The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Blore-Smith is a careful portrait of a thoroughly undeveloped young man who lives only on the outer fringes of life and who desperately wants a taste of what he calls “the real thing.” He is certainly in need of transformation; he suffers from a speech impediment, a tendency to blush, and he is physically ungainly. Having inherited a comfortable income, he has no need to earn a living, and he passes much of the day aimlessly in cinemas and art galleries or reading in his room. When he does decide to act, he does so nervously and impulsively, paying two hundred pounds for a picture which is worth almost nothing. He has very little idea of what he wants to do with his life and finds it all very disappointing. “One doesn’t seem to get any of the things one expected,” he complains on his first meeting with Maltravers.

His initiation into the “real thing,” however, is painful. He gets the sexual experience he desires, but he remembers little about it, and his “involvement” with life acts almost entirely to his disadvantage, since he is a passive and easy victim of his worldly-wise companions. At the end of the novel, he has at least learned what he does not want, although there are no clear indications that he is any nearer to defining what he does want or to finding his way successfully through life. He has traded an unwanted innocence for an equally undesirable awakening into a futile and treacherous world.

If Blore-Smith’s...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Blore-Smith, a young law student. He has big brown eyes, huge ears, a shapeless face, and a speech impediment; he is naïve and inexperienced. He recently graduated from Oxford University and is in search of glamour and excitement. In London, he meets a pair of artist-intellectuals who are little better than confidence men. They exploit him mercilessly and whisk him away to absurd adventures in Paris and Berlin.

Oliver Chipchase

Oliver Chipchase, an art critic and amateur psychoanalyst. He has an emaciated physique and wears a severe expression. He has a history of sordid love affairs, which are the sort of love affairs he says he likes. He has a large number of eccentric acquaintances, both in London and on the Continent. He easily convinces Blore-Smith that the young man is in need of his psychiatric treatment.

Peter Maltravers

Peter Maltravers, a friend of Chipchase and a dabbler in scriptwriting and filmmaking. He is tall and distinguished looking, but his appearance gives no hint of intellectual aptitude. He wishes to do a film in cinema verité style, portraying an assemblage of intellectuals as they respond to a provocative situation. Because such a venture is commercially unpromising, he desperately needs financing that will not require repayment. This he finds in the person of Blore-Smith.

Mrs. Mendoza

Mrs. Mendoza, the owner of a flower shop in a fashionable part of London. A tall, fair-haired, beautiful woman, she combines a tweedy appearance with a bohemian lifestyle. She is variously known as Mrs. M. and Mendie.

Commander Hugo Venables

Commander Hugo Venables, a retired naval officer who is courting Mrs. Mendoza. He is about fifty, heavily built, and purple-faced. He is a somewhat vacant man who finds it difficult to please his beloved.

Sarah Maltravers

Sarah Maltravers, Peter’s wife, a woman of languid manner. The Maltraverses have a “modern” marriage, except that Peter becomes angry when Sarah goes out with other men. Blore-Smith develops a crush on her.


Schlumbermayer, a dealer in art objects and another eccentric friend of Chipchase and Maltravers. He is a tall, bespectacled man of about forty-five, going gray and tending toward fatness. He hosts the making of Maltravers’ film. He has business cards printed in several different names.