Oxford, England
Oxford skyline as seen from New College, with Hertford College in the foreground
Public DomainOxford skyline as seen from New College, with Hertford College in the foreground - Credit: Wallace Wong, Wikimedia Commons

The first part of Brideshead Revisited is set in Oxford, the English university town where Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder meet. There are many references to Oxford landmarks, such as churches and pubs, and also to various Oxford University colleges, including Merton, Balliol and, most notably, Christ Church, where Sebastian Flyte and Anthony Blanche have rooms.

Although Charles Ryder's college is not named, it is believed to be based on Waugh's own Hertford College.

 

Christ Church, Oxford
Creative Commons AttributionChrist Church, Oxford - Credit: Jimmy Harris, Flickr

 

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Brideshead Castle
Castle Howard
Creative Commons AttributionCastle Howard - Credit: Paul Stevenson, Flickr

 

According to a letter from Sebastian to Charles, Brideshead Castle (the seat of the Flyte family) is in the county of Wiltshire, in southwest England. 

There are no further references to Wiltshire in the novel, nor any evidence that Evelyn Waugh based his portrait of Brideshead Castle on any particular house in that county.

It has been suggested, in fact, that Brideshead was based on two different houses: Madresfield Court in Worcestershire (the chapel of which is almost certainly the model for the chapel at Brideshead) and Castle Howard in North Yorkshire.

Madresfield Court was the family home of the Lygon family, who were close friends of Waugh. Hugh Lygon, the younger son, was a contemporary of Waugh's at Oxford, and is said to be a model for Sebastian.

 

Madresfield Court
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMadresfield Court - Credit: Bob Embleton, Wikimedia Commons
Venice, Italy
St. Mark's Basilica
Creative Commons AttributionSt. Mark's Basilica - Credit: xiquinhosilva, Flickr

 

Charles and Sebastian visit Lord Marchmain in Venice, a city in northern Italy, famous for its canals. It is situated in the Venetian Lagoon and spreads over 117 small islands.

 

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Interior of Florian's
Creative Commons AttributionInterior of Florian's - Credit: karlkp, Wikimedia Commons
Colleoni Statue
Creative Commons AttributionColleoni Statue - Credit: TracyElaine, Flickr

There are references in the text to the Lido, Venice's fashionable beach area, and to various landmarks in the city: St. Mark's Basilica; the Colleoni statue; and Florian's coffee shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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London: Mayfair, Belgravia, St. James's
Seaford House in London's Belgravia - not dissimilar perhaps to 'Marchmain House'?
Creative Commons AttributionSeaford House in London's Belgravia - not dissimilar perhaps to 'Marchmain House'? - Credit: Matt Brown, Flickr

There are passing references to various places in the capital including Bayswater, where Charles Ryder has his home, and the East End, the scene of the scuffle between the special constables and the strikers during the 1926 General Strike. However, most of the London scenes occur in the more upper-crust areas: Mayfair, Belgravia, St. James's and Green Park, where Marchmain House and the Ritz Hotel are situated.

 

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Fez, Morocco
The Medina (old walled city) at Fez
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Medina (old walled city) at Fez - Credit: Adam Jones, Flickr

Charles goes to Morocco in North Africa to search for Sebastian, who is living in the old walled city of Fez (or Fes).

Fez is the third-largest city in Morocco. It consists of three distinct areas: the old walled city; the Mellah (the old Jewish quarter); and the Ville Nouvelle (the modern, French-created quarter).

 

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New York and transatlantic ocean liners
The Plaza Hotel, NYC - in existence in the 1930's
Public DomainThe Plaza Hotel, NYC - in existence in the 1930's - Credit: Infratec, Wikimedia Commons

When Charles is re-united with his wife Celia following his painting trip in South America, the couple stay at a hotel in New York City before sailing for Southampton on a transatlantic ocean liner.

One of the best known transatlantic liners was the Queen Mary, which belonged to the Cunard-White Star line. She made her maiden voyage in 1936, so may have been the ship that Evelyn Waugh had in mind for Charles and Celia's Atlantic crossing.

 

R.M.S. Queen Mary, c.1938
Creative Commons AttributionR.M.S. Queen Mary, c.1938 - Credit: Lamerie
Postcard of the RMS Queen Mary
Creative Commons AttributionPostcard of the RMS Queen Mary - Credit: Tom, Flickr
1920s and 1930s

Most of Brideshead Revisited is set in the 1920s and the 1930s.

As is noted in the novel, memories of the First World War were still very fresh in the 1920s, although this did not prevent young people from leading lively and boisterous social lives. Indeed, the 1920s is sometimes known as the Roaring Twenties because of the exuberant, convention-defying lifestyles of many young people at that time.

See The Great Gatsby on Book Drum for a US perspective on the period.

However, as is suggested in Waugh's portrayal of the 1926 General Strike, the 1920s was a time of severe economic hardship for many people in Britain.

In the 1930s there was severe financial hardship in Britain and abroad during what came to be known as the Great Depression, although its effects on the affluent characters in Brideshead Revisited are not obvious.

However, there is much attention devoted in the novel to the enormous political tensions which existed in Europe during the decade, with several references to the Spanish Civil WarItalian Fascism and developments in Nazi Germany.

Affairs closer to home are also discussed, especially the abdication crisis of 1936 when King Edward VIII relinquished the throne to marry the twice-divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson.

 

       See also Fashion and Design during the Depression