Charles and his troops arrive at Brideshead Castle in the early 1940s. He begins his flashback.
Charles and Sebastian take a short road trip to Brideshead together.
Charles recalls listening to (and subsequently ignoring) Jasper’s advice and first meeting Sebastian and his friends, like Anthony Blanche.
We return to the road trip and Charles’s first visit to Brideshead. He meets Nanny Hawkins and learns that Sebastian doesn’t like his family.
Jasper tells Charles that he’s doing horribly, socially speaking.
Anthony takes Charles out to dinner and tells him all about Sebastian’s family. Charles disregards anything that negatively portrays Sebastian.
Charles goes home for the summer; many uncomfortable dinners with his father follow.
He gets news that Sebastian is dying and rushes off to Brideshead, only to hear from Julia that Sebastian’s broken a small bone in his foot. (Note the way Charles perceives Julia, as a female version of Sebastian.)
Charles spends the summer alone at Brideshead with Sebastian getting drunk on the estate’s wine collection. They discuss religion: Sebastian struggles with Catholicism; Charles is an agnostic.
Charles meets Cordelia and Bridey.
He travels to Venice with Sebastian and meets Lord Marchmain and Cara. He is informed that Sebastian is an alcoholic.
The second year at Oxford is decidedly less fun; Anthony has gone and Lady Marchmain keeps trying to keep her son in line (buzz kill!).
Charles meets (and dislikes) Mr. Samgrass.
Charles meets Rex Mottram and is invited to a charity ball. With Boy and Sebastian he sneaks away to Ma Mayfield's. After some heavy partying, they are arrested for drunk driving on the way home. They call Rex, who gets them out of jail for the night.
Back at Oxford, Charles and Sebastian are gated for the term.
At Brideshead over the Christmas vacation, Lady Marchmain tries to befriend Charles. This angers Sebastian.
Charles takes Sebastian to his home in London, where Mr. Ryder finds him amusing.
Back at Oxford, Charles notes that Sebastian’s drinking and depression are worsening.
At Easter at Brideshead, Sebastian makes a drunken fool out of himself in front of the family. Then he takes off without Charles.
Charles is left alone with Lady Marchmain, who tells him all about the book she’s putting together to commemorate her dead brother Ned.
Charles looks over the book but decides that he is on Sebastian’s side, against the rest of the world.
Lady Marchmain visits Oxford and asks Charles if Sebastian is drinking too much again. He says no, but later that night Sebastian is found stumbling around drunk. Lady Marchmain expresses a wish for Sebastian to live with Monsignor Bell, since he isn’t strong enough to keep his Catholic faith alone.
Charles is miserable after Sebastian leaves Oxford. Next Christmas, he joins them all again at Brideshead. He is concerned for Sebastian’s health.
Charles discovers that Samgrass is lying about his time with Sebastian; in truth, Sebastian escaped and has been drinking.
Charles gives Sebastian money to go to a bar with. When Lady Marchmain finds out, she guilts Charles about it. Charles asks Sebastian if he should stay at Brideshead. When he hears no, he leaves.
Charles gets a letter from Cordelia explaining that she’s been sneaking money to Sebastian for booze too. Samgrass was found out and left the estate as well, and Rex is taking Sebastian to a doctor in Germany to see about fixing that alcoholism.
Rex comes to see Charles in Paris. He explains that Lady Marchmain feels bad about blaming Charles for Sebastian. He says he wants to marry Julia but that her mother is against it. He also admits to having an affair with Brenda Champion.
In his narration, Charles discourses on Julia for a bit and explores his perceptions of her character and her reasons for marrying Rex. We get the story of their relationship, engagement, and ultimate marriage.
In 1926 Charles returns to London and bumps into Anthony and Boy. Anthony tells him about Sebastian’s condition and his new friend Kurt.
Julia runs into Charles. She tells him that her mother is dying and wants to see him. Charles goes to see Lady Marchmain, who asks him to get Sebastian for her.
Charles travels to Morocco in search of Sebastian. He finds Kurt and talks to Sebastian, who is ill in a hospital bed.
Charles returns to Brideshead after Lady Marchmain’s death and meets up with Cordelia. They discuss religion over dinner.
Charles becomes an architectural painter. He travels to South America for work.
Charles meets up with his wife in America to take the ship back to Europe. We find out that his wife is Celia, Boy’s sister, and that their marriage isn’t going so well. Charles has two kids, one of whom he hasn’t seen yet.
Julia is aboard the ship as well. During a violent storm he and she begin an affair. He listens to Julia discuss her unhappy marriage to Rex.
At the day of his exhibition, Charles meets Anthony Blanche. He tells him that his paintings aren’t as virile and wild as the critics believe.
Charles goes to Brideshead with Julia. He hears about Beryl.
When Brideshead insults his sister, Charles has a hard time calming her down.
Charles and Julia fight about religion; she hits him twice and then apologizes.
Charles and Julia set about finalizing their divorces.
Charles sees Cordelia again and thinks that her potential has been squandered. They chat with Nanny.
Julia and Charles discuss Sebastian. Charles calls him to forerunner, which makes Julia nervous that she is the forerunner to someone else.
Cordelia updates Charles on Sebastian. He is in Tunis, living at a monastery.
When Lord Marchmain returns to Brideshead to die, Charles spends a good deal of time with him and Julia. He is thrilled though ashamed to admit it when Lord Marchmain announces that he wants to leave Brideshead to Charles and Julia, rather than to Bridey and Beryl.
Charles, Julia, Brideshead, and Cordelia fight over whether or not Lord Marchmain should see a priest on his death bed. The religious wing wins out, and Charles finds himself hoping that the old man will show a sign that he believes in God.
Julia breaks up with Charles.
In the epilogue, we return to the middle-aged Charles telling his story. He explores the Brideshead estate and visits with Nanny Hawkins, who updates him on the family.
Before he leaves, Charles finds himself driven by the flame in the chapel to reflect optimistically on "the builders and the tragedians."