Study Guide

Brideshead Revisited Love

By Evelyn Waugh


Here my last love died. There was nothing remarkable in the manner of its death. One day, not long before this last day in camp, as I lay awake before reveille, […] in that dark hour, I was aghast to realize that something within me, long sickening, had quietly died, and felt as a husband might feel, who, in the fourth year of his marriage, suddenly knew that he had no longer any desire, or tenderness, or esteem, for a once-beloved wife; […] we had been through it together, the army and I, from the first importunate courtship until now, when nothing remained to us except the chill bonds of law and duty and custom. […] She was stripped of all enchantment now and I knew her for an uncongenial stranger to whom I had bound myself indissolubly in a moment of folly. (prologue.5)

Charles once called Sebastian the "forerunner" to his love for Julia, and wondered if everyone he loved successively was just a forerunner to something else. It looks like the army came after Julia; does the end of the novel leave any hope for a new love for Charles?

I could tell him, too, that to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom. But I felt no need for these sophistries as I sat before my cousin […]. So I told him what was not in fact the truth, that I usually had a glass of champagne about that time, and asked him to join me. (1.2.21)

I could tell him, too, that to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom. But I felt no need for these sophistries as I sat before my cousin […]. So I told him what was not in fact the truth, that I usually had a glass of champagne about that time, and asked him to join me. (1.2.21)

She so much resembled Sebastian that, sitting beside her in the gathering dusk, I was confused by the double illusion of familiarity and strangeness. Thus, looking through strong lenses one may watch a man approaching from afar, study every detail of his face and clothes, believe one has only to put out a hand to touch him, marvel that he does not hear one, and look up as one moves, and then seeing him with the naked eye suddenly remember that one is to him a distant speck, doubtfully human. I knew her and she did not know me. (1.3.116)

Charles’s love for Julia is only a misplaced desire for her brother Sebastian. He’s only attracted to her for her physical resemblance to him.

"It is a kind of love that comes to children before they know its meaning. In England it comes when you are almost men; I think I like that. It is better to have that kind of love for another boy than for a girl. Alex you see had it for a girl, for his wife." (1.4.229)

Is Cara correct in comparing Lord Marchmain’s love for his wife with Charles’s love for Sebastian? Does Charles ever come to despise Sebastian the way Lord Marchmain does his wife? Or is he spared this emotion because Sebastian is another man?

She had made a preposterous little picture of the kind of man who would do […] and she was in search of him when she met me at the railway station. I was not her man. She told me as much, without a word, when she took the cigarette from my lips. (1.7.18)

Julia isn’t capable of loving Charles when she first meets him because she hasn’t grown up yet. It’s not until she realizes how silly her preconceptions about love and marriage are, and how absurd her prerequisites for a husband, that she becomes an adult.

All this I learned about Julia, bit by bit, from the stories she told, from guesswork, knowing her, from what her friends said, from the odd expressions she now and then let slip, from occasional dreamy monologues of reminiscences; I learned it as one does learn the former – as it seems at the time, the preparatory – life of a woman one loves, so that one thinks of oneself as part of it, directing it by devious ways, towards oneself. (1.7.19)

Notice how Charles hints at his eventual love affair with Julia before we are told of it explicitly.

From being agreeable, he became indispensable to her; from having been proud of him in public she became a little ashamed, but by that time, between Christmas and Easter, he had become indispensable. And then, without in the least expecting it, she suddenly found herself in love. (1.7.28)

Julia’s love with Rex stems from convenience, whereas for love for Charles is one of deep emotional need.

"You didn't wonder if I should have fallen in love with someone else in the meantime?"

"No. Have you?"

"You know I haven't. Have you?"

"No. I'm not in love." (2.1.51-4)

Talk about a loaded conversation. Charles doesn’t mean that he hasn’t fallen in love with anyone else; he means that he isn’t in love at all – even with his wife.

"I'm glad about the roses," said Julia. "Frankly, they were a shock. They made me think we were starting the day on quite the wrong footing."

I knew what she meant, and in that moment felt as though I had shaken off some of the dust and grit of ten dry years; then and always, however she spoke to me – in half sentences, single words, stock phrases of contemporary jargon, in scarcely perceptible movements of eyes or lips or hands – however inexpressible her thought, however quick and far it had glanced from the matter in hand, however deep it had plunged, as it often did, straight from the surface to the depths, I knew; even that day when I still stood on the extreme verge of love, I knew what she meant. (2.1.290-1)

Love in Brideshead Revisited is all about the ability to communicate. Charles and Sebastian shared this, and now he and Julia have the same bond.

Perhaps […] all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.

I had not forgotten Sebastian. He was with me daily in Julia; or rather it was Julia I had known in him, in those distant, Arcadian days. (2.4.67-8)

If what Charles says is true – if people like Sebastian and Julia are merely temporary vessels for some sort of lifelong emotion – does that undermine or devalue his relationships with them?

"You and Julia . . ."she said. And then, as we moved on towards the house, "When you met me last night did you think, 'Poor Cordelia, such an engaging child, grown up a plain and pious spinster, full of good works'? Did you think 'thwarted'?"

It was no time for prevarication. "Yes," I said, "I did; I don't now, so much."

"It's funny," she said, "that's exactly the word I thought of for you and Julia. When we were up in the nursery with Nanny. Thwarted passion,' I thought." (2.4.97-100)

Compare this to Anthony’s description of Charles’s paintings from South America – he seems to think that Charles’s talent has been "thwarted," too. Looks like more of that connection between love and art.