by Evelyn Waugh
Kurt is Sebastian’s German friend whom he takes up with once he leaves England. We first hear of Kurt through Anthony (what else is new), who describes him as "a great clod of a German who'd been in the Foreign Legion" and "got out by shooting off his great toe." Sebastian apparently "found him starving" and took him in like a stray cat.
Once Charles finally meet this character, it’s clear that Anthony wasn’t too far off the mark; Kurt is unattractive, dislikable, and altogether cringe-inducing. Charles notes his "wolfish look" and "unnaturally lined" face, that "one of his front teeth [is] missing" and that those "teeth he had were stained with tobacco and set far apart." Yet his defining physical feature seems to the pus oozing out of his injured foot. (Grimace now.) He’s lounging in a chair and drinking beer brought to him by the servant Sebastian pays for. He seems utterly unconcerned that his friend is ill and in the hospital, and his main worry is that Charles convince Lady Marchmain, who he knows is dying, to send more money.
Amazingly enough, Sebastian is completely aware of Kurt’s shortcomings. He tells Charles to arrange his finances so that he gets a limited allowance every week and only when he "ha[s] a proper use for it." "Otherwise," explains Sebastian, "Kurt will get me to sign off on the whole lot when I’m tight and then he’ll go off and get into all kinds of trouble." Then here’s The Big Question: why in the world is Sebastian friends with a man who’s milking him for everything he’s got?
You might suspect that lust has something to do with it, that Sebastian is engaged in a sexual relationship with Kurt. But Brideshead asks Charles this very thing when he says, "Do you consider that there is anything vicious in my brother’s connection with this German?" ("Vicious" is yet another outdated, politically incorrect word for "gay.") Charles answers definitively that he is sure this is not the case. "It’s simply […] two waifs coming together," he says.
But it is Sebastian who very fully answers this big question for us (and for Charles), in this oh-so important passage, which we’re sure by now you have all underlined, highlighted, and dog-eared to death like good, aggressive readers:
"You know, Charles, it’s rather a pleasant change when all your life you’ve had people looking after you, to have someone to look after yourself. Only of course it has to be someone pretty hopeless to need looking after by me."
This raises some interesting question regarding the nature of Sebastian’s earlier relationship with Charles. As he says in the hospital in Morocco, "I won’t ask if you like Kurt; no one does. It’s funny – I couldn’t get on without him, you know." Sebastian may be taking care of Kurt, but he’s entirely dependent upon him. Sebastian needs someone to take care of, which makes us wonder if that’s what Charles was all about for him back at Oxford. After all, we know that Sebastian took over as Charles’s aesthetic teacher (see each of their "Character Analyses" for more) and introduced him to the "enchanted garden" of his acquaintances and lifestyle in college. Has Sebastian simply replaced Charles with Kurt, or are these two very different kinds of relationships? Take it away, Shmooper.