The Characters (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Kenneth Toomey is clearly the controlling figure in Earthly Powers. All the action is seen through his eyes and reported in his words. He is convincingly drawn, an old man with a keen memory and much to remember. He is wholly secular and materialistic. He is convinced that evil triumphs over good, as it certainly has in the situations involving the deaths of John, Laura, Eve, and Michael Breslow, Eve’s husband.
The ironies around which the whole book revolves are linked to Carlo’s institutionalized goodness. Carlo represents the Church, and he comes to represent it at its highest level, the papacy. Carlo, never an ascetic, enjoys the pleasures of the world and has indulged fully in most of them, save for sex. Still, he believes in the power of good, and lives his life accordingly. His triumphs, however, turn into evil of the worst sort.
Hortense is a strong secondary character, ever the understanding and supportive sister of a brother who at times severely tries the patience of all who know him. Her taking a lesbian lover certainly brings her closer to understanding her brother’s orientation, and the events that come about through her taking Dorothy as her lover are central to the development of the novel’s highly convoluted plot.
Burgess does a fine job in presenting the substantial array of lovers who passed through Kenneth’s life. Their bitchiness and self-concern, intermixed at times with kindness and...
(The entire section is 274 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Kenneth Marchal Toomey
Kenneth Marchal Toomey, a homosexual and best-selling author. His struggle with homosexuality and his search for truths beyond Catholic moral values are the twin forces driving his life. From the vantage point of his eighty-first birthday (celebrated in his Malta retreat), he looks back on his sixty-year exile from England’s conventional sexual values and on a career as an internationally renowned novelist and playwright. For much of that time, he has been careful to ensure public acceptance by writing from a heterosexual point of view; only late in life has he had the courage to declare his true preferences. In recalling the major episodes of his life, he emerges as a man dominated by his inner struggle to reconcile his homosexuality with Catholic moral values. He must also come to terms with his suspicion that, despite a fertile imagination and verbal brilliance, he possesses only a second-rate talent. Although he meets adversity with consistent detachment bolstered by a brittle wit, at bottom Toomey is a tender and caring man, deeply committed to his private code of love and fidelity. His trust in even the most mendacious of his lovers makes him a natural victim. With a single exception, his love for other men has been cheapened by them, and his fidelity betrayed. Love and fidelity nevertheless remain the prominent threads running through his character: intense love for his difficult sister and fidelity to some form of...
(The entire section is 973 words.)