Summary: Book 1: Chapter 4

Charles, in retrospect, notes that in those days at Brideshead Castle, he felt very near heaven. Charles loves all the different aesthetics in the manor’s architecture. The center of the estate is a massive terrace overhanging the lakes. Elegantly landscaped, it contains an elaborate fountain brought from Italy by the Marchmains a century prior. Sebastian asks Charles to draw the fountain. Charles attempts it, and although it’s beyond his current skill level, he does a decent job.

Sebastian finds a set of oil paints and asks Charles to paint in one of the empty oval frames that decorate a small office room. Despite his inexperience in oil painting, Charles paints a nice landscape. Sebastian wants him to attempt a larger panel, but Charles isn’t able to create something that lives up to Sebastian’s elaborate vision. 

Sebastian always attends mass. Charles, an agnostic, doesn’t understand Sebastian’s faith, believing it to be a quirk, like Aloysius. Therefore, when Sebastian exclaims that it’s difficult to be Catholic, Charles doesn’t understand. Sebastian explains that every day, he prays for God to make him good—but not yet. Sebastian believes wholeheartedly in Catholicism because he thinks it’s a beautiful story.

A few days later, Charles and Sebastian sunbathe on the roof while watching the village’s Agricultural Exhibition through a telescope. Brideshead (Bridey), Sebastian’s older brother, is in town for the exhibition, and Sebastian wants to hide from him. Sebastian considers his older brother the strangest member of the family. Bridey almost became a Jesuit, but decided to attend Oxford instead and is now directionless. Sebastian explains that Lord Marchmain converted to Catholicism with marriage, and after the separation, he doesn’t practice anymore. Sebastian is the only one of his siblings who doesn’t hate Lord Marchmain for leaving their mother. Sebastian classifies his family as either devout Catholic or heathen, happy or unhappy, and notes that Catholicism and happiness do not always go hand in hand. He explains that Catholics in England have different values from other people, and it’s difficult for him and Julia, who are half-heathen. Cordelia, Sebastian’s ten-year-old sister, interrupts the conversation. She’s in town to display her pig at the agricultural exhibition. She’s vivacious, and she compliments Charles’s paintings in the office. 

Charles meets Bridey at dinner. He’s somber and calm. When Cordelia complains that the nuns at her school consider her ill-behaved because she doesn’t believe the Virgin Mary cares about how clean her room is, Bridey comments that Mary cares about obedience. Sebastian admonishes Bridey not to be too pious because Charles is agnostic. Cordelia is upset to hear that their bishop is considering closing the chapel at Brideshead because it’s too far away to serve people. Cordelia is amazed that Charles is agnostic and offers to pray for him. Charles doesn’t understand why their family always talks about religion. He feels he doesn’t know Sebastian as well as he’d thought and understands why Sebastian endeavored to keep him away from his family.

With Sebastian’s ankle healed enough to walk with a cane, he insists that Charles come with him to Venice. His lawyers have given him the money to travel first class, but if they travel in third class, they can both travel on the money. Sebastian greets Lord Marchmain warmly, and Charles is taken aback by the casual affection between father and son. Charles is also surprised that Cara, Lord Marchmain’s mistress, is an extremely ordinary, well-mannered woman who doesn’t carry herself with shame. She joins Charles and Sebastian on a sight-seeing trip around the city.