This is precisely what Sebastian does: takes flight. Why is the poor boy (who has everything) on self destruct? One of the greatest things about Brideshead Revisited is Waugh’s uncanny portrayal of the dynamic of a dysfunctional family.
J.Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie discusses the phenomenon of families who scapegoat a particular family member. Most often they are families who have got everything and have got it all together, but beneath their pasted on perfection great cauldrons of darkness bubble away. The darkness is then subconsciously projected on to one character who turns out to the the one with ‘the problems’. Most often it is that character who is presented to the caring professions in need of help.
The scapegoat becomes the one who develops the emotional, mental or spiritual illnesses. He or she is the one who develops the addiction, the depression or falls into the sinful relationship. There is often nothing the scapegoat can do about it but take flight, and run as fast and as far as possible from a family who are truly sinister without them knowing it. Sebastian knows this, admits it and tells Charles openly that running away is exactly what he plans to do.
When religion is thrown into the mix it all becomes even more deliciously awful. Bridey and Lady Marchmain’s perfectly horrible Catholic perfection is just the sort of outwardly religious ‘perfection’ that makes them even more everlastingly invulnerable to reality and truth. Waugh therefore shows the open sinfulness of Sebastian, but when we look more deeply Sebastian (like his namesake) is a kind of martyr–shot to death with innumerable arrows of self righteous kindness.
Waugh also shows us the unbearable self righteousness of Lady Marchmain and Bridey. They are the true sinners and hypocrites in the story, and her sad and lonely death from cancer and his destiny to lose the family inheritance and be married to Beryl Muspratt gives them both what they deserve.
Beneath the more open story of the work of providence in Charles’ life is this fascinating re-telling of the gospel story where another one is vilified, and scapegoated by the religious self righteous ones until, like the Old Testament, he is driven outside the camp and crucified. This is not to say that Sebastian is a Christ-figure. Waugh is too much of a genius to be so unsubtle. Nevertheless, the themes are there running through the story like a scarlet thread.
And as we know all it takes is a ‘twitch upon the thread…’