The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

I for One is told through Katherine’s diary entries and thus is restricted to her outlook. Katherine’s character is for this reason not so eccentric as might at first appear. She calls herself to rather harsh judgment throughout the novel, doubtful of her perceptions, skeptical of her assessments, and leery of her ability to survive change. Such is not extraordinary. Stated simply, Katherine has a well-developed intellect, but by virtue of being overprotected, only now is she coming of age emotionally. Katherine’s parents lived unconventional and turbulent lives. Clearly, they wanted something more stable for their daughter. In creating a secure environment, however, they fostered in Katherine a false sense of life and love as they normally occur, leaving their daughter naive to the ways of the world.

The strength of Katherine’s character shows in her instinct to write. Writing is her method for consolidating a sense of her developing self and beginning the struggle to emerge as a healthy individual. A diary gives her freedom to reflect, to speculate, to study, or to debate without challenge. It allows her to maintain, even in the looming shadow of her parents, an independent identity free from constraint.

Still, Katherine must get beyond writing. She ponders the ultimate worth of writing herself at one point, asking, “Can it be that when we feel we live, really and truly live, we become impatient with what is merely on paper?” Yet, she also understands that, in the early stages of her growth, such questions come to light only in the process of writing. The answers, as well, are clearly defined only when she can work them out on paper. In the end Katherine’s developed self does emerge. She rids herself of unnecessary shame, dumps the surplus from her vast stores of humility, and, unlike T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, enters the world triumphantly.

There is some temptation to classify Katherine’s mother and Hubert as villains in the story, but that would be both inaccurate and unfair. Katherine’s mother, after all, does what comes naturally to most parents, and the implication of Hubert’s occupation as a psychologist is that he may have been trying to assist Katherine. He offers romance. His deception, although ungentlemanly, passes in this world, and as Katherine admits, he was the first to ask her to defy convention and live for herself.