Set between the wars, Brideshead Revisited is a poignant lament for a time and culture long since passed. The story begins in retrospect during the Second World War with Charles Ryder, at this time an army officer, finding himself stationed at a barracks that happens to be situated on the estate of the aristocratic Brideshead family. From here, he recounts the experiences of his long lost youth.
On entering Oxford University around 1920, Charles Ryder embarks on a passionate affair with the charismatic Sebastian Flyte of the aristocratic Brideshead family. The impressionable Ryder, in awe of the way the aristocracy live, slowly becomes embroiled in the lives of the staunchly Catholic Bridesheads who are often in search of redemption. We see the once charming Sebastian reject his religion and descend in to alcoholism, his father Lord Marchmain, once an inebriate himself is exiled in Venice and Ryder later embarks on an exta-marital affair with Sebastian’s sister Julia Flyte, much to the consternation of the Brideshead family. The novel portrays both secular and sacred views on love, with the atheist Ryder on one side and the devout Brideshead family on the other.
Later, set across continents over a period of about ten years, we see Ryder as a painter in South America and in New York with his wife, with whom he has had children. We see Sebastian living with his German lover Kurt, in Morrocco, the pair of them living in a state of perpetual drunkenness. Ten years since Ryder last had contact with the Flytes, he returns to Brideshead with Julia, after a tryst on the cruise ship on the way back fromNew York. We then see the guilt Julia feels about this affair due to her religion which is not helped by the remarks of the pious brother Bridey, the oldest son set to inherit the estate. From here, we see the return of Lord Marchmain, who returns from Venice to die at home in Brideshead. Then we see the outbreak of war and we know that things will never be the same again due to the rise of the middle class and the dispersion of the wealth of the aristocracy. The novel contains characters that do not really exist today, such as the bohemian aesthete, Anthony Blanche and the aristocratic buffoon Boy Mulcaster.
This novel provides a great insight to how the aristocracy lived at that time with their butlers and maids and mansions and hedonistic party life in London.
Beautifully written, the dialogue flows and the prose is poetic. This novel is undoubtedly one of the finest of the 20th Century.