Last Updated on July 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 591
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.
The Earl of Brideshead (Bridey), the oldest of their children. A pompous man, he marries a self-righteous widow with three children.
Sebastian Flyte, Charles Ryder’s friend, an ineffectual though clever and charming young man. His rebellion takes the form of severe alcoholism. After years of aimless wandering, he tries to enter a monastery in Carthage and is refused. Unconscious from drink, he is carried into the monastery by the monks. He plans to stay there as under-porter for the rest of his life.
Julia Marchmain, whose form of rebellion is to marry a rich but socially inferior Protestant of whom her mother disapproves. Though he is willing to be converted, it is discovered that he is divorced, and they are forced to marry in a Protestant ceremony. Later Julia falls in love with Charles and has an affair with him, but, believing that to marry him would only magnify the sin, she gives him up.
Cordelia Marchmain, the youngest of the four children. On returning from Spain, where she worked with an ambulance corps, she tells her family about Sebastian, whom she visited.
Cara, Lord Marchmain’s lifelong mistress.
Rex Mottram, Julia’s vital and ambitious but ill-bred husband.
Boy Mulcaster and
Anthony Blanche, Oxford friends of Sebastian and Charles.
Celia Ryder, Boy Mulcaster’s sister and Charles’ wife.
Beryl Muspratt, a widow with three children. Engaged to Bridey, she refuses to come to Brideshead because Charles and Julia are living there in sin. Traveling with Bridey in Italy after their marriage, she meets Lord Marchmain, who dislikes her.
Kurt, Sebastian’s roommate and companion in Fez. Kurt is seized by Germans and taken back to Germany. Sebastian follows him, but after Kurt hangs himself in a concentration camp, Sebastian returns to Morocco.
Mr. Samgrass, who is employed in doing some literary work for Lady Marchmain. She hires him also to keep Sebastian away from alcohol, but the plan is doomed to failure.
Father Mackay, the priest whom the Marchmain children and Cara bring to the bedside of the dying Lord Marchmain.
Johnjohn Ryder and
Caroline Ryder, children of Charles and Celia.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 267
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 he will embrace Catholicism. Although the failure of their relationship is still touching in the context of the novel taken as a whole, the respective weaknesses of their characters make it difficult for readers to care about Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte as individual people.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support