The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Muriel Spark reveals her characters not by the fragmented thoughts which approximate the human consciousness but rather by subtle, skillful, and carefully articulated analysis. Recalling his two-day escapade, for example, Freddy realized “more and more clearly as the years sifted past, that he had been neither a monster nor a fool, but had behaved rather well, and at least with style and courage.” The explanation of the consciousness in this rather old-fashioned, rational way means that the reader is far more certain about events and their effects than in many less coherent novels.

By writing clearly about her characters, Spark does not sacrifice complexity, and all of her major characters are complex. Barbara Vaughan is a devout Catholic, but she can distinguish between the essentials of the faith and the rules of the Church, particularly after her own Way of the Cross. In Jerusalem, she becomes even more aware of the split identity which troubled her throughout her childhood—half Jewish, half sporting English gentry. Although her conversion to Roman Catholicism would seem to have settled her confusion, as her acquaintances in Jerusalem point out, she is still half-Jewish by blood, whatever her faith, and her engagement to a non-Catholic further complicates the issue of identity. While at times Barbara insists on ignoring these problems, as when she rashly enters Jordan after unwisely admitting her Jewish blood, the courage with which she at last...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

The Mandelbaum Gate Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Freddy Hamilton

Freddy Hamilton, a career diplomat in his mid-forties who is currently assigned to the British consulate in Jerusalem, Israel. Polite, urbane, a lifelong bachelor, and an envoy of old-fashioned charm and gentility, he has the reserve of the model representative: He straddles the fence, making concessions to both sides, committing himself only to maintaining the status quo. His career of service abroad is itself an evasion. He has never been able to stand up to his manipulative mother, and his routine weekly letters home attempt to cajole her into some semblance of normality. Similarly, he is a popular houseguest because he offends nobody, either by commission or by omission; he even composes thank-you notes in formal verse. He is being typically diplomatic about Barbara’s predicament when she suddenly cites what the apocalypse predicts about the lukewarm: that they will be expelled. Perhaps as a result, he appoints himself as her guardian and protector when she gets into real political trouble. Strangely, he does this in a kind of trance; later, he cannot recall everything that happens during this adventure.

Barbara Vaughan

Barbara Vaughan, who is nearly thirty years old, a single teacher in an English boarding school. She is in Jerusalem to meet her fiancé, an archaeologist working at Qumram in Jordan. Half English country gentry, half London Jewish, and a convert to Catholicism, she is attempting to escape from her former companion and oldest friend, the headmistress of her school. She is honest, intelligent, unfashionably passionate, and committed to her faith. Her falling in love so late in life had come as a surprise; she had almost reconciled herself to life as an unmarried woman, sharing a home with her friend Ricky. She then met Harry Clegg on vacation the previous summer, and the two immediately fell into an impassioned affair. Returning to school afterward, she found herself unable to confess herself to Ricky, and the courtship had continued by mail. At term’s end, Barbara felt that she had to see Harry, so she evaded Ricky and went to the Holy Land. There, she runs into a snag: Harry is in Jordan, on the other side...

(The entire section is 898 words.)