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Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited Book 1: Chapter 2 Summary

  • At the end of the summer term, Charles gets another visit from Jasper – the last visit from Jasper, he adds.
  • Jasper gives yet another lecture, but this one full of disappointment rather than hope. He tells Charles that he’s fallen in with the very worst group of undesirables in all of Oxford. Sebastian Flyte may be OK, but Anthony Blanche is certainly not.
  • Jasper also slips in some info about Sebastian’s family. His parents, the Marchmains, have lived apart since the war ended. They’re still married because Sebastian’s mother is a Roman Catholic and refuses to get a divorce, but her husband now lives in Rome while she stays in England.
  • He moves on to discuss Charles’s allowance, which he’s certain Charles has exceeded, based on the lavish paraphernalia lying around his room. Among other things is a human skull from the school of medicine with the words Et in Arcadia ego inscribed on its forehead. (Make sure you read about this in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory.")
  • Jasper continues, reprimanding Charles for his clothes and lack of extracurricular activities. Ryder hasn’t made a name for himself, and this gravely concerns his older cousin. Also, Jasper says, he’s been drinking too much.
  • That’s Charles’s cue to interrupt his cousin, insist that he likes his lot of bad friends, spending double his allowance, and, most of all, drinking. He then invites him to join him for a drink, though it’s only the afternoon.
  • Jasper would later write to his father about the matter, who would write to Charles’s father, who would do nothing about it.
  • And then it was time for the Easter vacation, which Charles spent with Collins in Ravenna. Ryder wrote letters to Sebastian and received two back, written "in a style of remote fantasy." Collins falls into the world of art that would later lead to his career. Charles wonders, in reflection, whether he might have gone the same way as Collins had it not been for Sebastian.
  • Instead, Sebastian has given him the happy childhood he never had when he was actually a child. Looking back, despite Jasper’s lectures, there is nothing he would have done differently. If he had cared enough to engage with his cousin, he would have told Jasper that "to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom."
  • And now we shift the spotlight to Anthony Blanche, with whom Charles has been spending a lot of time. Anthony is, as Ryder says, "a nomad of no nationality." He had a peculiar upbringing in a variety of locations all over the world, where he met and became close with the most famous of writers, philosophers, and thinkers. He’s done and seen everything.
  • Anthony may be experienced, but he pursues vice and wishes to shock those around him. He’s still savage and cruel, and in that way is still very young.
  • And then he asks Charles to dinner, alone, where he is loud and attention-seeking. Before they go they stop for Alexander cocktails (frothy drinks with cream) which Charles finds to be disgusting.
  • Anthony tells a story from a few nights prior, in which he was in his pajamas and reading until disturbed by a mob of twenty or so rowdy boys outside in the piazza chanting his name. They knew him as a friend of Boy Mulcaster, who Anthony says is known as the perfect example of "a degenerate."
  • It seems Mulcaster spent Easter with Blanche and his family and made a spectacle of himself – surprising, since he is a Lord and this is not a great display of English aristocracy. He lost all his money at cards and Anthony had to pay for everything.
  • Anyway, Anthony leaned out the window and made some mocking remark to Mulcaster, who was with this rowdy crowd. A bunch of them came clattering up the stairs, and one boy accused Anthony "of unnatural vices." Anthony very wryly remarked that he couldn’t handle all these boys at once and that the impertinent one had better come back alone.
  • The boys then tried to "put Anthony in Mercury," which refers to the pond with a statue of Mercury on campus. (In other words, they were going to chuck him into the water.)
  • Then Anthony remarked that nothing would give him more please than to be "manhandled" by these "meaty boys."
  • And that does it. No one really wanted to throw him in the fountain after that. So Anthony got in on his own, after inviting them to watch him bathe.
  • He remarks to Charles that something like that would never happen to Sebastian; he is too charming. The next day he went to see how Sebastian was and found him with two of the rowdy crowd from the night before, who were there to see how the teddy bear was. Sebastian had only sympathy for the young men, even after he heard the story from Anthony.
  • Back in the day, says Anthony, when they were younger, Sebastian wasn’t so well-liked. He never used to get in trouble with the masters so the other boys didn’t like that. He was also beautiful, and never had any "spots" (British for "pimples").
  • He also used to spend a long time in the confessional, which baffled Anthony, since Sebastian never did anything wrong.
  • He basically talks all through dinner, even inviting Charles to come to France with him and drink fabulous wine. He calls Charles an artist, having seen several drawings of his hidden away in his room.
  • Sebastian doesn’t understand Charles’s artistic abilities, he continues, but those who are charming don’t need brains anyway. Anthony feels as though he himself has squandered everything, and will never become, say, an artist, as Charles will.
  • But back to Sebastian. The only question, says Anthony, is how such a lovely boy came from such a "sinister family."
  • He proceeds to describe all of Sebastian’s family. Brideshead, Sebastian’s old brother, is deemed "archaic" and a "learned bigot." Julia is smart and incredibly beautiful, but "a fiend—a passionless, acquisitive, intriguing, ruthless killer" who is interested only in power. There’s another sister, but she’s still young. The mother, he says, is very elegant, while her husband is large and powerful, handsome and slothful. Society has rejected him, and none of his family but Sebastian will go to see him.
  • He talks some more about Lady and Lord Marchmain’s awkward estrangement, now that he lives in Rome. Fifteen years into their marriage he went to war and came back with a mistress. His wife refused to divorce. Anthony knows all this, he explains, because he was in Venice when both Lady Marchmain and Lord Marchmain were around.
  • Anthony is clearly on Lord Marchmain’s side, since the man has given his wife everything she could ever want, and let her keep both of their houses (Brideshead and Marchmain house) and all the staff so she can "suck their blood," as Blanche so delicately puts it. Even Adrian Porson – a companion of Lady Marchmain’s – used to be "the greatest, the only poet of [the] time" until she got to him.
  • That’s why you can’t blame Sebastian for any shortcomings, he says, like being insipid (lacking zest). He never remembers anything the boy says for more than five minutes, and finds that Sebastian’s comments remind him of a painting called "Bubbles."
  • He compares Sebastian to Stefanie, a duchess with whom Anthony claims to have had an affair. She was enticing until she became a habit and "boredom grew like a cancer." He recommends that Charles be wary of Sebastian, as being "strangled with charm" is not a good experience for an artist "at the tenderest stage of his growth."
  • On the way home from dinner, Anthony says he’s sure that tomorrow Charles will repeat everything he’s said to Sebastian, and Sebastian will 1) not change his feelings for Anthony at all, and 2) immediately start talking about his bear.
  • Charles returns to his room for a restless night, which he cannot blame solely on the drinking. He keeps hearing Anthony’s words repeated.
  • The next morning, Sunday, Charles eats breakfast and walks through campus amongst a horde of church-goers.
  • When he arrives at Sebastian’s place, the young man is out, so he sits and waits. Sebastian returns from church, where he sat up front so that Monsignor Bell, who’s been writing home to tell Lady Marchmain that Sebastian hasn’t been attending services, would notice him.
  • Charles asks Sebastian if Anthony has ever met any of his family. No, says Sebastian, as far as he knows, though he then admits that he remembers hearing something about Anthony being in Venice when his mother was there.
  • Then Charles wants to know to know about the duchess, Stefanie, and if Anthony ever had a big affair with her.
  • Certainly not, says Sebastian, though he thinks they were stuck in an elevator together once.
  • Charles is convinced that Anthony was lying and tells Sebastian that Blanche spent all last night trying to turn him (Charles) against Sebastian. Sebastian finds this to be silly – as does his bear.

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