What’s Up With the Title?
(Note: This section is about the title of the novel, "Brideshead Revisited." For a discussion of the two internal titles, "Book One, Et in Arcadia Ego" and "Book Two, A Twitch Upon the Thread," see Shmoop’s "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory.")
Brideshead refers to the country estate where the Flytes live. Charles’s relationship with Sebastian is almost eclipsed by his relationship to the Brideshead estate itself. (Notice that, at the start of his recollection, Charles first recounts his initial visit to Brideshead Castle and only then steps back in time to reveal his first meeting with Sebastian.) His dream of marrying Julia is similarly overwhelmed by the possibility of his inheriting the estate. And though the characters around Charles come and go and his relationships with them shift, evolve, and even disintegrate, it is always Brideshead that remains – the frame story is the clearest proof of this.
Part of the reason for Charles’s utter fascination with the estate is his profession: he’s an artist. He appreciates beauty, and in particular architecture, which we know becomes his specialty. Check out this passage: "I regarded men as something much less than the buildings they made and inhabited, as mere lodgers and short-term sub-lessees of small importance in the long, fruitful life of their homes." Remember also that Charles paints a medallion on the wall of the garden-room at every one of his visits. The house is literally a record of his growth as an artist. So Brideshead itself hits on one big theme in the book: aesthetics.
After you read Charles’s "Character Analysis," you should be comfortable with the idea that, for him, art is a religion. Or at least it’s his initial substitute for a belief in God. This means that Brideshead – the epitome of architectural beauty and Charles’s gateway into a world of aesthetics and art – is very much tied to the second of the novel’s central themes: religion.
Lastly, Charles draws a parallel between Brideshead and his younger, happier days. He doesn’t consciously become an adult until the moment he drives away from Brideshead. He narrates: "As I drove away and turned back in the car to take what promised to be my last view of the house, I felt that I was leaving part of myself behind. […] I had left behind me – what? Youth? Adolescence? Romance? The conjuring stuff of these things." This means we can connect Brideshead to another focus of the novel: youth.
All these connections add up to one big conclusion: Charles isn’t just "revisiting" Brideshead. He’s revisiting everything that Brideshead stands for – his artistic growth, his journey towards Catholicism, his youth, even his romance with Julia. We’re not just talking about a building here.
The other thing to address in the title is the little addendum, "The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder." "Profane" isn’t talking about swear words here – it actually means "secular." So the book is devoted both to the sacred (or religious) and the profane (or non-religious). As the title suggests, religion is…complicated in Brideshead Revisited. Waugh supposedly intended the novel to be a portrait of divine grace, but many believe it is pitted against Catholicism. Charles, initially an agnostic and eventually a Catholic, struggles deeply with both the magnetic pull of religion and the desires of his secular life – both the sacred and the profane.