Study Guide

Descent into Hell

by Charles Williams

Descent into Hell Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Pauline Anstruther

Pauline Anstruther, the twenty-six-year-old orphaned heroine of the novel. She is consigned to care for her grandmother Anstruther and might have drowned in self-pity were it not for the terrifying, unpredictable appearances of her twin, aDoppelgänger. Fear, not self-pity, rules Pauline’s life until she learns to exchange fear for love. Decent and good-hearted, Pauline is intellectually immature, but as she joins the cast, as choral leader, of Peter Stanhope’s play, she intelligently interprets its clues about a design for human salvation. Once Pauline masters Stanhope’s doctrine of “substituted love” and allows him to bear her burden of fear while she in turn bears others’ burdens, not only are the sources of fear overcome but she also becomes aware of her role in a cosmic plan. Pauline’s integration of active understanding with passions and will that is otherwise predisposed to goodness opens the way for her vision of the City of God, giving joy and assurance that her decision finally to “go to the City” will lead to her life’s perfection.

Peter Stanhope

Peter Stanhope, the author of the poetic drama in which the villagers are involved. He is extraordinarily wise, benevolent, and talented. In his character, the supernatural and angelic potential of humankind intersects with the human and natural to create a whimsical yet fulfilled Christian hero. Having created the play, he good-naturedly allows the villagers to interpret it according to their own visions of reality and art. His name, Peter, means “rock.” Stanhope, which evokes “long-standing hope,” signals his allegorical connection to enduring faith as the essential Christian virtue. He exhibits a third cardinal virtue, charity, when he carries Pauline’s...

(The entire section is 743 words.)