Lord Sebastian Flyte
How You Know Him:
The effete, and almost certainly homosexual, youngest son of the Marquess of Marchmain, and a member of the aristocratic Flyte family in Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited.
Why He’s Crushworthy:
There are oh so many kinds of crushes, all of which I am sure I have explored with this weekly posting, but I haven’t yet talked about the gay boyfriend. The sort of friend with whom a girl spends all her time, to the point where it’s almost a sort of relationship without there being any physicality because the boyfriend is, in fact, gay. This is the kind of relationship I would like to have with Sebastian Flyte. The fact that I have a friend who, at times, reminds me very much of Waugh’s character is besides the fact.
I have contemplated why it’s so difficult to pick out crushes from books. It’s easy to like a character and even to identify with them, but picking one out that matters above the rest can be difficult. It’s not hard in movies or television or even in real life, but when it comes to literature it’s far more difficult. I think this is for several reasons. 1) You can’t see them. Except for the image one puts in their mind while reading a book there’s nothing to grasp on to, no visual. 2) Good characters are flawed characters and those flaws are more difficult to get around when they’re being pushed front and center as they must be for any good book. And who wants a crush from a not good book? But flaws are also important to humanize. This is, perhaps, why I have such difficulty adoring Fitzwilliam Darcy when others seem to find it so easy. He is, ultimately, almost without flaw, as the flaws we’ve been introduced to previously have all but evaporated or been explained sufficiently by the end. Of course, this does not explain my attachment to the nearly flawless Gilbert Blythe, but youth and nostalgia might.
And has there ever been a more exquisitely flawed character than Sebastian Flyte? Undoubtedly. But, he’s probably up there. A large part of Brideshead Revisited deals with the crumbling aristocracy between the two World Wars in England. They no longer had much purpose, except as figureheads in class structure. All of the Flytes take it for granted that they deserve what they have (that is to say a castle in the country and an enormous manor in London) and that they have the cash to back it up (it seems, in fact, they don’t).
Also, religion. Sebastian clearly states towards the beginning of the novel that he and, sister, Julia are half heathen and throughout much of the book they are the two who stand the most apart from their family’s Catholicism. But by the end they have both turned back to the religion most ferociously. In my view, this is as much of a flaw as Republicanism.
And then in the end there is, of course, the drinking. Halfway through the novel Sebastian nearly disappears from the narrative, despite his dominance of the first half. It’s because he’s all but fallen out with the narrator, but the reason for that is drink. We see it coming, I suppose, as we’re given comments about the amounts of alcohol he consumes and that he does so for all the wrong reasons (one should drink for fun, it seems, but not to forget that one hates one’s family) and that it should be difficult for him to ever stop. And yet when he ends up running from family, friends, school, and society in general it’s still sort of surprising that the problem became as bad as it does. The haze of drunkenness is ultimately more important to him than anything else in his life.
So what is it about such a monumentally flawed character who’s a spoiled, entitled, dandy who guzzles whiskey and brags about early plover eggs all the while avoiding his family as much as possible that is appealing? Well, like Charles Ryder (the narrator who’s essentially ensconced in a romantic friendship with Sebastian throughout the first half of the book), the reader has to take Sebastian the way that he is. Yes, he’s all those things, but he’s also a jolly lot of fun. What’s more he proves again and again, until he doesn’t, that he’s a very good friend. He’s wealthy, of course, but the family fortune is tied up with lawyers most of the time. Still, he has no problem sharing what he does get. For instance, when going to visit his father, Lord Marchmain, in Venice he trades his first class ticket for two third class so that Charles can come along.
He opens Charles’ life up to dozens of new possibilities that Charles never thought of, or was warned against my his upstanding cousin, Jasper. Everything’s just a little bit more dramatic and entertaining. New friends are made, brothels are visited, they’re thrown in jail, wines are tasted. The first half of the book is essentially the idle rich being, well, idle.
And there’s Aloysius, Sebastian’s teddy bear that he totes around with him throughout the majority of his page time and talks to, and about, as if he were a human being. It’s completely weird and more than a little endearing. But isn’t that how most great characters are?