Families in Literature: the Flytes in Brideshead Revisited

Moira Redmond in The Guardian:

BridesIf you read Brideshead Revisited for the first time in your teens (as so many of us do) you can come away with the idea of a Cinderella story: middle-class Charles is scooped up by the happy aristocracy – the deserving poor boy looking longingly through the window is allowed in, gawps at the magnificence, is grateful for the attention, and of course falls in love with Sebastian. But when you read it again, you see that Brideshead is not a book about Oxford, or homoerotic love, or social climbing: it’s a book about religion – and about families. It is Sebastian who is in love with Charles, jealously wanting to keep him to himself:

I’m not going to have you get mixed up with my family. They’re so madly charming. All my life they’ve been taking things away from me. If they once got hold of you with their charm, they’d make you their friend not mine, and I won’t let them.

Charles has no idea of family life – he lost his mother in an absurd Waugh manner during the first world war, and while his father is occasionally kind he is vague and not very paternal. Then he discovers the Flytes. “That summer term with Sebastian,” he says, “it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood.” The sadness is that Sebastian wants to grab on to Charles in order to get away, while Charles wants to belong. Brideshead is “where my family live”, says Sebastian, prompting Charles to reflect: “I felt, momentarily, an ominous chill at the words he used – not, ‘that is my house’, but ‘it’s where my family live’.”

More here.