Summary: Book 2: Chapter 3

Charles returns to London in May of 1926 to fight against England’s general strike. At a party for returning expats, Charles runs into Anthony Blanche and Boy Mulcaster. Anthony mentions that Sebastian had visited his place in Marseille the previous year. They went to Tangier, where Sebastian befriended a former member of the German foreign legion. 

Charles leaves the party with Mulcaster. Mulcaster believes fighting the strike is their generation’s version of World War I. At Mulcaster’s encouragement, Charles joins the Defence Corps, but he only ends up fighting once. The next day the strike gets called off. 

Julia calls Charles to tell him Lady Marchmain wishes to see him. Charles visits the Marchmain house, but Lady Marchmain is too ill for company. Julia explains that Lady Marchmain is dying and wants to apologize to Charles. She also wants Charles to find Sebastian and bring him back to England before she dies.

Charles travels to Morocco, where Anthony believes Sebastian is staying, and dines with the British consul. The consul reveals Sebastian has been living in a less touristy town. Charles goes to find him.

Charles meets Kurt, Sebastian’s German friend, at Sebastian’s flat. Kurt left Germany because there were no opportunities and purposely shot himself in the foot to get out of the Foreign Legion. When Charles reveals that Sebastian’s mother is dying, Kurt asks why she doesn’t give Sebastian more money if she’s rich. He reveals that Sebastian is sick at a hospital.

Charles goes to the hospital where Sebastian has been staying, which is run by Franciscan monks. The monk who brings Charles to Sebastian’s room praises Sebastian’s goodness and patience. Sebastian is defensive when he sees Charles. Even though drinking causes some people to gain weight, he looks thinner than ever. He still sneaks alcohol. The monks tell Charles Sebastian must leave by the end of the week. 

Charles asks Sebastian whether he’ll return to England after Lady Marchmain’s death. Sebastian doesn’t think Kurt will like England. Charles asks why Sebastian likes Kurt, and Sebastian explains that he’s spent his whole life being looked after and enjoys having someone who needs his care.

Back in England, Charles convinces Bridey to send Sebastian his allowance. Because the family is selling the Marchmain house, Bridey commissions Charles to paint four oil paintings of the house to remember it by.

One day, Cordelia interrupts Charles’s painting. She’s upset that developers are planning to build a block of flats where the Marchmain house stands, and Rex wants the penthouse. However, selling the house has secured Lord Marchmain’s finances. The chapel at Brideshead has also closed, which devastates Cordelia. 

Charles asks whether Cordelia is trying to convert him again, but Cordelia believes everyone comes to religion in their own way. She doesn’t think Sebastian and Julia will stray forever. She quotes from a book in which a priest describes hooking someone with an invisible thread that would require only a small pull to bring the person back. Cordelia thinks people hated Lady Marchmain when they really wanted to hate God. Cordelia wonders about her future. Julia’s sad that Cordelia will never have her coming out ball at the Marchmain house, but Cordelia hopes to become a nun. Charles hopes Cordelia falls in love, but Cordelia doesn’t want to.

Analysis: Book 2: Chapter 3

This chapter develops the theme of responsibility, portraying it as not just a sign of maturity but a necessity for happiness. When Charles and Mulcaster discuss the strike as a way to fulfill their desire to protect their country in the same way as the previous generation, they reveal that they want a greater sense of responsibility in their lives. By joining the counter strike effort, Charles and Mulcaster believe they are committing themselves to protecting something greater than themselves. Lady Marchmain and Charles reach a kind of reconciliation by taking responsibility for their feud. Although too weak to deliver her apology in person, Lady Marchmain nonetheless reaches out to Charles to apologize. Charles, in turn, seeks to bring Sebastian home, making amends for furthering Sebastian’s drinking habit by giving him money. Finally, Sebastian seeks a greater sense of responsibility by fostering a relationship with Kurt, who needs his care. In all these cases, not having an obligation or taking ownership of one’s actions weighs on the characters’ psyches. Charles, Mulcaster, and Sebastian all suffer from feeling like they have no responsibilities, and Lady Marchmain cannot rest until she acknowledges the wrong she did to Charles. 

Sebastian’s love of Kurt illuminates the power dynamic in his relationships with Charles and his family. Sebastian values Kurt because Kurt requires constant support and guidance, placing Sebastian in a position of authority and maturity that he never experiences with his family. The Marchmains consider Sebastian immature and in constant need of their intervention, someone to look after, which takes its toll on Sebastian. Through this lens, Sebastian’s desire to keep Charles separate from his family reflects a desire to keep Charles from falling into his family’s pattern of coddling him. When Charles meets Sebastian, he treats Sebastian as a new source of wisdom, following his lead without question. Julia herself encourages Charles not to let Sebastian control him. Being, for once, in the more powerful position in a relationship is refreshing for Sebastian. However, once Sebastian turns to self-destructive drinking, the power balance in the relationship shifts because Charles has enough maturity to recognize that he cannot facilitate Sebastian self-destructing. Kurt, however, has no maturity. He prefers wounding himself severely to fulfilling the commitment he made to the Foreign Legion, and he shamelessly mooches money from Sebastian. Sebastian will always be the caregiver in their relationship, and he enjoys this after years of being the childlike figure in his other relationships.

Cordelia and Charles’s conversation introduces the important role divine grace plays in the novel. The book passage Cordelia references allegorically explains the way God can always bring sinners back to the fold, as if by an invisible thread. In this view of grace, even if a sinner wanders to the edge of the earth, they can still come back to God, emblematic of God’s unconditional love for humanity. Cordelia doesn’t try to pull Charles to religion because she believes that grace is open to him as soon as he’s willing to embrace it, just as it is to Sebastian and Julia. This conversation also establishes Cordelia as the voice of spiritual wisdom in the novel. Although Bridey and Lady Marchmain are also sincere Catholics, Bridey’s focus on theory over substance and Lady Marchmain’s controlling nature drive Charles away from Catholic thought by playing into stereotypes of Catholicism. Cordelia expresses hope for her siblings, foreshadowing their possible return to faith. However, this conversation also foreshadows conversion for Charles. Cordelia’s gentle acceptance of Charles in his current spiritual state echoes the idea of grace in that she opens the door for Charles to understand Catholicism but embraces him as he is.