The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Born and reared in the North of England, Howard Kirk has made his way up the educational and, consequently, social ladder in a class-conscious society. From his working-class origins, via grammar school and Leeds University, he has moved to the newest of higher educational institutions, the University of Watermouth, to the south of Leeds. The university may very well be like that at which the author himself teaches, the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Sussex. Having been graduated with a “first,” the English version of the American summa cum laude, Howard energetically and grittily patterns personal and academic life after the liberation sociology of the 1960’s. With unprincipled ferocity, he beds colleagues, colleagues’ wives, and students, applying the new religion as well to the classroom, department meetings, and other campus activities. With Machiavellian cunning, he seduces minds and bodies indiscriminately, encouraging all who come within his periphery to follow him into the brave new world.

As he enjoys his latest conquest, Miss Callendar, she murmurs, “Historical inevitability,” and he responds, “Marx arranged it.” Sociological justification for every experience becomes Howard’s uncompromising principle. It takes on Rabelaisian proportions in his liaison with Flora Beniform, who outplays Howard in his own game by doling out her favors only at her convenience. Otherwise, Howard manipulates the most prim of female colleagues or the most sex-starved of students, all in the name of a higher consciousness to which the new man is called. Indeed, the title of Howard’s book is The Coming of the New Sex.


(The entire section is 681 words.)

The History Man Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Howard Kirk

Howard Kirk, a radical professor of sociology at Watermouth University. Thirty-four years old, small, and intense, with a Zapata mustache, he has written two fashionable books and appears frequently on television. Timid and unpolitical when an undergraduate at Leeds University, he has evolved into the epitome of the social activist. Howard loves to argue, lives for confrontation, and manipulates people politically, intellectually, and sexually. He enjoys giving large parties and watching chaos develop. Constantly unfaithful to Barbara, his wife of twelve years, he creates a controversy involving one of his students as a means of seducing Annie Callendar.

Barbara Kirk

Barbara Kirk, Howard’s wife. Big, with frizzled yellow hair, the thirty-five-year-old Barbara feels unfulfilled by her roles as wife, mother, and promoter of new causes. She considered herself Howard’s equal when they were students but now resents living in his shadow. Barbara’s only real pleasure comes from her weekend “shopping” trips to London, actually excuses for rendezvous with Leon, an actor.

Henry Beamish

Henry Beamish, the Kirks’ friend from Leeds University and Howard’s colleague at Watermouth. A social psychologist who once caused a stir with a book claiming that television socializes children more effectively than do their parents, he finds himself unable to write a book about charisma, not knowing anything about the subject. He has grown fat and lazy, and he would rather talk about his farm than about intellectual matters. Possessing an instinct...

(The entire section is 665 words.)