The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In a sense, the aerodrome and the village in the novel are characters: They undergo change, they affect the lives of the individuals in the story, and they have identifiable traits. (In the novel, their names are sometimes capitalized and at other times not, depending on whether they identify places or characters.) The main characters, however, are clearly two: Roy and the Air Vice-Marshal. (The Flight-Lieutenant, as Roy’s half brother—both having been sired by Anthony, or the Air Vice-Marshal—and his frequent foil, could be regarded as the third party in a traditional love triangle comprising symbols of ways of life rather than of actual individuals, even though at the beginning of the story Roy has a regard bordering on affection for the Flight-Lieutenant, and the Air Vice-Marshal occasionally displays affection that exceeds the parental form for both of his progeny.) The entire story illustrates the consequences—for good or ill—of conjunctive passion (love): The initial and propelling act of the novel is the Rector’s attempted murder of his close friend, one who shared his love for God (Love), because of jealousy over physical love. The subsequent developments, whether good or bad, are results of true love or its counterfeit (usually expressed as its physical substitute, sex). Accordingly, each of the main characters has obvious dimensions: None is flat or stereotypical. The Rector, though a respected village resident, is shown to have had the temptations, jealousies, and meannesses of most young adults, even though he enjoyed the academic and athletic successes that elude many; at age fifty-two and a man of the cloth, he is not beyond dissimulation, deceit, infamy. His wife is left anonymous—like most ministerial spouses—even though she was the...

(The entire section is 721 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Roy, the supposed son of the Rector and his wife. Roy (though athletic and educated at home) is a typical village inhabitant of undeveloped character. At his twenty-first birthday dinner party (a British rite of passage to adulthood), he is told that he is adopted; he responds by getting drunk. He is ambivalent about the village (representing muddling tradition) and the aerodrome (representing modern efficiency). He is both sensual and thoughtful. Although he loses and regains his desire to see the world in realistic terms, he sees that he can neither reshape nor avoid it. The story is his autobiographical narrative of the events of the year following his birthday party; the climax is his discovery that the Air Vice-Marshal is his father.

The Flight-Lieutenant

The Flight-Lieutenant, an officer at the aerodrome, also twenty-one years old. He represents the link between the past and the future, between tradition and modernity. He has tight, yellow curls, keen eyes, and a forward-thrusting jaw; he is considered handsome and charming. Although he is often moody, bitter, and vindictive, he is admired by Roy and is successful as a seducer. He is knowledgeable, irrepressible, and a practical joker. He usually speaks with a cold voice, and he is often deeply critical of the village. He has the virtues and graces absent in Roy, though he kills both the Rector and the Air Vice-Marshal, his father, who had seduced and abandoned his mother, the Squire’s sister, Florence.

The Rector

The Rector, Roy’s guardian and putative father. At the age of thirty, when a theological student, he planned the murder of a fellow student (brighter and more handsome) who had won the affections of the girl he loved and the appointment that he wanted. Anthony, the friend, survived, left the church, and became Air Vice-Marshal. The Rector had a child, Bess, by his housekeeper, Eva, the innkeeper’s wife. He is racked by guilt and remorse, annually confessing his guilt in his prayers for forgiveness. He is now fifty-two, and his contrition is extreme, though he...

(The entire section is 864 words.)