Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited
By Evelyn Waugh

“Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh is a literary masterpiece that explores the themes of love, religion, and class in pre-World War II England. Through the use of symbolism, flashbacks, and foreshadowing, Waugh presents a vivid and captivating portrayal of the decline of the aristocratic world and the search for spiritual meaning in a changing society. This novel is a must-read for anyone interested in the complexities of human relationships and the intricacies of British culture.

Themes 📚

  1. Religion: Religion is a dominant theme in “Brideshead Revisited,” as the characters grapple with their faith and beliefs. From the devout Catholicism of the Marchmain family to the spiritual journey of protagonist Charles Ryder, the novel explores the role of religion in shaping identity and providing meaning in a rapidly changing world.
  2. Love: Love, in all its forms, is a central theme in the novel. Charles Ryder’s relationships with the Marchmain family members, particularly his romantic attachments to Sebastian and Julia, reveal the complexities of love and desire in a society bound by convention and tradition.
  3. Class: The novel also examines the rigid class system of British society in the early 20th century. The Marchmain family’s aristocratic background is contrasted with Charles Ryder’s middle-class upbringing, highlighting the social and economic barriers that defined relationships and opportunities.
  4. Memory: Memory is a recurring theme in the novel, as the story is told through a series of flashbacks. Charles Ryder’s nostalgic recollections of his time at Brideshead and his relationships with the Marchmain family members reveal the power of memory to shape one’s perception of the past and the present.
  5. Art: Art, particularly architecture and painting, plays a significant role in the novel. The descriptions of Brideshead and the artistic pursuits of the characters highlight the importance of aesthetics and creativity in shaping identity and providing meaning in a changing world.
  6. Death: Death is a pervasive theme in the novel, as the characters confront mortality and the impermanence of life. The Marchmain family’s struggle with illness and addiction serves as a reminder of the fragility of human existence and the inevitability of death.

Use of Literary Devices ✍🏽

  1. Symbolism: Throughout the novel, objects and events are imbued with symbolic meaning. For example, Brideshead itself represents the decline of the aristocracy, while the painting of the Madonna and Child represents the religious faith of the Marchmain family.
  2. Flashback: The novel is told through a series of flashbacks, as Charles Ryder reminisces about his time with the Marchmain family. This literary device allows for a nonlinear narrative structure and adds depth to the characters and their relationships.
  3. Irony: The use of irony is prevalent in the novel, particularly in the depiction of the Marchmain family’s Catholicism. Their religious faith is contrasted with their immoral behavior, highlighting the hypocrisy and contradictions of human nature.
  4. Foreshadowing: Waugh employs foreshadowing to create suspense and build tension in the novel. For example, the ominous references to the “Flyte Curse” hint at the family’s dark secrets and tragic history.
  5. Metaphor: Metaphors are used to convey complex ideas and emotions in the novel. For instance, Charles describes Sebastian as a “teddy bear” to express his affection and protectiveness towards him.
  6. Allusion: Waugh makes numerous allusions to literary and historical figures throughout the novel. These references add depth and complexity to the themes and characters, and invite the reader to engage with the text on multiple levels.
  7. Imagery: The use of vivid imagery is a hallmark of Waugh’s writing, and “Brideshead Revisited” is no exception. The descriptions of Brideshead and its surroundings create a rich and immersive world, while the portrayal of the characters’ emotions and experiences is heightened through sensory detail.
  8. Juxtaposition: The juxtaposition of contrasting elements is used to highlight themes and ideas in the novel. For example, the opulence and grandeur of Brideshead are contrasted with the decay and decline of the aristocracy.
  9. Sarcasm: Sarcasm and wit are prevalent throughout the novel, particularly in the dialogue between the characters. These literary devices add humor and irony to the narrative, and reveal the characters’ personalities and motivations.
  10. Personification: Waugh uses personification to give life to inanimate objects and abstract concepts. For example, the “Flyte Curse” is personified as a malevolent force that haunts the family, while the house of Brideshead is personified as a character in its own right.

Examples of Literary Devices 📋


1. Charles’s initial meeting with SebastianWhen Charles first meets Sebastian at Oxford, the reader can sense the importance of this encounter, foreshadowing the impact their friendship will have on Charles’s life.
2. Charles’s fascination with the Marchmain familyCharles’s early fascination with the Marchmain family foreshadows the significant role they will play in his life and emotional development.
3. Julia’s emotional turmoilJulia’s emotional turmoil and inner conflict foreshadow her ultimate decision to leave Charles in order to remain faithful to her religion.


1. Charles’s time at OxfordThe story is structured with flashbacks, beginning with Charles as a soldier reflecting on his past, particularly his time at Oxford and his friendship with Sebastian.
2. The Brideshead estateCharles’s flashbacks to his time spent at the Brideshead estate provide insight into his relationships with the Marchmain family and their influence on his life.
3. Charles’s marriage and careerCharles’s reflections on his marriage to Celia and his career as an artist provide context for his personal growth and development throughout the novel.


