Study Guide

Brideshead Revisited Book 1: Chapter 4

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Book 1: Chapter 4

  • Charles reflects on Youth, and more particularly, the languor or relaxation which goes with it. Languor belongs only to youth, he says, and can never be recaptured later in life. This is what he experienced that summer with Sebastian at Brideshead, and he believes he was very close to heaven in those days.
  • Sebastian is discussing Brideshead Castle with Charles and explains that it doesn’t really belong to him, since it is "full of ravening beasts" at the moment.
  • Living at Brideshead is to Charles an aesthetic education, though Sebastian is unconcerned with the history or facts of the architecture and design. ("What does it matter when it was built if it’s pretty?" he asks.)
  • Sebastian convinces his friend to draw the grandiose fountain in the center of the terrace. He does, and at Sebastian’s order gives it not to Lady Marchmain, but to Nanny Hawkins.
  • Charles feels his aesthetic predilections shifting to the baroque as the summer continues.
  • One day the young men find a set of oil paints and decide to decorate the office. Charles paints a romantic landscape, without figures, which comes out rather well, if he does say so himself.
  • Some time later they realize there’s enough old wine in the cellar to keep them quite happy ("enough" = 4 bottles a night between them) for the rest of the summer.
  • Of course, the topic of religion soon arises. Charles himself has no religion, and always considered it a myth that had finally been exposed. But Sebastian was of course raised a strict Catholic, which he admits is difficult.
  • Sebastian says he prays every day to be made good, but not yet. To Charles’s great surprise, he believes in the story of Christmas and Jesus. He believes in it because it is "a lovely idea."
  • Charles wants to know: if Sebastian believes in it all, where is the difficulty? But Sebastian only responds that if Charles can’t see it, he can’t see it.
  • A week or so later, the young men are sunbathing on the roof when Sebastian reveals that his older brother, Brideshead, is coming home, and they shall have to hide to avoid him. He informs Charles that Brideshead is the craziest of all of them, and used to want to be a priest, and now he doesn’t know what he wants. He was upset with their father’s departure because the church doesn’t believe in divorce.
  • He then reveals that his father isn’t much of a religious man anyway, and only converted to Catholicism in order to marry their mother. Charles should meet Sebastian's father, Sebastian says, as he’s "a very nice man."
  • Sebastian claims he’s always been his father’s favorite, and that he’s the only one of the four children who doesn’t hate him now.
  • Religion has hit his family members in such different ways. But all Sebastian wants is happiness, and religion doesn’t seem to have much to do with happiness.
  • Catholics, he says, have an outlook on life completely different than that of other people. It’s difficult to belong to this "clique," as he calls it, since he and Julia are both semi-heathens.
  • Just then Cordelia, Sebastian’s 11-year-old sister, comes clamoring onto the roof. Charles and Sebastian cover themselves up quickly (they were sunbathing, remember?).
  • Like most 11-year-old girls, Cordelia does all the talking, mostly about her pig, named Francis Xavier, and the lovely new painting in the office (which Charles created), and how they must come to dinner with her and "Bridey."
  • Dinner gives Charles the opportunity to observe Sebastian's brother closely for the first time. Though Brideshead is only a few years Charles’s senior, he seems much older, full of "gravity" and "restraint."
  • Charles also hears that Cordelia is a troublemaker at her Catholic school, and reveals himself an agnostic, not an atheist.
  • They begin discussing the church on the estate and whether or not it will be closed, since no one really uses it anyway. Brideshead asks Charles, as an artist, what he thinks of the building aesthetically. It’s probably good art, he says, though he’s loath to define that very term. He adds that, personally, he doesn’t like it very much, which raises the question, from Brideshead, whether there’s a difference between liking something and thinking it good.
  • Charles reflects that this conversation reveals a division between himself and Brideshead; they will never really understand each other.
  • After dinner, Brideshead whisks Sebastian away to deal with estate-related business, leaving Charles with Cordelia who, despite chiding from her brother, calls him by his first name instead of "Mr. Ryder." She tells Charles that, since he’s an agnostic, she’ll pray for him.
  • She adds that, if he weren’t an agnostic, he could buy a black goddaughter "from some nuns in Africa." You pay five shillings and they name a baby after you. She has "six black Cordelias already," a scenario she finds to be quite "lovely."
  • Shortly after, Sebastian’s siblings depart and leave him alone with Charles once again. They decide to go to Venice together and visit Lord Marchmain.
  • Upon arrival, they are greeted by Lord Marchmain’s valet, a man named Plender, who takes them by gondola to Marchmain’s "palace."
  • The place is bare, with little extraneous furniture, mosquito nets on the bed, and the bathroom built in where a chimney used to be.
  • When they finally meet Sebastian’s father, he seems rather normal – the tall, dark, and handsome type. Charles is also shocked at Sebastian’s ease with his father (especially given Charles’s own strained relationship with dad back home) and at Lord Marchmain’s casual mention of a mistress, as though it were nothing.
  • The mistress’s name is Cara, and she’s away visiting friends. The three men have dinner together, and Charles wonders that this man, who seems so young, is somehow the same age as his own father.
  • The next day Charles meets Cara. He must have expected Julia Roberts in knee-high boots, because he’s shocked to find a well-dressed, middle-aged woman, seemingly unmarked by social stigma.
  • Cara acts as their tour guide around Venice, showing them all the tourist-y spots.
  • The young men stay in Venice for two weeks, which passes dreamily. Charles is perfectly happy there. One night Sebastian looks up at a statue and declares that he and Charles can never possibly get involved in a war, which he finds to be sad.
  • One day Charles finds himself alone with Cara, which gives her the opportunity to tell him about his friendship with Sebastian. It’s a special relationship, she says, that exists between young men of their age – romantic friendships, a kind of love whose meaning isn’t known to them yet. It’s better, she explains, for young men to have that kind of love for another man before he has it for a woman.
  • That was Lord Marchmain’s problem, Cara says. His first love was Lady Marchmain, and now he hates her. He doesn’t even love Cara, but only stays with her to protect himself from his wife. He hates her so much, Cara says, that he can’t even be in the same country as her. He can’t bear to be around people who may have spoken to her recently or are headed in her direction. That’s why he isn’t social – not because he’s been rejected by society, but because he refuses to be around those who run in the same circles as his wife.
  • All this hate, she explains, comes from his having loved her before he was grown-up enough to do so.
  • Meanwhile, she says, Sebastian is in love with his own childhood. He also drinks too much, which will ruin him. He has a certain way of drinking, different than Charles…
  • The summer vacation ends, and Charles returns home to his father, who inquires about the weather. Later that night he asks about Charles’s dying friend, about whom he was so worried.

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