Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is a fascinating piece of literature, a blend of autobiographical musings and sentiment, laced with thought-provoking controversies. It is an unusual exploration of immorality and faith. We can sum it up in one unforgettable image: Sebastian Flyte and his teddy bear, Aloysius.
This nondescript brown bear accompanies the eccentric, flamboyant, and charming Sebastian wherever he goes. He presides over the lavish dinner parties Sebastian throws, sails downriver with them on boats, and pops into the car for trips home to visit the nanny. He flabbergasts and amuses everyone who meets him. He is Waugh’s nod to his poet friend John Betjeman, who also carried a teddy bear (the lavishly titled Archibald Ormsby-Gore) around with him, even at university, but serves a more significant purpose, in depicting both Sebastian’s inability to grow up and the hold God has over his life.
The significant presence of the teddy bear reveals that for all his adult problems, Sebastian refuses to grow up. He’s struggling to hang on to the innocence of childhood, a specter in the halls of life who, like Peter Pan, prefers to watch rather than partake out of fear that once his feet touch the ground, he can never fly away again. Aloysius is his last link with childhood, with happier times before his guilt over his desire to live a life of sinful excesses and despair over his troubled relationship with his mother drove him to alcoholism. He is Sebastian’s tie to the past—and in that sense, to the faith his mother instilled in him from childhood.
Faith is a central theme of the novel and the one thing that connects all the characters together in unique ways; it is a glimpse into the author’s personal journey from atheism to Roman Catholicism, and the underlining themes reveal much about his beliefs. Faith ultimately affects everyone in the story, from altering their decisions to convicting them of sin and even, in the negative sense, to making them cold and unforgiving. Julia abandons an adulterous relationship with the man she truly loves for her faith; Sebastian leaves his life of treading lightly in “intense emotional relationships” with his college friends to live in a monastery.
Aloysius not only represents his yearning for innocence but also his relationship with God. Sebastian holds onto him even when others scorn and mock him for it. Aloysius is ever by his side and only thrown away in moments of deep internal anguish—but Sebastian always picks him up, dusts him off, and puts him back in the car. Sebastian finds comfort in his continual presence, even as his resolve crumbles into dust at his feet.
All the characters go forth and indulge in sin – and then face a moment of decision: to continue in that sin, or to abandon it in a search for holiness. Sebastian’s endless suffering references the author’s belief that through sacrificial suffering comes holiness. (Julia and Charles also achieve this in their separation from one another, but Sebastian suffers on a level neither of them can begin to fathom.) The torment of a soul reminds us of the torments Christ suffered on the cross, so a soul that endures much torment on earth lifts above those who suffer less.
For all its complexities, controversies, and intriguing themes, Sebastian is the heart and soul of the story and Aloysius is a powerful visual reminder of his faith.
This is part of the Anthony Andrews Blog Hop.