1. Charles’s atheismThe irony of Charles’s atheism becomes apparent when he finds himself drawn to the deeply religious Marchmain family, whose Catholic faith significantly impacts his life.
2. Lady Marchmain’s influenceLady Marchmain’s attempts to control her children and enforce her religious beliefs ironically lead to the unraveling of her family and contribute to Sebastian’s decline.
3. Charles’s romantic relationshipsIt is ironic that Charles, who initially values his independence, becomes entangled in complicated romantic relationships with both Sebastian and Julia, causing him emotional turmoil.


1. Brideshead CastleBrideshead Castle symbolizes the aristocratic way of life and serves as a constant reminder of the Marchmain family’s influence on Charles’s life.
2. Sebastian’s teddy bear, AloysiusSebastian’s teddy bear, Aloysius, symbolizes his innocence and childlike nature, which gradually deteriorates over the course of the novel.
3. The fountain at BridesheadThe fountain at Brideshead represents the enduring presence of faith and the theme of redemption in the novel, as it is a place where the characters often reflect and find solace.


1. The novel’s titleThe title “Brideshead Revisited” alludes to the idea of revisiting one’s past, as Charles does throughout the novel, and the significance of the Brideshead estate in his life.
2. Biblical referencesThe novel contains numerous biblical allusions, such as the story of the prodigal son, which parallels Sebastian’s relationship with his family and their eventual reconciliation.
3. Literary referencesThe novel includes allusions to various literary works, such as Charles’s reading of Charles Dickens’s “Little Dorrit,” which serves to enrich the narrative and add depth to the characters’ experiences.


1. The theme of memoryThe recurring motif of memory throughout the novel emphasizes the importance of the past and its influence on the present, as Charles reflects on his experiences and relationships.
2. The decline of the aristocracyThe decline of the British aristocracy serves as a recurring motif in the novel, reflecting the changing social order and its impact on the characters’ lives, particularly the Marchmain family.
3. Art and beautyThe motif of art and beauty is present throughout the novel, from Charles’s career as an artist to the beautiful Brideshead estate, illustrating the characters’ appreciation for aesthetics and their desire for an idealized existence.


1. The Brideshead estateThe vivid descriptions of Brideshead estate create a strong sense of place, immersing the reader in the novel’s setting and evoking a sense of nostalgia.
2. The Oxford scenesThe imagery of Charles and Sebastian’s time at Oxford paints a picture of a carefree, idyllic period in their lives, which contrasts with the challenges they face later in the novel.
3. The war scenesThe imagery of the war scenes underscores the harsh reality of the world beyond Brideshead and the personal transformations the characters undergo as a result of their experiences.


1. Faith and doubtThe juxtaposition of faith and doubt, particularly in the context of the Marchmain family’s Catholicism, highlights the characters’ internal conflicts and personal struggles throughout the novel.
2. Love and betrayalThe novel frequently juxtaposes love and betrayal, as seen in Charles’s relationships with Sebastian and Julia, emphasizing the complexities of human relationships and the pain they can cause.
3. The past and the presentThe juxtaposition of the past and the present, achieved through the novel’s flashback structure, illustrates how the characters’ past experiences shape their present lives and future choices.

FAQs 💭

What is “Brideshead Revisited” about?

“Brideshead Revisited” is a novel by Evelyn Waugh that tells the story of the aristocratic Marchmain family and their relationships with the narrator, Charles Ryder.

What are some literary devices used in the novel?

Some literary devices used in the novel include foreshadowing, symbolism, allusion, and irony.

What is foreshadowing in “Brideshead Revisited”?

Foreshadowing is used throughout the novel to hint at future events. For example, the appearance of the statue of Saint Sebastian foreshadows Sebastian’s eventual death.

What are some examples of symbolism in the novel?

There are many examples of symbolism in the novel, such as the motif of water, which symbolizes rebirth and spiritual renewal. The castle of Brideshead itself can be seen as a symbol of the Marchmain family’s decline and eventual downfall.

How is allusion used in “Brideshead Revisited”?

Allusion is used extensively in the novel, with references to literature, art, and religion. For example, the character of Sebastian is compared to Saint Sebastian, and the Marchmain family’s downfall is compared to the fall of the Roman Empire.

What is the role of irony in the novel?

Irony is used to great effect in “Brideshead Revisited,” often to highlight the contrast between the characters’ actions and their professed beliefs. For example, the devoutly Catholic Lady Marchmain’s attempts to control her children’s lives ultimately lead to their spiritual and emotional downfall.

How does the use of literary devices contribute to the novel’s themes?

The use of literary devices in “Brideshead Revisited” helps to convey the novel’s central themes of nostalgia, spirituality, and the decline of the aristocracy. By using symbols, allusions, and irony, Waugh is able to create a richly layered story that explores these themes in depth.