The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In this novel of “bright young people,” the characters themselves do not strike one as overly bright. Atwater, the central focus, and his foil Pringle, are the dominant figures, just as their dull affairs with Harriet and Susan constitute the central dramatic action. Both are failed artists and failed lovers who also fail to gain much reader sympathy. Atwater is described as a “weedy-looking” young man with tortoiseshell glasses, and Pringle is similarly nondescript. Atwater is somewhat of a lazy parasite who drifts through a series of social encounters in a bored, indifferent way. Pringle, more socially ambitious than his friend, is both neurotic and melodramatic. The two central female characters are only sketchily delineated; Susan is characterized as an individualist, whereas Harriet is depicted as a social clone.

None of these four characters is presented in any other framework than as an “artsy” bohemian self-consciously embracing a superficial social life-style. The minor characters, such as Lola, Barlow, the journalist Fotheringham, are simply more of the same. All of them are drifting in a meaningless world in which whatever potential they have is destined never to be realized. There is no profound philosophical reason for their boredom and ennui; at least, Powell does not provide such a reason or allow the characters to give voice intelligently to such a reason. Instead, the characters seem to drift aimlessly simply because there does not seem to be anything else to do.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

William Atwater

William Atwater, the protagonist, a young museum official. He has straw-colored hair, sometimes wears tortoiseshell-rimmed spectacles, and has long, slender legs. His father is a retired civil servant, but he has twice failed to win a Foreign Office post. He is one of the “Bright Young People” of the London Soho district, witty but bored and enervated. He secured his museum position through influence. He spends his evenings in talk, and he drifts from one situation to another.

Raymond Pringle

Raymond Pringle, Atwater’s friend, a painter. He is twenty-eight years old, has red hair, and affects a manner of dress that combines a workman’s shirt with patent-leather shoes. He lives on a comfortable inheritance, with which he is rather tightfisted. He is a bad painter, but his study in Paris has given his work a certain slickness that allows him occasionally to sell a painting. He has a beach cottage, which is the setting for the novel’s climactic scene.

Harriet Twining

Harriet Twining, Pringle’s occasional mistress. She has fair hair and dark skin and is a staple of the London party scene. She attracts men, and many want to marry her immediately. She tires of them, wears them out, or spends all of their money before romance can proceed to the matrimonial stage.

Susan Nunnery

Susan Nunnery, a young woman desired by Atwater. He meets her at a...

(The entire section is 604 words.)