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Brideshead Revisited

  • Study Guide
Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Brideshead Castle

Brideshead Castle represents English heritage, tradition, and Catholicism. Charles often brings up the way Brideshead’s creators rebuilt the castle from its original stones, signifying that it has a strong foundation that reaches back to even before its creation. In describing the architecture of Brideshead, Charles notes that different rooms borrow from different periods of history, from ancient Rome in the painted parlor to the chapel done in the Art Nouveau style popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This mix of styles represents what Charles observes in old buildings as an ability to take what’s best of each age, valuing the wisdom of time instead of fads. In addition, the dome atop Brideshead evokes St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, a direct reference to the very center of the Catholic Church. The name Brideshead also references the idea that the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ.

Aloysius

Sebastian’s teddy bear, Aloysius, represents his immaturity and his desire to escape from adulthood. Charles explains that beyond his beauty, Sebastian stands out because he carries his teddy bear, a child’s toy and obvious symbol of his inability to let go of childhood. However, beyond the immaturity of carrying around a teddy bear, Sebastian uses Aloysius specifically as a means of escapism. When he writes his apology letter to Charles, he adds that Aloysius won’t speak to Sebastian unless Charles forgives him, making Aloysius the voice of Sebastian’s conscience. The invocation of Aloysius also diffuses tension by adding a layer of ridiculousness to the situation, effectively distracting from the serious inconvenience Sebastian caused Charles by vomiting in his room. Sebastian also brings up Aloysius when Anthony tries to talk to him about Charles’s artistic talent. Charles’s artist career eventually becomes his foothold into adulthood, and by bringing up Aloysius, Sebastian brings the conversation back to childhood. 

The Fountain

The elaborate fountain in the courtyard at Brideshead represents the Marchmain family’s Catholic values. Like Catholicism, the fountain came from Italy long ago. It has an ornate, elaborate style often associated with Catholic art, as opposed to austere Protestantism. Its central position in the courtyard symbolizes that Catholicism lies at the heart of the Marchmain family. Hooper, the quintessentially modern man, makes the first mention of the fountain by disparaging its opulence, demonstrating modernity’s antipathy towards and inability to understand Catholicism’s value or complexity. In Book 3, Chapter 4, when Julia wrestles spiritually with her Catholicism and her desire to marry Charles, she keeps ending up back at the fountain, something that Charles explicitly notes. This constant return to the fountain during Julia’s spiritual struggle recalls Charles’s first conversation with Cordelia about divine grace in Book 2, Chapter 3, in which she describes an allegory about a priest being able to recall a thief back to him with an invisible string. According to this metaphor, Julia always goes back to the fountain because divine grace calls her back to Catholicism.