Lady Marchmain, the stanchly Catholic mother of Sebastian and Julia, who are in revolt from her as well as from their religion. After her death, her rebellious husband and children are drawn back to the values of the Church.
The Marquis of Marchmain, Lady Marchmain’s husband and the owner of Brideshead. For many years he has lived with his mistress in Italy. After the death of his wife, he returns to Brideshead with his mistress to spend his last days. Although he is in failing health, he refuses to see a priest: but as he is dying, the priest is brought in, and Lord Marchmain makes the sign of the cross.
Brideshead (Bridey) Marchmain, the oldest of their children. A pompous man, he marries a self-righteous widow with three children.
Sebastian Marchmain, Charles Ryder’s friend, an ineffectual though clever and charming young man. His rebellion takes the form of severe alcoholism. After years of aimless wandering, he tries to enter a monastery in Carthage and is refused. Unconscious from drink, he is carried into the monastery by the monks. He plans to stay there as under-porter for the rest of his life.
Julia Marchmain, whose form of rebellion is to marry a rich but socially inferior Protestant of whom her mother disapproves. Though he is willing to be converted, it is discovered that he is divorced, and they are forced to marry in a Protestant ceremony. Later Julia falls in love with Charles and has an affair with him, but, believing that to marry him would only magnify the sin, she gives him up.
Cordelia Marchmain, the youngest of the four children. On returning from Spain, where she worked with an ambulance corps, she tells her family about Sebastian, whom she visited.
Cara, Lord Marchmain’s lifelong mistress.
Rex Mottram, Julia’s vital and ambitious but ill-bred husband.
Boy Mulcaster and
Anthony Blanche, Oxford friends of Sebastian and Charles.
Celia Ryder, Boy Mulcaster’s sister and Charles’ wife.
Beryl Muspratt, a widow with three children. Engaged to Bridey, she refuses to come to Brideshead because Charles and Julia are living there in sin. Traveling with Bridey in Italy after their marriage, she meets Lord Marchmain, who dislikes her.
Kurt, Sebastian’s roommate and companion in Fez. Kurt is seized by Germans and taken back to Germany. Sebastian follows him, but after Kurt hangs himself in a concentration camp, Sebastian returns to Morocco.
Mr. Samgrass, who is employed in doing some literary work for Lady Marchmain. She hires him also to keep Sebastian away from alcohol, but the plan is doomed to failure.
Father Mackay, the priest whom the Marchmain children and Cara bring to the bedside of the dying Lord Marchmain.
Johnjohn Ryder and
Caroline Ryder, children of Charles and Celia.