Characters Discussed

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William (Bill) Crichton

William (Bill) Crichton, the butler to the earl of Loam. Stuffy, honest, and efficient, Crichton has one complaint about his master: He is not contemptuous enough of his inferiors. While in England, Crichton believes that the established social order is absolutely correct. Stranded on an island, however,...

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William (Bill) Crichton

William (Bill) Crichton, the butler to the earl of Loam. Stuffy, honest, and efficient, Crichton has one complaint about his master: He is not contemptuous enough of his inferiors. While in England, Crichton believes that the established social order is absolutely correct. Stranded on an island, however, he believes in the natural selection of leaders. When everyone realizes how efficient he is, Crichton takes command; he is stern, fair, and almost regal in his deportment.

The earl of Loam

The earl of Loam, a peer of the realm and Crichton’s liberal master. In theory, the earl believes in the equality of all members of society. Once a month, he has his servants in for tea. When he has an opportunity to practice his theories in fact, he becomes an ardent believer in the supremacy of the aristocracy. When the yachting party of which he is host is cast away on a Pacific island, he proves completely ineffectual. For a time, he is his pompous self, until he realizes his utter incapability of leading the stranded party. After Crichton assumes command, the other castaways call him “Daddy,” and he seems quite happy doing odd jobs around the camp.

The Hon. Ernest Woolley

The Hon. Ernest Woolley, a nephew of the earl of Loam and a maker of brilliant epigrams. Ernest is a cheerful, egotistical young man about town with enough shrewdness to avoid work entirely. In London, he idles away his time making witty remarks. Soon after being stranded on the island, however, his talent for wit gets him into trouble with Crichton, now the leader of the party. With every epigram that Ernest makes, Crichton dips his head into a bucket of cold water, thus curing Ernest of a useless habit. Proving himself to be very adaptable, he becomes a diligent worker. After returning to England, however, he reverts to type, and between epigrams he manages to write a book about his island experience, making himself the hero of the adventure. In the book, the contributions of the rest of the party, including Crichton, are dealt with summarily.

Lady Mary

Lady Mary, the oldest daughter of the earl of Loam. A part of a useless aristocracy, she is haughty, proud, and languorous. After the shipwreck, she shows herself to be adaptable and courageous. Unlike her former self in England, she becomes a useful member of the island society. The hunter of the group, she has the opportunity to wait on the “Gov.” (Crichton). If a rescue ship had not arrived, she would have been chosen to become Crichton’s wife.

Agatha

Agatha and

Catherine

Catherine, younger daughters of the earl of Loam. After being on the island for a time, they also learn to do things for themselves, and no longer do they depend on maids to answer their every whim. At first, the lack of domestic help is trying to them.

Lord Brocklehurst

Lord Brocklehurst, the man Mary has chosen to be her husband. He is a complete nonentity, a mother’s boy, humorless, pompous, correct, cold, and useless.

Treherne

Treherne, a pleasant and athletic young clergyman. He is the first to realize that Crichton is the natural leader of the group on the island.

Tweeny

Tweeny, in England the “between” maid. When the earl of Loam decrees that the three sisters can have only one maid among them, she goes with them, mainly to be near Crichton. On the island, she proves to be a useful helper.

Lady Brocklehurst

Lady Brocklehurst, Lord Brocklehurst’s formidable, domineering mother. After the return of the seafarers, she tries to learn what really happened on the island.

Rolleston

Rolleston, the valet to the earl of Loam.

Fisher

Fisher, Lady Mary’s maid, who refuses to go on the cruise.

Themes and Characters

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The characters in The Admirable Crichton fall into two categories: masters and servants. The characters belong to different categories on the Pacific island than they do in London.

Crichton, the main character, is a man in his early thirties. A dignified, respectful butler as the play opens, he is satisfied with his status and performs his duties with distinction. He does not think of himself as the social equal to Lord Loam any more than he would think of the kitchen servants as his equals. In his mind, they have their jobs and he has his. He detests the "democratic gatherings" insisted upon by his master, Lord Loam, because they perpetuate what he considers the falsehood that human beings are, or can be, equal. He participates only because his master orders him to.

When the travelers find themselves on the deserted island, however, it is Crichton who is best able to provide for the group's survival. He can start a fire, build a shelter, hunt, fish, and cookin short, he can deal with this new environment. Crichton, then, becomes the master, and the London lords and ladies become the servants, attending to their duties under the guidance of Crichton. Lady Mary, who had been the most haughty of the nobles and the last to give up rule to Crichton, falls in love with the former butler and decides to marry him. But more than two years after the shipwreck, a ship appears, and Crichton, having invented an electrically controlled device to set signal fires all around the island, signals the ship to their rescue.

