Lord Sebastian Flyte: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

At Eton :

Fictional Old Etonians

Known for: Lord Sebastian Flyte is a main character in Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. The novel follows Sebastian’s friendship with the novel’s narrator, Charles Ryder, whom he befriends at Oxford University. Sebastian is wealthy and charming, and has a whimsical attachment to his teddy bear, Aloysius, but is haunted by his strictly Catholic upbringing and his strained relationship with his mother.


School days: It is mentioned several times in the novel that Sebastian attended Eton. We are told in Chapter Four that it was on his father’s insistence: “…papa went abroad before I was old enough, and the first thing he insisted on was my going to Eton.” In Chapter Two, when Charles Ryder has dinner with another Old Etonian, Anthony Blanche, we learn a little about Sebastian’s Eton days:

“Everyone in pop liked him, of course, and all the masters…He never seemed to get into trouble. The rest of us were constantly being beaten in the most savage way, on the most frivolous pretexts, but never Sebastian. He was the only boy in my house who was never beaten at all…He and I were both Catholics, so we used to go to mass together. He used to spend such a time in the confessional, I used to wonder what he has to say, because he never did anything wrong; never quite; at least, he never got punished. Perhaps he was just being charming through the grille.”

It is now widely believed that Waugh based the character of Sebastian on a real-life Old Etonian and friend from Oxford, The Hon. Hugh Lygon.[1] The son of William Lygon, the 7th Earl Beauchamp, Hugh was at Eton from 1918 until 1922. Lygon was known to carry a teddy bear around with him at Oxford, and he was a member, along with Waugh, of the Hypocrites’ Club, a student club which was “notorious not only for drunkenness but for flamboyance of dress and manner”.[2]


Life and Career: Sebastian is the younger son of the Marquess and Marchioness of Marchmain. Though married, the couple are separated; Lord Marchmain lives in Venice with his mistress, and Lady Marchmain resides at Castle Brideshead with Sebastian’s elder brother, ‘Bridey’, and his two sisters, Julia and Cordelia. Sebastian’s relationship with Charles Ryder forms the initial driving force of the novel, but as he becomes more suffocated by his family and his mother’s stringent Catholicism, Sebastian descends into alcoholism, eventually fleeing Brideshead and ending up in a Catholic monastery in Tunisia.



“I knew Sebastian by sight long before I met him. That was unavoidable for, from his first week, he was the most conspicuous man of his year by reason of his beauty, which was arresting, and his eccentricities of behaviour which seemed to know no bounds. My first sight of him was as we passed in the door of Germer’s, and, on that occasion, I was struck less by his looks than by the fact that he was carrying a large Teddy bear.”

Chapter One, Book One, Et In Arcadia Ego, Brideshead Revisited


“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.”

Chapter Two, Book One, Et In Arcadia Ego, Brideshead Revisited


“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 sports where they buried material treasures without which they cannot pay their way to the nether world.”

Chapter Six, Book One, Et In Arcadia Ego, Brideshead Revisited



[1] See A.L. Rowse, Homosexuals in History (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1983) and Paula Byrne, Mad World: Evelyn Waugh And The Secrets of Brideshead (London: HarperCollins, 2009), amongst others.

[2] Donat Gallagher; Ann Pasternak Slater; John Howard Wilso eds., A Handful of Mischief: New Essays on Evelyn Waugh (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011), p. 47.

View all images