The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

If social appearances counted for everything, Katharine would be an excellent match for the conventional, uninspiring William Rodney. She has a reputation for being practical (largely because she does not speak much), and she effectively manages the Hilbery household. She also appears to possess literary interests, assisting her mother to write a biography of her grandfather, the famous poet Alardyce.

She also has an imaginative, visionary side to her personality which Rodney could never understand or share and which makes a union between them impossible. She inhabits an inner world, an imaginative realm of being in which she is able to experience total beauty and complete happiness, a place where she loves “some magnanimous hero,” where “feelings [are] liberated from the constraint which the real world puts upon them.” Whenever she thinks about love or contemplates the vastness and perfection of the heavens (she has a secret interest in astronomy), she transcends the smallness of her own life, and the magnanimous hero appears at her side.

Rodney can never be this hero, however; he inhabits a much less exalted realm. Although he is undoubtedly a cultured man, he is oversensitive, demanding, highly critical, and distressingly clumsy in dealing with his own emotions. He has a deep appreciation of literature, but he is most drawn to its technical aspects; he excels, for example, in handling meter. When he reads his own play to Katharine,...

(The entire section is 556 words.)

Night and Day Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Katharine Hilbery

Katharine Hilbery, the only daughter of upper-middle-class, literary parents. She lives in her family’s London home, runs the household, and is helping her mother to write a biography of the famous poet Richard Alardyce, Katharine’s grandfather. In secret, she studies mathematics. At the age of twenty-seven, she has begun to contemplate marriage, primarily as a way of attaining autonomy and a house of her own. Tall, beautiful, and elegantly dressed, she attracts both men and women with her statuesque appearance and a calm bearing that seems to suggest hidden depths. In the course of the novel, she becomes engaged to William Rodney, only to reject him for the freer, more stimulating companionship of Ralph Denham. In defiance of her family’s Victorian mores, she declares her intention to live with him outside wedlock.

Ralph Denham

Ralph Denham, a clerk in a law office. At the age of twenty-nine, he still lives at home with his mother and seven siblings but longs to escape the routine of his work and the constricting conventions of the family household. He spends evenings in the privacy of his upstairs room, poring over law books and daydreaming of Katharine, whom he meets over tea at her house in the novel’s first chapter. His love for Katharine thrives on her absence and apparent unattainability; he constructs her in his mind as an ideal, “a shape of light.” Alternately arrogant and insecure, disheveled but striking in appearance, he pursues Katharine’s friendship with a fierce determination and ends by winning her love.

William Rodney

William Rodney, a...

(The entire section is 680 words.)