Study Guide

Brideshead Revisited Friendship

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"You may think it charming. I think it's devilish. Do you know he spent the whole of yesterday evening trying to turn me against you, and almost succeeded?"

"Did he? How silly. Aloysius wouldn't approve of that at all, would you, you pompous old bear?" (1.2.78-9)

This is a brilliantly constructed conclusion to the conversation with Anthony. Just as we are inclined to believe Sebastian and write off Anthony’s warning, Sebastian does exactly as Anthony predicted.

"Oh, Mummy likes everything to be a present. She's so sweet," he said, adding one more line to the picture I was forming of her.

Now Sebastian had disappeared into that other life of hi where I was not asked to follow, and I was left, instead, forlorn and regretful. (1.3.4-5)

Charles is left alone because, not having much of a family himself, he can’t understand what Sebastian is dealing with in regards to Lady Marchmain. The same thing happens with religion – the barrier of misunderstanding separates these two friends.

I saw, in my mind's eye, the pale face of Anthony Blanche, peering through the straggling leaves as it had peered through the candle flames at Thame, and heard, above the murmur of traffic, his clear tones […] "You mustn't blame Sebastian if at times he seems a little insipid. […] When I hear him talk I am reminded of that in some ways nauseating picture of 'Bubbles.' […] Boredom […] like a cancer in the breast [...]"

For days after that I thought I hated Sebastian. (1.3.94-5)

Charles recognizes that Anthony is right – Sebastian is in many ways insipid – but he loves him for it anyway. He has no illusions about his friend, but rather accepts him as he is.

"We'll have a heavenly time alone," said Sebastian, and when next morning, while I was shaving, I saw from my bathroom window Julia, with luggage at her back, drive from the forecourt and disappear at the hill's crest, without a backward glance, I felt a sense of liberation and peace such as I was to know years-later when, after a night of unrest, the sirens sounded the All Clear. (1.3.144)

Charles and Sebastian’s friendship can only exist peacefully as long they are isolated from the rest of the world.

"I think you are very fond of Sebastian," she said.

"Why, certainly."

"I know of these romantic friendships of the English and the Germans. They are not Latin. I think they are very good if they do not go on too long." (1.4.101)

Cara essentially puts an expiration date on Charles and Sebastian’s friendship – and she’s right. In many ways, their relationship is a very childish one, and cannot possibly be expected to hold up to the trials of adulthood.

It was thus that Lady Marchmain found us when, early in that Michaelmas term, she came for a week to Oxford. She found Sebastian subdued, with all his host of friends reduced to one, myself. She accepted me as Sebastian's friend and sought to make me hers also, and in doing so, unwittingly struck at the roots of our friendship. That is the single reproach I have to set against her abundant kindness to me. (1.5.27)

Cara discusses how Lord Marchmain hated Lady Marchmain and so despised anyone close to her. The same goes for Sebastian, though his hate is less extreme and definitely hidden. He can’t be friends with Charles if Charles is friends with his mother.

I had seen him grow wary at the thought of his family or his religion; now I found I, too, was suspect. He did not fail in love, but he lost his joy of it, for I was no longer part of his solitude. As my intimacy with his family grew I became part of the world which he sought to escape; I became one of the bonds which held him. (1.5.206)

This makes us wonder what drew Sebastian to Charles in the first place – was it just a way of escaping his family by forming a close bond with someone else to replace them?

"Did you have a 'little talk' with Mummy?"


"Have you gone over to her side?"

The day before I would have said: "There aren't two sides"; that day I said, "No, I'm with you, Sebastian contra mundum."

And that was all the conversation we had on the subject, then or ever. (1.5.333-7)

This is the defining moment in Charles’s relationship with Sebastian; contra mundum is the only type of friendship Sebastian is willing to have (or even capable of having).

It was repugnant to me to talk about Sebastian to Mr. Samgrass. (1.6.119)

Once he commits to the friendship, Charles is fiercely loyal to his friend.

Poor simple monk, I thought, poor booby; but he added, "You know why? He has a bottle of cognac in bed with him. It is the second I have found. No sooner do I take one away than he gets another. He is so naughty. It is the Arab boys who fetch it for him. But it is good to see him happy again when he has been so sad." (1.8.133)

Charles recognizes that Sebastian has completely duped the monk, but he doesn’t judge him for it. Those who really love Sebastian – namely Charles and Cordelia – love him unconditionally, including the alcoholism. He’s a whole package deal, and Charles takes him as he is.

"You know, Charles," he said, "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." (1.8.136)

Who takes care of whom in the Charles/Sebastian relationship?

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