Brideshead Revisited

Principal characters

  • Charles Ryder – The protagonist and narrator of the story was raised primarily by his father after his mother died. Charles's family background is financially comfortable but emotionally hollow. He is unsure about his desires or goals in life, and is dazzled by the charming, flamboyant and seemingly carefree young Lord Sebastian Flyte. Charles, though dissatisfied with what life seems to offer, has modest success both as a student and later as a painter; less so as an Army officer. His path repeatedly crosses those of various members of the Marchmain family, and each time they awaken something deep within him. It has been noted that Charles Ryder bears some resemblance to artist Felix Kelly (1914–1994), who painted murals for aristocratic country houses.[13] Kelly was commissioned to paint murals for Castle Howard, which was used as a location in the television series and is where Ryder is depicted painting a mural for the Garden Room.[14]
  • Edward "Ned" Ryder – Charles's father is a somewhat distant and eccentric figure, but possessed of a keen wit. He seems determined to teach Charles to stand on his own feet. When Charles is forced to spend his holidays with him because he has already spent his allowance for the term, Ned, in what are considered some of the funniest passages in the book, strives to make Charles as uncomfortable as possible, indirectly teaching him to mind his finances more carefully.
  • Lord Marchmain (Alexander Flyte, The Marquess of Marchmain) – As a young man, Lord Marchmain fell in love with a Roman Catholic woman and converted to marry her. The marriage was unhappy and, after the First World War, he refused to return to England, settling in Venice with his Italian mistress, Cara.
  • Lady Marchmain (Teresa Flyte, The Marchioness of Marchmain) – A member of an ancient Roman Catholic family (the people that Waugh himself most admired). She brought up her children as Roman Catholics against her husband's wishes. Abandoned by her husband, Lady Marchmain rules over her household, enforcing her Roman Catholic morality on her children.
  • "Bridey" (Earl of Brideshead) – The elder son of Lord and Lady Marchmain who, as the Marquess's heir, holds the courtesy title "Earl of Brideshead". He follows his mother's strict Roman Catholic beliefs, and once aspired to the priesthood. However, he is unable to connect in an emotional way with most people, who find him cold and distant. His actual Christian name is not revealed.
  • Lord Sebastian Flyte – The younger son of Lord and Lady Marchmain is haunted by a profound unhappiness brought on by a troubled relationship with his mother. An otherwise charming and attractive companion, he numbs himself with alcohol. He forms a deep friendship with Charles. Over time, however, the numbness brought on by alcohol becomes his main desire. He is thought to be based on Alastair Graham (whose name was mistakenly substituted for Sebastian's several times in the original manuscript), Hugh Patrick Lygon and Stephen Tennant.[15] Also, his relationship with his teddy bear, Aloysius, was inspired by John Betjeman and his teddy bear Archibald Ormsby-Gore.[16]
  • Lady Julia Flyte – The elder daughter of Lord and Lady Marchmain, who comes out as a debutante in the beginning of the story, eventually marrying Rex Mottram. Charles loves her for much of their lives, due in part to her resemblance to her brother Sebastian. Julia refuses at first to be controlled by the conventions of Roman Catholicism, but turns to it later in life.
  • Lady Cordelia Flyte – The youngest of the siblings is the most devout and least conflicted in her beliefs. She aspires solely to serve God.
  • Anthony Blanche – A friend of Charles and Sebastian's from Oxford, and an overt homosexual. His background is unclear but there are hints that he may be of Italian or Spanish extraction. Of all the characters, Anthony has the keenest insight into the self-deception of the people around him. Although he is witty, amiable and always an interesting companion, he manages to make Charles uncomfortable with his stark honesty, flamboyance and flirtatiousness. The character is based on Brian Howard, a contemporary of Waugh at Oxford and flamboyant homosexual. When Sebastian and Charles return to Oxford, in the Michaelmas term of 1923, they learn that Anthony Blanche has been sent down.[17]
  • Viscount "Boy" Mulcaster – An acquaintance of Charles from Oxford. Brash, bumbling and thoughtless, he personifies the privileged hauteur of the British aristocracy. He later proves an engaging and fondly doting uncle to "John-john" Ryder. As with Lord Brideshead, his Christian name is never revealed.
  • Celia Ryder – Charles's wife, "Boy" Mulcaster's sister, and Julia's former schoolmate; a vivacious and socially active beauty. Charles marries her largely for convenience, which is revealed by Celia's infidelities. Charles feels freed by Celia's betrayal and decides to pursue love elsewhere, outside of their marriage.
  • Rex Mottram – A Canadian of great ambition, said to be based on Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, a Canadian; and Brendan Bracken. Mottram wins a seat in the House of Commons. Through his marriage to Julia, he connects to the Marchmains as another step on the ladder to the top. He is disappointed with the results, and he and Julia agree to lead separate lives.
  • "Sammy" Samgrass – A Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and Lady Marchmain's "pet don." Lady Marchmain funds Samgrass's projects and flatters his academic ego, while asking him to keep Sebastian in line and save him from expulsion. Samgrass uses his connections with the aristocracy to further his personal ambitions.
  • Cara – An Italian woman who lives with Lord Marchmain in Venice, as his mistress. She is very protective of Lord Marchmain and is forthright and insightful in her relationship with Charles.
  • "Nanny" Hawkins – Beloved nanny to the four Flyte children. She lives in retirement at Brideshead.

Minor characters

  • Jasper – Charles's cousin, who gives him advice about student life at Oxford, which Charles ignores.
  • Kurt – Sebastian's German friend. A deeply inadequate ex-soldier with a permanently septic foot (due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound) whom Sebastian meets in Tunisia, a man so inept that he needs Sebastian to look after him.
  • Mrs (Beryl) Muspratt – The widow of an admiral, she meets and marries a smitten Brideshead, but never becomes mistress of the great house.

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