Here are my discussion questions on Brideshead Revisited:
Why is Charles attracted to Sebastian? What about the grounds of Brideshead does he find irresistible? Why does the family and place has such a strong pull for him?
What is Sebastian’s problem? What about his family drives him to act the way he does? Does he drink because of his family or because of some inherent need? Why did he need someone like Kurt to take care of?
In multiple instances, years and words are referred to as being “dead.” There doesn’t seem to be any surprise deaths in the book, so it doesn’t seem to be a clear foreshadow. So why would the author use this word so often? What effect is it supposed to have? What is it about years and words that make them so susceptible to this description?
The novel is split into three books.
I. The first book is titled “Et in Arcadia ego.” It means “Even in Arcadia, there am I”. The usual interpretation is that “I” refers to death, and “Arcadia” means a utopian land. It would thus be a memento mori. (from Wikipedia). Why is this applied to the first book? Is the first book itself a memento mori?
II. The second book is titled “Brideshead Deserted.” This seems straightforward unlike the other two titles. Is there anything special about it?
III. The third book is titled “A Twitch upon the Thread.” What does the title mean? Does is refer to anything specific in the story?
In the first half of the book, it seems that Charles is always being given advice or at least warnings that turn out to be true. Does knowing what’s probably going to happen change anything for him? The characters often have deep insights that they quickly drop. Why doesn’t anyone act on these insights?
What shocked or surprised you most about family life? Why do the children hate Lady Marchmain so much? Do we ever see a positive example of a family? What role does family seem to have in this culture?
Why is Anthony Blanche in this book? He keeps popping up and then disappearing. The story would unroll exactly the same without him. So why is he there?
Quomodo sedet sola civitas is used three times on pgs. 254, 272 & 402. It means “how lonely the city stands” or “as the city sits solitary”. The quote is from the biblical book of Jeremiah, where the prophet grieves over the destroyed Jerusalem. Why does this quote get brought up so many times? In what ways is Brideshead like Jerusalem for the family?
There are long monologues of people talking at Charles. Do the monologues ever mean anything to Charles? What do you imagine him doing during this time? Why does Waugh use these long monologues instead of more realistic conversation?
On page 313, Julia says, “Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art; I greatly fear, my dear Charles, it has killed you.” What does she mean by this? What is it about the conventions of the time that feel so deadly?
Why do Charles and Julia break up?
Why does religion hold such a powerful control over the family? Does the book say anything good or bad about religion?
In the last chapter, why does being in Brideshead again during the war make Charles happy? Charles says a prayer at the chapel in the very last chapter. Does this mean that Charles became religious by the end?
How does history affect the characters? Does their wealth keep them immune to what’s happening around them? Do they want to be immune?
An example of humor is this description of New York: “in that city, there is a neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for energy” (pg. 264). Can you give other examples of humor?How would you describe Waugh’s humor?