Summary: Book 2: Chapter 1

On the train to Brideshead after Christmas, Charles is surprised to see Mr. Samgrass because he expected Mr. Samgrass would already be at Brideshead. Mr. Samgrass makes excuses, but Charles suspects he’s hiding something. Sebastian looks ill: gaunt, tired, and wary. 

During cocktail hour, Sebastian becomes peevish because none of the servants will serve him a drink, and he storms up to his room. Bridey explains that Lady Marchmain has decreed that alcohol cannot be left unattended. Over Christmas, Sebastian escaped from Mr. Samgrass and got drunk. Charles checks on Sebastian and finds him drinking. Sebastian makes excuses, but Charles promises he doesn’t need to lie to him.

Before dinner, Julia is in the drawing room, annoyed by all the trouble she feels Sebastian has put them through. She thinks there’s something odd about Mr. Samgrass, but she doesn’t think Lady Marchmain notices. Julia says Lady Marchmain is spread too thin and cryptically notes that she herself has been causing Lady Marchmain stress. Sebastian comes down for dinner and requests a whiskey. Wilcox brings him a decanter with a small amount, establishing an awkward mood that lasts the entire evening. After dinner, Sebastian asks if he can join Bridey on a hunt, which puts everyone in a better mood. 

Sebastian confesses to Charles that he intends to sneak away from the hunt to drink at a pub. He asks Charles for money because Lady Marchmain froze his bank account. Charles refuses. Sebastian reveals that during the Levantine trip, he ran away from Mr. Samgrass with Anthony Blanche. Sebastian wrote to Mr. Samgrass so that he wouldn’t worry, and Mr. Samgrass enjoyed his freedom. Charles asks about what happened at Christmas. Sebastian says he wanted to have a happy Christmas, which he believes he must have had because he doesn’t remember it.

The next morning, Sebastian is distraught that the servants won’t include a flask of alcohol with his hunting provisions. He again asks Charles for money. Charles relents. Mr. Samgrass tries to commiserate with Charles over babysitting Sebastian. Coldly, Charles tells him that he knows what happened during their trip. Mr. Samgrass admits he’s kept the details from Lady Marchmain. However, he thinks the restrictions around Sebastian are awkward for everyone, and he’s spoken to Lady Marchmain about them. He believes the evening will be relaxed unless someone gives Sebastian money.

Julia worries Sebastian will become another member of the family they can’t talk about. Charles asks Lady Marchmain if Sebastian can join him in London, but Lady Marchmain refuses. Charles thinks Lady Marchmain has driven both Sebastian and Lord Marchmain away. Charles tries to convince Bridey that he could help Sebastian keep drinking joyfully. Charles believes trying to control Sebastian will destroy him. 

Rex Mottram arrives. He mentions a detox retreat that he believes will help Sebastian. During cocktail hour, Wilcox announces that Sebastian needs to be picked up from a hotel. Sebastian is only partially intoxicated when they find him, but by the end of dinner, he is miserably drunk.

The next morning, Charles asks Sebastian if he wants him to stay. Sebastian tells him no. When Charles goes to say farewell to Lady Marchmain, she asks whether Charles gave Sebastian money. He tells her the truth, and Lady Marchmain is distraught. She asks if Charles hates them. Charles takes this rebuke calmly. As he drives away from the house, he feels like he’s leaving part of himself behind. He wonders if it’s youth he’s lost, but then decides it’s illusion. He resolves to live in a world of the senses. However, in retrospect, he doesn’t believe that world exists.

Back in Paris, Charles receives a letter from Cordelia, who is in trouble for giving Sebastian Wilcox’s keys. Rex Mottram is taking Sebastian to a sanitarium in Germany. A week later, Rex shows up at Charles’s flat to ask if Sebastian has been there. On the way to Germany, Rex won money gambling, and Sebastian stole his winnings and escaped. 

Rex invites Charles to dinner and fills Charles in on what he missed after leaving Brideshead. Julia told Lady Marchmain the truth of Mr. Samgrass and Sebastian’s trip, and Lady Marchmain kicked Mr. Samgrass out. Rex reveals that Lady Marchmain is secretly very ill. He also worries about the Marchmains’ dwindling finances. Rex plans to marry Julia, but Lady Marchmain doesn’t approve of him. Rex doesn’t want a quiet wedding, as if they’re ashamed, so he plans to speak with Lord Marchmain. At the beginning of June, Charles reads that Julia and Rex have had a very small wedding.

