Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Other People’s Worlds is a commentary on contemporary life, on the fantasies that fuel so many people, on their subsequent inability to empathize with their fellow human beings, and on the intrinsic good and evil in the world.

Everyone in the novel inhabits another world, a place of fantasy and fulfillment. Julia’s is the most benign; after all, she wants only to live out her life in love. Doris has a similar desire, but her mind is so rotted by alcohol, and her illusions so habitual, that she can no longer separate fiction from fact, and the two start interacting in her life ever more frequently—as when she goes into the police station to report the murder of Susanna Music, a murder that never took place (but which she imagines herself committing). Francis Tyte is perhaps the principal fantasist here (and the cause of the fantasies in many others), an actor whose major role is himself, a persona he keeps creating and re-creating for different eyes. He befriends people, makes up stories about himself and about them, acts out these stories, and is caught and moves on. For Julia, he is a devout Catholic (he studies books to get the history and rituals right) and a gentle man who enjoys gardening. Yet in anger at Doris, he cruises the London homosexual underground. Who is the real Francis Tyte? None, or all, for people see who they want to see; trapped in their own fantasies and illusions, few of Trevor’s characters can comprehend “other people’s worlds.”

Trevor is also telling readers how normative and commonplace such evil is. The television film that Francis is working on seems melodramatic and sensational in contrast to Francis’ crimes, but it is all relative, Trevor seems to imply. What would the Victorian world have made of Francis Tyte? Evil and crime are inherent parts of the world, and myriad are their victims. What counters evil is the goodness of a Julia Ferndale, the goodness of this simple, vulnerable woman who has the strength to reach out to aid others.