Brideshead Revisited revolves around a close friendship between two young men who meet in college. Loyalty is tested when friendship comes in conflict with family, and a territorial sense of ownership means tensions run high. The relationship between these young men or may not be sexual in nature, but it is undeniably one of unconditional love. Friendship is an isolating force in this novel; the closer the two young men become, the less they care to interact with the rest of the world. And the more the world impinges on their time together, the further they are driven apart.
Charles and Sebastian’s friendship is only possible in isolation from the rest of the world.
Charles and Sebastian’s friendship is predicated upon mutual deception.
Catholicism is a main focus of Brideshead Revisited. From hurried pre-wedding conversions to dinner-table debates on dogma, religion dominates the novel’s thematic focus. Every character struggles with religion in one way or another, even the agnostic central character. The one concept everyone seems to agree on is that to be holy is to suffer. In accordance with this principle, the most religious characters in the novel choose to suffer to be closer to God. Waugh explained that his intention was for every character to accept divine grace in his own way, though critics disagree on whether the novel ultimately reads for or against Catholicism.
Religion tore Sebastian and Charles apart, yet drove Julia and Charles together.
Religion prevents Charles from ever being close to any of the Flyte children.
Family is a huge source of conflict in Brideshead Revisited. The novel takes place in England over the course of the 1920s and '30s, when rank and titles among the aristocracy meant that expectations were high and obligations strict; men were expected to act as the head of estates and women to marry a suitable match. Family is also the source of much of the religious conflict in the novel, since children are raised according to their mother’s religion. More than one essentially forced conversion goes down within the course of the narrative, and always in the name of marriage and family.
Family is a purely negative influence in Brideshead Revisited.
Charles seeks a replacement family by becoming part of the Flytes.
Brideshead Revisited is told as a first-person narrative by a middle-aged man recalling what, for him, were much better days: his college years at Oxford and the decade that followed. While his memories are laced with the bitter melancholy of nostalgia, the act of remembering is ultimately a positive one. The narrator learns from his recollection and, despite the sad and destructive end to his story, is enlightened and buoyed by the process.
It is only through the process of recollection – through revisiting Brideshead and everything it represents to him – that Charles is able come to peace with his past and end the novel on an optimistic note.
Youth is repeatedly referred to as "Arcadia," or heaven, in Brideshead Revisited. The novel is told as the recollection of a middle-aged man, so it may well be that a pair of rose-colored glasses is tainting the vision. Nevertheless, youth is presented in all the hazy splendor of a lovely, eternal dream. From lazy days drinking champagne to long strolls in gardens to narrator’s first, eye-opening introduction to a world of art and architecture, there’s little to dislike in this Arcadian paradise.
Charles and Sebastian’s friendship was dependent on youth and could not exist once they both became adults.
Brideshead Revisited is the story of a young man’s aesthetic education as he discovers a world of architectural beauty and struggles to build a life as an artist. Nearly all the novel’s main relationships revolve around aesthetics, from love affairs based on beauty to friendships based on friendships built solely around artistic instruction. One idea explored in the novel is the threat of charm to artistic sensibilities. British charm in particular, claims one aesthete, is deadly, as it will strangle artistic passion by keeping it all neat and orderly.
In Brideshead Revisited, Charles finds God through art.
Through his novel, Waugh condemns Charles’s attempt to replace God with art.
Alcoholism is at the center of Brideshead Revisited and essentially destroys a beautiful, charming young man. Of course, the alcoholism itself is driven by a slew of other problems, namely family and religion. The young man in question turns to the substance as a means of escaping, retreating further and further into self-imposed isolation by means of intense bouts of drinking. As is said many times in the novel, alcohol is used primarily as an escape.
Each character’s love for Sebastian is tested – and either proved or disproved – through his or her reaction to his alcoholism.
Brideshead Revisited offers a view into the world of British aristocracy in the 1920s and '30s. Titles, rank, and the obligations that go with them threaten to determine the course of each character’s life. Wealth in particular is a focus of the novel, especially the vulgar extravagance of the British upper class which is repeatedly compared to the natural beauty of places like Morocco, Tunis, or South America.
Lady Marchmain uses religion to mask her classist discriminations.
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…
Charles loves Julia as a piece of beautiful art, not as a person.
In Brideshead Revisited, love is essentially the ability to communicate honestly.