To be an indoor servant at all is to Crichton a badge of honour; to be a butler at thirty is the realizationn of his proudest ambitions.
Lord Loam, the radical earl who insists upon equality between noble and servant classes in London, is of no value as a leader on the deserted island; he is simply out of his element. He is washed overboard during the shipwreck because of his ineptitude, and on the island he discards a hairpin he finds because in London he had no use for such things. But, as Crichton points out, a hairpin could have been very useful in such a primitive place.

Tweeny, a young, untrained household maid, makes the sea voyage only because she is the only servant who would agree to tend all three of Lord Loam's daughters. Tweeny's name comes from her social status: she is neither the upstairs maid nor the kitchen maid, but kind of a helper in between. Her youth, beauty, and willing spirit have caught Crichton's eye before the beginning of the play; but on the island, Crichton gravitates towards Lady Mary, and Tweeny has marriage proposed to her by the Honorable Ernest Woolley. In London Tweeny is illiterate, shy, and speechless around her betters; but on the island, her skills and her pragmatism make her superior to most of the nobles. She orders them about the kitchen, and when Ernest proposes marriage she turns him down.

Ernest, nephew to Lord Loam, is a self-centered young man, who, while entertaining enough in a London drawing room, is a time-wasting bore in the more primitive society of the island. Crichton has to soak Ernest's head in buckets of water to teach him not to spew forth endless epigrams. He does leam, however, to become a productive member of the island family under the strict guidance of Crichton.

Lady Mary, the only one of the three sisters whose character Barrie develops, is more like Crichton than any of the others. She is perceptive, strong-willed, and somewhat haughty. It is she, for example, who remarks that the servants, Crichton especially, do not like the "democratic gatherings." On the island, Lady Mary becomes the best hunter of the group. Although betrothed to Lord Brocklehurst, she wins Crichton's heart and accepts his marriage proposal.

The other characters, the Reverend John Treherne and Lady Mary's two sisters, Catherine and Agatha, are not well developed. Early in the play they serve as foils for Lady Mary, and on the island they are part of the group that follows The Admirable Crichton. The Reverend Treherne, whose talents are defined by cricket matches, is addle-brained throughout the play. At one point even Ernest thinks that Treherne must have used his head as a cricket bat.

The play's theme is expressed several times throughout the action. At the beginning of the play, when Catherine questions Crichton about her father's democratic pretensions, the butler tries to explain that absolute equality is unnatural. He is a butler, not a nobleman; he cannot act like a nobleman, nor does he want to any more than he would like to act like a lower-class servant.

On the island, when Crichton becomes aware that away from civilization the nobles are useless as leaders, he begins to overrule some of their futile, dangerous orders. Lady Mary chides him for his assertiveness. He responds, "My Lady, I disbelieved in equality at home because it was against nature, and for that same reason I as utterly disbelieve in it on an island." No one at first understands the ambiguity of his assertion; but later when he says, "There must always, my lady, be one to command and others to obey," Lady Mary realizes what he is saying and insists that the butler be loyal to Lord Loam. When Crichton refuses, the nobles dismiss him and stalk off to another part of the island. But since Crichton, the only one who knows how to build a fire, is cooking a pot of stew, the former rulers all return to sit at the feet of their new master, the one among them who can provide food. Nature has decided for them.

Following their rescue, all return to their old social positions. Lord Loam is once again the master, Ernest theself-centeredd playboy, and Crichton the butler. Lady Mary remains betrothed to Lord Brocklehurst, and no one speaks of the reversal of roles that happened on the island. When Crichton announces his resignation, everyone is "immensely relieved." He cannot be the equal of Lady Mary in London society. And since Lady Mary chooses not to leave London, Crichton resigns. He is disappointed in her, but he bears his disappointment with the dignity born of his understanding of the way of the world.

What makes Crichton "admirable" is his devotion to the principles of nature. Except for the relatively minor character Tweeny, only Crichton is selfless enough to disregard himself for the greater good of principle. On the island Lady Mary finds him admirable enough to be delighted with the prospect of marrying him; but back in London she is unable to forsake her social station. Throughout the play the one who must act selflessly to defend the right principle is The Admirable Crichton.

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