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Themes

The narrator of Brideshead Revisited struggles to understand and define love over the course of two decades. The novel explores many different kinds of love, from the "romantic" but not necessarily sexual love between young men to sexual relationships between men to stilted marriages to sibling relationships. One unique perspective the novel offers is the idea of a first and second love: boys experience this first love shortly before they become men. It is an immature forerunner to the mature, complete love he will experience next. By the end of the novel, however, even this has been called into question, as the narrator wonders if perhaps all loves are simply a forerunner to the next, ad infinitum…

Questions About Love

  1. It’s pretty clear that Charles in no way loves his wife once he gets back from South America. (See "Character Analysis" for more detail.) Has he fallen victim to the same problem of a first love that Cara claimed plagued Lord Marchmain’s marriage? Or was Sebastian Charles’s problematic first love?
  2. After Charles and Julia have finalized their divorces and are planning to marry, Cordelia describes their relationship with the words "thwarted passion." What does she mean by this? IS their relationship thwarted? If so, what is responsible for the thwarting – religion? Family? How could Cordelia, who has seen them for about two minutes after many absent years, conclude this so quickly?
  3. Charles tells Julia that Sebastian was the forerunner to their love. He wonders if Sebastian is with him, through Julia, or if Julia was with him through Sebastian. Whom does he actually love, and who is just his way of getting closer to the other?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Charles loves Julia as a piece of beautiful art, not as a person.

In Brideshead Revisited, love is essentially the ability to communicate honestly.

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