits, endearing innocence, and a love of beautiful things. As an apology for his drunken behavior, Sebastian invites Charles to a luncheon in his rooms, and the two quickly form a deep friendship. On one occasion they travel to Sebastian’s home at Brideshead Castle, stopping on the way for wine and strawberries in the countryside. Sebastian explains that his mother, his older brother Lord Brideshead, and his sisters Julia and Cordelia live in the house, while his father lives with a mistress in Venice. On this first visit, Charles begins to note stirrings in himself of his own love of beauty, which will later develop into his artistic career and his religious conversion....
(The entire section is 834 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Brideshead Revisited first appeared in a limited edition in December, 1944 (Waugh often published small, sometimes specially engraved and illustrated limited editions for his friends). The regular edition followed in May of the next year. For fifteen years, Waugh had been acquiring a faithful but not a huge audience. Brideshead Revisited made him a best-selling author for the first time. It also alienated a number of critics.
To some, like Edmund Wilson, the richness of the language is the novel’s chief sin, causing it to tend throughout toward romanticism and sentimentalism. For others, the structure of the novel is at fault. James F. Carens argues that too much of the novel is devoted to the Oxford period and too little to Charles Ryder’s love affair with Julia Flyte. For still others, the protagonist himself is the chief problem. Ryder is a snob who seems clearly lacking in generosity of spirit. Moreover, Waugh, so these critics argue, compounds his difficulties by choosing Ryder as his narrator. So strong is the suggestion, even if it be erroneous, that the first-person narrator is a mouthpiece for the author, that for the first time Waugh was personally identified with his unsympathetic hero.
The novel is a framed story. It begins with a prologue and ends with an epilogue, both set in wartime England. The flashback, which is the bulk of the novel, constitutes The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles...
(The entire section is 708 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Captain Charles Ryder of the British Army and his company move to a new billet in the neighborhood of Brideshead, an old estate he often visited during his student days at Oxford. Brideshead is the home of the Marchmains, an old Catholic family. Following World War I, the Marquis of Marchmain went to live in Italy. There he met Cara, who became his mistress for life. Lady Marchmain, an ardent Catholic, and her four children, Brideshead, Sebastian, Julia, and Cordelia, remained in England. They lived either at Brideshead or at Marchmain House in London.
When Charles Ryder met Sebastian at Oxford, they soon became close friends. Among Sebastian’s circle of friends were Boy Mulcaster and Anthony Blanche. With Charles’s entrance into that group, his tastes became more expensive, and he ended his year with an overdrawn account of 550.
Just after returning home from school for vacation, Charles received a telegram announcing that Sebastian was injured. He rushed off to Brideshead, where he found Sebastian with a cracked bone in his ankle. While at Brideshead, Charles met some of Sebastian’s family. Julia met him at the station and later Bridey, the eldest of the Marchmains, and Cordelia, the youngest, arrived. After a month, his ankle healed, Sebastian took Charles to Venice. There they spent the rest of their vacation with Lord Marchmain and Cara.
Early in the following school year, Charles met Lady Marchmain when she visited...
(The entire section is 1139 words.)
Book One Summary
In Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder is a middle-aged captain in the British Army during World War II, stationed in the Scottish countryside in 1942. He organizes his troops to move them to another location via train overnight. When the sun comes up, he realizes that the new encampment is in England near a mansion whose owners he once knew.
In 1923, Charles is at Oxford studying history, and in his third term he meets fellow student Sebastian Flyte, the son of a wealthy Catholic family, who carries around a stuffed bear named Al. Sebastian asks Charles to lunch with his friends (including Anthony Blanche), who are witty and worldly. Sebastian later takes Charles on a day trip to the countryside, where they have a picnic. On this excursion, Sebastian brings Charles to his family's home, a mansion named Brideshead. Charles is very impressed with Sebastian.
The following year, after Charles has been associating with Sebastian and his friends for a while, Charles' cousin, Jasper, scolds him for hanging around with a bad set of people. Charles is not swayed. Anthony Blanche invites Charles to dinner, where Anthony discusses in great detail the members of Sebastian's family and their peculiarities.
Charles travels to London to spend the summer vacation with his father. Their time together is uncomfortable, and Charles refers to it as a "war." Sebastian sends Charles a telegram...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)
Book Two Summary
The story now moves to the late 1930s, when Charles is a painter of some repute, primarily of buildings about to be razed. He is married to Celia, the sister of a fellow Oxford student, and they have two young children. He is returning from a two-year trip to Mexico and Central America, where he was drawing ruins. He meets Celia in New York City, and they leave for London on a ship. They seem to have a cool relationship although Celia is a very friendly woman who loves to entertain. They give a cocktail party on board the ship the first night and also discover that Julia is on board. A storm hits the ship, and Celia retires, seasick, to her room throughout the storm's duration, about three days. Charles and Julia get reacquainted during this time, and they eventually make love in Julia's stateroom. Charles recalls that Celia once had an affair, and Julia tells Charles of her failed marriage with Rex and of her stillborn daughter. Charles sends Celia to their home while he stays in London to set up his next art show and to see Julia.
Charles and Julia continue their affair in London, and his art show is a success. There is talk of war at the show. Anthony Blanche appears at the show's opening, and he and Charles go to a bar to talk about old times. He knows about Julia and Charles's affair, having heard people speak of it at a luncheon that day.
Charles and Julia have been together for two years but haven't sought...
(The entire section is 783 words.)