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Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
Author Evelyn Waugh
Type of work Novel
Genre Realistic fiction; religious fiction
Time and place written 1944, Chagford, England
Date of first publication 1945
Publisher Chapman and Hall
Narrator The protagonist, Charles Ryder, narrates the novel himself.
Point of view
Charles narrates in the first person describing the thoughts and feelings he had when events occurred while adding his older, more mature perspective on past events.
Tone Nostalgic, philosophical, wistful, glib
Tense Past tense
Setting (time) 1920s–1940s
Setting (place) Oxford University, Brideshead Castle, London
Protagonist Captain Charles Ryder
Major conflict Charles Ryder wants to find a love that enriches his life for the long term.
Rising action At Oxford, Charles meets Lord Sebastian Flyte, who awakes in him a new love of beauty. Sebastian becomes an alcoholic and pulls away from Charles. Charles devotes himself to his art and marries for convenience but feels empty. Charles reunites with Sebastian’s sister Julia, and they begin a passionate affair. Charles and Julia plan to divorce their spouses and marry each other.
Climax Julia and Charles argue by the fountain. It becomes clear that their passion is not compatible with Julia’s Catholicism, and they must choose God or one another.
Falling action Lord Marchmain falls ill, and Charles argues against a priest giving Lord Marchmain his last rites. Lord Marchmain repents of his sins. Seeing this triumph of Catholicism, Charles and Julia break up. Charles visits Brideshead years later and celebrates the chapel’s reopening.
Themes Divine Grace; The Shallowness of Modernity; Love
Motifs Infidelity; art and architecture; war
Symbols Brideshead Castle; Aloysius; the fountain
Foreshadowing Book 1 sets up many of the eventual turns of the plot. Sebastian’s first drunken encounter with Charles foreshadows his eventual descent into alcoholism. In Book 1, Chapter 1, when Sebastian comments that his family lives at Brideshead, not him, it foreshadows the discord and alienation Sebastian will experience from his family. Charles’s early observation that Julia looks like a feminine Sebastian prefigures their future closeness and relationship.