Sebastian Flyte Quotes in Brideshead Revisited
In her spacious and quiet streets men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman’s day; her autumnal mists, her gray spring time, and the rare glory of her summer days—such as that day—when the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over her gables and cupolas, exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth. It was this cloistral hush which gave our laughter its resonance, and carried it still, joyously, over the intervening clamor.
Collins and I spent several economical and instructive weeks together in Ravenna. A bleak wind blew from the Adriatic among those mighty tombs. In a hotel bedroom designed for a warmer season, I wrote long letters to Sebastian and called daily at the post office for his answers.
Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence.
I could tell him, too, that to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom. But I felt no need for these sophistries as I sat before my cousin, saw him, freed from his inconclusive Struggle with Pindar, in his dark gray suit, his white tie, his scholar’s gown; heard his grave tones and, all the time, savored the gillyflowers in full bloom under my windows. I had my secret and sure defense, like a talisman worn in the bosom, felt for in the moment of danger, found and firmly grasped.
“We’ll have a heavenly time alone,” said Sebastian, and when next morning, while I was shaving, I saw from my bathroom window Julia, with luggage at her back, drive from the forecourt and disappear at the hill’s crest, without a backward glance, I felt a sense of liberation and peace such as I was to know years later when, after a night of unrest, the sirens sounded the “All Clear.”
Here under that high and insolent dome, under those coffered ceilings; here, as I passed through those arches and broken pediments to the pillared shade beyond and sat, hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes, rejoicing in all its clustered feats of daring and invention, I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones, was indeed a life-giving spring.
“This is no way to start a new year,” said Sebastian; but this somber October evening seemed to breathe its chill, moist air over the succeeding weeks. All that term and all that year Sebastian and I lived more and more in the shadows and, like a fetish, hidden first from the missionary and at length forgotten, the toy bear, Aloysius, sat unregarded on the chest-of-drawers in Sebastian’s bedroom.
Anthony Blanche had taken something away with him when he went; he had locked a door and hung the key on his chain; and all his friends, among whom he had always been a stranger, needed him now.
She found Sebastian subdued, with all his host of friends reduced to one, myself. She accepted me as Sebastian’s friend and sought to make me hers also, and in doing so, unwittingly struck at the roots of our friendship. That is the single reproach I have to set against her abundant kindness to me.
He claimed to love the past, but I always felt that he thought all the splendid company, living or dead, with whom he associated slightly absurd; it was Mr. Samgrass who was real, the rest were an insubstantial pageant. He was the Victorian tourist, solid and patronizing, for whose amusement these foreign things were paraded.
And since Sebastian counted among the intruders his own conscience and all claims of human affection, his days in Arcadia were numbered. For in this, to me, tranquil time Sebastian took fright. I knew him well in that mood of alertness and suspicion, like a deer suddenly lifting his head at the far notes of the hunt; I had seen him grow wary at the thought of his family or his religion, now I found I, too, was suspect.
Mr. Samgrass’s deft editorship had assembled and arranged a curiously homogeneous little body of writing—poetry, letters, scraps of a journal, an unpublished essay or two, which all exhaled the same high-spirited, serious, chivalrous, other-worldly air and the letters from their contemporaries, written after their deaths, all in varying degrees of articulateness, told the same tale of men who were, in all the full flood of academic and athletic success, of popularity and the promise of great rewards ahead, seen somehow as set apart from their fellows, garlanded victims, devoted to the sacrifice.
“Well. I’m fond of him too, in a way, I suppose, only I wish he’d behave like anybody else. I’ve grown up with one family skeleton, you know papa. Not to be talked of before the servants, not to be talked of before us when we were children. If mummy is going to start making a skeleton out of Sebastian, it’s too much. If he wants to be always tight, why doesn’t he go to Kenya or somewhere where it doesn’t matter?”
But as I drove away and turned back in the car to take what promised to be my last view of the house, I felt that I was leaving part of myself behind, and that wherever I went afterwards I should feel the lack of it, and search for it hopelessly, as ghosts are said to do, frequenting the spots where they buried material treasures without which they cannot pay their way to the nether world.
And Lady Marchmain saw this and added it to her new grief for Sebastian and her old grief for her husband and to the deadly sickness in her body, and took all these sorrows with her daily to church; it seemed her heart was transfixed with the swords of her dolors, a living heart to match the plaster and paint; what comfort she took home with her, God knows.
For nearly ten dead years after that evening with Cordelia I was borne along a road outwardly full of change and incident, but never during that time, except sometimes in my painting—and that at longer and longer intervals—did I come alive as I had been during the time of my friendship with Sebastian. I took it to be youth, not life, that I was losing.