Gods & Teddy Bears: Sebastian & Aloysius

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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.

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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.

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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.

13 Replies to “Gods & Teddy Bears: Sebastian & Aloysius”

  1. I’ve of course heard of Brideshead Revisited, but never had any idea what it was about or if it’d even be something I’d want to read. But now I’m interested enough that I think I may give it a try this summer.

    1. It’s an odd book, full of peculiar contradictions and theological musings — if you care to look under the shallow, conceited, selfish lives of the main characters for it. It looks like an attack on religion until you reach the end. Oh, and it’s a slow read — lots of prose and deep thoughts, but without much happening in any of their lives apart from internal anguish. Something about it intrigues me, while at the same time I confess to finding the overall story rather tedious.

  2. Sebastian’s conscience has always amazed me. He cannot live the easy and sinful that his carnality desires. Instead, he is plagued by his conscience, by his convictions about right and wrong, and he can’t follow through permanently on his sins. Conscience is a powerful thing. We need it, to guide our steps, to address our choices. It is the gentle nudge of God’s voice, and Sebastian, for all his flaws and sins, still hears that voice. Perhaps that’s why I love him so much, his ability to still hear his conscience.

    Reading your post almost made me want to cry for him again, as I did when I read the novel. Excellently done!

    1. We do indeed need our conscience, and Sebastian hangs onto his more than the rest of his family. but poor Sebastian is also in the grip of his Catholic guilt. Yes, it keeps him from freely and wantonly indulging in sin without repentance, but it isn’t how God wants him to live. Guilt is of the devil; repentance and forgiveness is of God. Sebastian’s torment comes from guilt — it’s sad that he never really understood how redemption works.

      1. I’ve always thought that guilt and the conscience go hand in hand. The conscience wouldn’t have much of an impact if it didn’t make the person feel guilty for doing something. I’d never thought of them as being separate, but you’re right, God doesn’t want us to live with the guilt. He wants us to be forgiven and then go and sin no more. That’s what Sebastian couldn’t quite manage, so the guilt attacked him.

        I wish my book would come in for me at the library! I’m so impatient now!

        1. Conviction isn’t the same as guilt — conviction is awareness of a wrong and repentance for it, which enables us to move forward; guilt is revisiting past experiences and allowing them to remind you of your failures.

          My book came in at the library but I’m in the middle of a Pratchett and promised Savvy I’d at least give a Russian fairy tale a chance, so I may not dive into it for a week or two.

          1. How about we read them together! Mine just came in, but I’ll wait to start until yours arrives. 🙂

            Guilt. I know a lot about guilt. It usually tries to kick my butt. Like yesterday, but then the Lord reminds me that I’m forgiven and I don’t have to live with the guilt of past offenses. All I have to do is turn my fears over to Him and look forward. Poor Sebastian. Poor, dear Sebastian.

          2. Mine is laying on the dining room table, but I’m reading Pratchett at the moment. I suppose we could organize a read-along provided we don’t do too many chapters at once.

            The past is in the past, and forgiven. All we have is this moment. I’m sorry you had a rough day, but am very glad you’re putting aside the past and moving forward.

          3. Mayhaps we could 2 chapters at a time or something. I know it’s not that long, but I suspect it feels longer than it is. Whenever Pratchett is finished and the Russian fairy tale (interesting recommendation), we can start. This doesn’t need to be a part of the blog hop unless we want it to.

            You’ve got an email on the way. It should be finished in about 45 minutes. 🙂

          4. I’ll try and get Pratchett finished in the next couple of days. If the Russian fairy tale doesn’t grab me within a chapter, I can always return it and check it out later — or not at all.

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