The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although the major characters in this story all have lives independent of Martin, the only reason they are in the story at all is that each of them means something essential to him. Thus, the best way to discuss any one of them is in relation to Martin himself.

Although Martin’s mother died when he was sixteen, when he was thirty he attached himself to a mother figure by marrying Antonia. He seems only vaguely aware of this, as he tells the reader that—because she looks “older than her years”—his wife has often “been taken for [his] mother”; her face, he says, looks “maternal,” and he believes that “I could no more separate my being from her than if she had been my mother.” Antonia views herself as a mother to Martin: She calls him her “dear child,” and she tells him that she wants to end their marriage because, since she is “so much older” and “a sort of mother” to him, together they are at a “standstill.” Martin has no problem with their static marriage, for it gives him not only security but also status and respectability. Unlike Antonia, who thinks that life should be an ongoing process of individual growth leading to “a perfect communion of souls,” Martin eschews transcendental fluidity in favor of mundane stasis. While his illicit relationship with Georgie would seem to suggest an exception to the insipid norm of Martin’s life, actually it complements his preference for the immutable.

To Georgie, a twenty-six-year-old intellectual who has—unlike Martin and Antonia—absolutely no interest in material wealth, he brings gifts, “outrageous things, absurd garments” which he says he “could not possibly have given” to Antonia. The things he gives her, in fact, are emblematic of their essentially sexual relationship—such things as “barbarous necklaces and velvet pants and purple underwear and black openwork tights which,” he confesses, “drove me mad.” When Martin is with Georgie, he is away from a life which he equates with Antonia, a life of decorum, respectability, and responsibility. Indeed, he admits that he stayed in the wine business because of Antonia. Yet he has the same illusory sense of security and stasis with his lover as he has with his wife, insofar as his relationship with Georgie is like her apartment, a kind of “remote, enclosed,...

(The entire section is 955 words.)

A Severed Head Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Martin Lynch-Gibbon

Martin Lynch-Gibbon, the forty-one-year-old, oversensitive, intellectual narrator, a wine tradesman by vocation, having taken over the family business. He has acquired a reputation as a morose and reclusive cynic. The neurotic, misguided, and generally naïve narrator tells his story of love, romance, lust, incest, and adultery in an aura of 1960’s liberalism toward these matters. At the beginning, he is happy and in love with both his wife, Antonia, and his mistress, Georgie Hands. This stability ends when Antonia reveals her affair with and coming marriage to Palmer Anderson, Martin’s best friend. Martin tries to convince himself that he loves and must have both women, and he pursues this end by complacently and placidly accepting the situation. Meanwhile, Honor Klein, Palmer’s half sister, appears on the scene; consequently, Martin falls in love with her to lose his infatuation for his wife and mistress. Thwarted by Klein, he attacks her physically though not sexually, only shortly thereafter to realize that he has homosexual inclinations for Palmer. After Antonia and Palmer decide not to marry, she returns home for a short-lived period of peace and reconciliation, until she announces that she will marry Alexander, Martin’s brother and her lover of many years. At the end, Martin is left alone, but with some great though ambiguous hope of capturing Honor Klein.

Antonia Lynch-Gibbon

Antonia Lynch-Gibbon, Martin’s forty-six-year-old wife, graceful, accomplished, and sophisticated. Her overriding characteristic is her beauty. Her emotions rule her conduct to blunt her efforts to know and to keep stability and happiness. Antonia,...

(The entire section is 698 words.)