Brideshead Revisited

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1943, Captain Charles Ryder, a successful architectural painter turned soldier, finds his company stationed at Brideshead, the country estate of Lord Marchmain. As overpowering memories of the previous 20 years arise, he begins an account of the family. The memoir is highly selective, omitting the 10 years between the decline of his friendship with Sebastian Flyte, son of Marchmain, and the beginning of his romance with Julia, Sebastian’s sister. Charles accounts for the emphasis and imbalance by explaining that with the Marchmains he had felt most alive and inspired.

When Charles had gone to Oxford 20 years earlier, after an unhappy, lonely childhood and adolescence, he gravitated toward the group of English Catholics surrounding Sebastian, a group known for their eccentricities, hedonism, and aestheticism. Surprised by their warmth and kindness, the agnostic Charles found their way of life novel and appealing.

When he became close to Sebastian’s family, he observed that as members of a small Catholic aristocratic minority they were alienated, socially and psychologically, from the mainstream. For Charles they became a kind of substitute family, and they helped launch him into a successful career in art. Yet he drifted away from them after his friend Sebastian sank hopelessly and inexplicably into alcoholism.

Years later, returning by sea from a tour of Latin America, Charles encounters Julia Mottram, Sebastian’s sister,...

(The entire section is 547 words.)