Places: Brideshead Revisited

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1945

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBrideshead Manor

Brideshead Brideshead RevisitedManor. Imposing English country estate of the Marchmain family where troops are to be quartered in the early days of World War II and the location where this frame novel opens. The bulk of the novel comprises flashback memories of the house and its family of Charles Ryder, an army captain when the novel begins. Earlier, while a student at Oxford University, he befriends Sebastian Flyte, the younger son of Brideshead’s Lord Marchmain. From Charles’s first visit to Brideshead as a young man he senses the place’s importance to the Marchmains as he is drawn into their family circle. In addition to the home’s strong family associations, Charles comes to realize that it and its art nouveau chapel are emblematic of the strong Roman Catholic faith that guides the family even when their behavior is anything but exemplary.

*Oxford University

*Oxford University. Historic English university that is novel’s second great anchor. There Charles meets Sebastian and most of the friends he retains through the rest of his life. The heady charm of Oxford’s dreaming spires and intense friendships of youth influence Charles more than the university’s intellectual opportunities. The unimaginably wealthy and charming Sebastian introduces Charles to a new world of art and pleasure. Although Charles leaves Oxford without taking a degree and becomes a successful artist, Oxford continues to inspire him and remain a touchstone of his youth.

Ryder family home

Ryder family home. Charles’s childhood home and his life there with his widower father serve as a counterpoint to the glamour of Brideshead and Oxford. After blowing his allowance too quickly at Oxford, Charles returns to a dull life with his father. Eventually it becomes clear his father’s bemused detachment is the model for his son’s inability to attach to his own wife and children, as the glamour of the Marchmains becomes his only reality.

*Venice

*Venice. Italian city in which Lord Marchmain has lived with his mistress, Cara, for years. After Charles escapes the tedium of his family home, he and Sebastian decamp to Venice, where he finds that Sebastian’s father and mistress are a sedate middle-aged couple who are received in the best homes. The wise Cara is a counterpoint to the manipulative and devoutly religious Lady Marchmain at Brideshead. Charles’s Venice sojourn, like his earlier experiences at Oxford and Brideshead, are important learning experiences. Moreover, the lush beauty of all three places helps form Charles’s sensibilities as an artist.

*London

*London. Capital of Great Britain and cultural and commercial center of the British Empire. Charles spends much of his adult life in London, where his Oxford contacts help advance his artistic career. Evelyn Waugh depicts London and Charles’s friends there as stagnant and without the allure of Brideshead, Oxford, Venice, and exotic places on which Charles bases his art. The chief characters of Brideshead Revisited do not thrive in London.

Ocean liner

Ocean liner. Ship on which Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia are reunited during a transatlantic voyage. At sea, attached to no firm ground, Charles begins an affair with Julia while his seasick wife is confined to her cabin.

*North Africa

*North Africa. After Sebastian becomes a confirmed alcoholic, he roams around North Africa, supported by family funds. He gains a sense of purpose caring for a German boy fleeing conscription by the Nazis but continues to drink. He finally turns up on the doorstep of a monastery in Tunis. Although he appears to be at the point of death, the monks nurse him back to life. He joins the remote monastery as a lay brother. The monks tolerate his alcoholism and come to believe him a holy man. Sebastian’s final fate and home in Tunis force Charles to ponder anew the connections between charm, religious faith, and a love of beautiful places in the Marchmain family.

Sources for Further StudyCook, William J., Jr. Masks, Modes, and Morals: The Art of Evelyn Waugh. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971. A valuable source because Cook analyzes the point of view employed in each of the novels. It is a commonplace observation that Waugh’s style changed in mid-career (just before publication of Brideshead Revisited); Cook argues that the altered point of view accounts for the stylistic change.Davis, Robert Murray. Brideshead Revisited: The Past Redeemed. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Summarizes the novel’s historical context, importance, and critical reactions, analyzing Waugh’s style and narrative technique. Includes chronology of Waugh’s life, bibliographical references, index.Davis, Robert Murray. “Imagined Space in Brideshead Revisited.” In Evelyn Waugh: New Directions, edited by Alain Blayac. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. This essay confronts the problem of a sometimes unlikable narrator who is at the center of the entire novel.Ker, Ian. “Evelyn Waugh: The Priest as Craftsman.” The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. Discusses Waugh’s practical understanding of Catholic life, including the portrayal of Catholicism as a lived faith in Brideshead Revisited. Includes index.Lygon, Lady Dorothy. “Madresfield and Brideshead.” In Evelyn Waugh and His World, edited by David Pryce-Jones. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973. An essay by one of Waugh’s intimate friends. Discusses the country house that was the model for the fictional Brideshead.McCartney, George. Confused Roaring: Evelyn Waugh and the Modernist Tradition. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987. Explores Waugh’s place among authors of the modernist tradition, discussing metaphysical, aesthetic, epistemological, and other themes in Waugh’s collected works. Includes bibliographical references, index.Patey, Douglas Lane. “Brideshead Revisited.” In The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998. A concise study that addresses the novel’s autobiographical aspect as well as its Catholic and aesthetic themes. Includes bibliographical references, index.Quennell, Peter. “A Kingdom of Cokayne.” In Evelyn Waugh and His World, edited by David Pryce-Jones. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973. A reminiscence of the Waugh whom the author knew at Oxford. Provides excellent background information for the Oxford segment of Brideshead Revisited.Wilson, Edmund. “Splendors and Miseries of Evelyn Waugh.” In Critical Essays on Evelyn Waugh, edited by James F. Carens. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. After having praised the young Evelyn Waugh as a comic genius, Wilson in this essay reflects his disappointment with Brideshead Revisited.
Categories: Places