Literature: Brideshead Revisited

Sebastian is gay and loves bears—and by that we don't mean oversized and very hairy males for once

"Its theme — the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters — was perhaps presumptuously large, but I make no apology for it."
Evelyn Waugh, Preface to the 1945 Edition

Brideshead Revisited is a 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh about the relationship/love-affair between Charles Ryder, a middle class man, and various members of a decaying family of English Roman Catholic aristocrats, most notably the lovable, but dipso, manchild Sebastian Flyte and later his sister Julia.

Made into a successful mini-series by ITV in 1981 starring Jeremy Irons as Charles and Anthony Andrews as Sebastian, and a feature film in 2008 with Matthew Goode and Ben Whishaw in the roles.

The novel provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Sebastian, eventually.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin: Sebastian's older brother Brideshead marries a woman who makes a joke about this trope to Lord Marchmain.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Charles's relationships with Sebastian and Julia suggest this, although he shows no interest in men other than Sebastian. It's also worth noting that romances between Oxford undergrads were ubiquitous at the time and not seen as indicative of future orientation.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Sebastian's orientation is never outright stated, but he clearly prefers the company of men (some of whom are openly gay) and shows no interest in women.
  • Big Fancy House
  • Bishōnen: Sebastian.
  • Brick Joke: Early in the book, Mulcaster is involved in hazing of Anthony Blanche. He predicts that the men who did it will remember this while they live boring lives. Halfway through the book, Mulcaster brings up the incident.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Notably averted in the novel, where the distinctions between different kinds of Christianity are important to the plot.
  • Converting for Love: It's a given that anyone who wants to marry into the Flyte family must convert to Catholicism. Rex Mottram's attempt to do so is an Epic Fail—partly because he doesn't give a hang for religion, partly because Cordelia feeds him false information as a joke (he believes, for instance, that you can condemn anyone's soul to Hell by paying the Church a small fee).
  • Cure Your Gays: Very ambiguously implied when Rex mentions that the sanitorium he plans to send Sebastian to treats sex cases as well as alcoholism. Lady Marchmain seems to miss this as she responds by wondering about the kind of company Sebastian would have there.
  • Ensign Newbie: Charles's World War II Military service is hindered by the clumsy, but well meaning Lieutenant Hooper.
  • Everybody Smokes: Justified given the time period.
  • Evil Matriarch: One interpretation of Lady Marchmain.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Played straight and then subverted — Charles initially is little more than an outside observer upon Sebastian and his family, but after the Time Skip becomes the novel's proper protagonist.
  • Flamboyant Gay: Anthony Blanche
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Considering it was first published in 1945 the book gets away with an awful lot. No one batted an eyelid at the flamboyant Anthony Blanche, ambiguously gay main character Sebastian Flyte, and conspicuous Homoerotic Subtext between him and Charles. (Unless you knew the real people of whom they were thinly veiled fictionalizations.)
  • Heroic BSOD: Julia has one of these when Lord Brideshead calls her out on her adulterous relationship with Charles.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Charles and Sebastian. Maybe.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: The reason Charles and Cordelia keep giving Sebastian booze — he drinks because he's miserable and neither of them can stand to see him unhappy.
  • Manchild: Sebastian is this, at least at the start. Complete with teddy bear.
  • The Mistress
  • Missing Mum: Charles' mother passed away when he was young.
  • The Plan: Arguably played by God, of all people. Almost all of the characters eventually find religion in the end, despite their attempts to run away.
  • Second Love: Charles' first love is for Sebastian but when Sebastian becomes more distant due to his alcoholism problem, Charles—after an unhappy marriage—ultimately courts Sebastian's sister Julia (which turns out to be another ill-fated relationship). There are shades of the Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest here because Charles notes the striking similarity between Julia and her brother when he first encounters them. Towards the end of the novel, Charles considers his feelings for Sebastian a sort of forerunner to his devotion to Julia.
  • Speech Impediment: Blanche, as well as Kurt.
  • Wacky Fratboy Hijinx
  • World War II: The framing narrative is set during the war, which sees Charles posted to the requisitioned Brideshead and reminiscing about his time with the Flytes.
  • Your Cheating Heart

The mini-series provides examples of:

  • The Ghost: In the miniseries, Mrs. Muspratt never quite makes it onscreen.
  • Tone Shift: Most apparent in this adaption, where the first half of the series offers an almost nostalgic window into the lives (and loves) of aristocratic young Englishmen, whereas the second half of the series feels more like a very staid, cold analysis and commentary on religion.

The movie provides examples of:

  • Christianity Is Catholic: Oddly kind of inverted in the film, with the nominal Catholics behaving more like Evangelicals.
  • Scenery Porn: The movie was filmed on location at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. There are a lot of nice shots of Oxford and Venice, as well.
  • Triang Relations: In the 2008 movie, Sebastian has a thing for Charles, but the latter and Julia are in love. In the book and mini-series, Charles's relationship with Julia comes ten years after the friendship with Sebastian has ended and there are no signs of a love triangle.