The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Sinclair psychoanalyzes her characters through an omniscient but unobtrusive narrator who probes hidden motivations. The narrator makes the reader aware of the different layers of personality: the obvious surface actions; the more hidden, but still conscious, thoughts; and the unconscious fears and desires which are never known to the conscious mind. Consistent with Freudian theory, the characters remain unaware of their deepest motivations; for example, Steven is oblivious to his desire to avoid pain: “He ignored everything that made him feel uncomfortable.” Sinclair’s characters display many of the classic defense mechanisms: repression, sublimation, substitution, and projection. The novel’s larger purpose, however, is to show the tragedy of wasted human potential and to show how it occurs through the unnatural blockage of the sexual drive.

The author’s heaviest criticism is therefore leveled at the Vicar, who represents Victorian morality. He is the tyrannical center from which all the lines of action develop. He is subtly deceptive in that he appears ascetic but in fact hides a secret sensuality. Coupled with sexual lust is the lust for power: He makes it his business to trample on other people’s desires. Consciously believing himself to be a righteous and long-suffering man, he washes his hands of responsibility for his daughters’ sufferings. By his stroke, however, he illustrates that repression can lead to illness.


(The entire section is 547 words.)

The Three Sisters Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gwendolyn Cartaret

Gwendolyn Cartaret, the defiant and perceptive second daughter of James Cartaret, twenty-five years old when the novel opens. Keenly sensitive to nature, she assumes responsibility for visiting outlying parishioners in the lonely Yorkshire moors and thrives on strenuous hikes in the evenings. Slender, with translucent skin and expressive hands, she is a nervous beauty whose inner strength impresses other characters forcibly. She sees through her father’s hypocrisy and maintains an intellectual’s reverence for truth yet is susceptible to pointless self-sacrifice. She leaves Steven Rowcliffe, who loves her, in the hope that he will marry Alice. Later, when she returns to Garth to nurse her father after his stroke, she is forced to endure his mistaken choice of Mary.

James Cartaret

James Cartaret, the vicar of Garth. His egotism and sensuality oppress his daughters. His fear of public opinion has led him to move to the isolated community of Garth when the novel begins. He is cold, domineering, and unsuited for both his profession and the celibate life that he is forced, by his wife’s desertion, to lead. He bullies his daughters endlessly, afraid only of Gwendolyn, who opposes him. His control of his daughters’ lives relaxes after a stroke, which renders him a gentle, pathetic old man relying on Gwendolyn for daily care.

Mary Cartaret

Mary Cartaret, the oldest daughter of the vicar, at twenty-seven years of age when the novel opens, responsible for teaching Sunday school. Proud of her own goodness, Mary is a placid, deceptive beauty who encourages Gwendolyn to leave Garth only to woo Steven Rowcliffe herself. After her marriage, her self-deception turns to hypocrisy as she increasingly cultivates acquaintance with...

(The entire section is 744 words.)