I was inspired to read this book after a stellar review during last year’s Cannonball read, and have finally been able to finish it! And I must say, I wasn’t disappointed, as all the characters are rich and interesting, as is the weaving in and out of the relationships between both people and their sense of religion.
Brideshead Revisited itself begins with protagonist Charles Ryder, an English army officer in the 1940s, coming upon the old Marchmain estate of Brideshead, where his dear friend, Sebastian, used to live. The rest of the story then deals with Charles remembering his past, and all the events that occurred in his life that has some relation to the family at Brideshead.
We first see Charles as a young college student, who is at a little bit of a loss as to where his life as headed, only to meet a young man named Sebastian Flyte, the youngest son of the aristocratic Lord Marchmain. Charles and Sebastian become fast and close friends, which results in Charles going to meet the rest of Sebastian’s aristocratic family at their home at Brideshead. Over the years, due to turmoil between the separated Lord and Lady Marchmain, as well as strife in regards to an inconsistency in religiousness between members of the family, Sebastian becomes severely depressed and alcoholic, effectively drifting away from his friendship with Charles. With this separation from Sebastian, Charles effectively becomes estranged from the Marchmains as well. Charles, however, during his time at Brideshead, has found a passion with architectural painting, and pursues this career with great rewards, including a wife with many artistic connections. Yet on a trip across the sea with his wife, Charles runs into Sebastian’s sister, Julia, and the two find themselves falling for one another, despite the fact that both of them are married. Questions of the validity of divorce, death, and Catholicism are raised in the short time after Charles and Julia come together, and the two must then decide what they truly want to do in regards to their relationship.
The lively but clearly distressed character of Sebastian was one of my personal favorites, as he was like a puzzle to try and solve: how can you truly know someone when they barely ever let you know what they are truly thinking and feeling? Because of his flighty exterior with clear conflict inside, this made Sebastian’s relationship with Charles all the more interesting, particularly when Charles also became entwined with the rest of the Marchmain’s, and then had to traverse the fine lines between all of these different relationships with their differing strengths.
I will admit, that at first, it took me a bit of effort to get into Brideshead Revisited, but once I could clearly picture the era and social class being depicted in my mind, things began reading more smoothly. But more than anything, I enjoyed following the peculiar life of Charles Ryder, so removed and not relatable to my own that it took me out of my world with ease.
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