Analysis: Book 2: Chapter 1

Sebastian deteriorates further in this chapter, completely unable to live in reality. Sebastian’s continued escapes and turns to theft in order to procure alcohol continue the trend in which Sebastian no longer cares how his actions affect others that began with his drunk driving. Unlike his drunken Easter where he apologized to Charles for lashing out and acknowledged Charles’s care and concern, Sebastian no longer can view Charles’s concern as love. Furthermore, whereas previously Sebastian had only asked Charles to abet him by lying, now he manipulates Charles into furthering his alcoholism with money, recognizing that Charles’s desire to remain in his good graces makes him vulnerable. Perhaps most disturbing, Sebastian assumes he must have enjoyed himself on Christmas because he can’t remember what he did, which indicates that he desires a level of escape where he no longer actually experiences living. Although Charles still insists that Lady Marchmain’s attempts to control Sebastian worsen his condition, we have seen no evidence that Sebastian drinks to spite those around him. Instead, he drinks as much as he desires with or without someone attempting to control him.

This chapter sets up several parallels between Sebastian and Lord Marchmain that demonstrate the effects of their self-destructive behavior. Julia worries about Sebastian becoming another skeleton in the family closet, displaying concern for how Sebastian’s behavior could affect the family’s social standing. Lord and Lady Marchmain’s separation has already created a lot of gossip in their social circles. People have talked to Charles about the scandalous Marchmains just because he spends time with Sebastian, and these rumors certainly affect Julia as well. Both Lord Marchmain and Sebastian have chosen to behave in their own self-interest without concern for their families. Charles blames both Sebastian’s running away and Lord Marchmain’s separation on Lady Marchmain’s overbearingness. However, Charles’s judgement concerning Sebastian is far from objective. While Lady Marchmain is controlling, she has the best interests of her family at heart and is trying to help Sebastian, whose addiction is clearly spiraling out of control. So, while Charles correctly has identified that Sebastian and Lord Marchmain both blame Lady Marchmain for the family’s problems, he has failed to note that they blame her for their own bad behavior. Lord Marchmain chose to separate from Lady Marchmain, knowing she would never grant a divorce. Sebastian chooses to drink instead of taking responsibility for his actions. 

While Charles, Mr. Samgrass, and Rex all have the position of non-aristocratic friends of the Marchmain family, Charles portrays himself as the only true friend amongst hangers-on. Charles reacts coldly to Mr. Samgrass speaking with him about Sebastian because he resents the implication that they have similar relationships with Sebastian. For Mr. Samgrass, looking after Sebastian secures his connection to Lady Marchmain, who in turn pays for him to go on trips and do research. Charles, by contrast, sincerely loves Sebastian. Although we never receive explicit confirmation, Mr. Samgrass’s comment that someone might give Sebastian money implies that he has guessed what Charles did and may even have told Lady Marchmain. With this underhanded behavior, Mr. Samgrass schemes to damage Charles’s place with the Marchmain family to further his own. Rex’s behavior over dinner with Charles suggests that he may also view the Marchmains as a stepping stone to further his own interests. He focuses on Lady Marchmain’s impending death but not out of care for her or concern for Julia’s feelings. Since he immediately segues the conversation to money, the implication is that Rex considers Lady Marchmain’s coming death as a precursor to Julia receiving an inheritance. 

Charles’s reaction to leaving Brideshead signals the end of his relationship with Sebastian but the beginning of his spiritual journey. Although Charles’s assertion that he’s leaving a world of illusion reads partially of sour grapes over the loss of the castle in his life, it also represents his disillusionment with Sebastian. Charles has reconstructed his worldview around Sebastian’s love of beauty and pleasure but now finds it to be unsustainable and incompatible with adulthood. Charles’s being kicked out of Brideshead also has religious resonance. Charles’s first summer at Brideshead with Sebastian was idyllic, almost a kind of Eden. By disobeying Lady Marchmain and helping Sebastian obtain alcohol, Charles finds himself thrown out of Eden like Adam and Eve. Charles’s retrospective comment that he no longer believes the world of the senses is true supports this reading because this statement refers to the Christian idea that spiritual matters contain the actual reality of the world, whereas the senses simply lie. Through this lens, Charles calling Brideshead a world of illusion also refers to the Marchmains’ Catholicism, which at this point in the novel, Charles derides as superstition. Since we know Charles has changed his opinion, this moment also foreshadows his Catholic conversion.