Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 557
Lester Furnival, who lives beyond the grave. At the age of twenty-five, Lester, Richard’s wife, is killed in a freak accident. Newly dead, she haunts the earthly London in its intertwining with the Eternal City. Lester’s earthly marital love had been marred by occasional bitterness and anger, which she now must recognize and reform. Although she is not a committed Christian, her romantic nature, including her passion and the will to love, carry over to the next life sufficiently so that she can repent and develop her spiritual powers. When her once-scorned schoolmate, Betty Wallingford, is nearly victimized in a murder plot, Lester substitutes herself to save her friend. Ultimately, her love proves powerful enough to destroy the evil Simon the Clerk and assist her husband in foiling Simon’s conspiracy to achieve world domination.
Betty Wallingford, a timid and docile woman who seems merely the puppet of her evil parents, Simon the Clerk and the adulteress Lady Sara Wallingford. Her parents practice black magic, using Betty’s lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, and automatic speech as an intelligence service between the worlds of the living and the dead. There is an assertive, spirited, joyful side to Betty, the outcome of her secret Christian baptism by a saintly nurse. When Jonathan Drayton falls in love with her, Betty finds in her own loving reciprocity the will to resist and eventually to overcome the demoniac forces that conspire to ruin her and keep her and Jonathan apart.
Jonathan Drayton, a master painter, controversial colorist, and Christian artist. He is a type of romantic visionary. Like Dante’s metaphors of light, which provide mediation between the physical and intellectual realms of animal nature and spirit, Jonathan’s colors are the incarnation of heavenly light. His ardent love for Betty and religious faith enable him to see Simon’s true nature and assist in Betty’s deliverance from his evil spells.
Simon the Clerk
Simon the Clerk, a type of Antichrist and necromancer. He lusts for absolute power and earns himself a number of mindless, idolatrous human disciple-slaves, the insects of Jonathan’s insightful painting. Finally, he and his tyrannical hopes are drowned in a mysterious rain, symbolic of the combined power of human and divine love.
Evelyn Mercer, another victim of the freak accident that kills Lester. She accompanies Lester through the dimly illuminated streets of the London/Eternal City habitat of the newly dead. Evelyn (a name evoking “evil”) possesses no loving nature upon which to flourish. Her incessant, meaningless chatter, her devotion to malicious gossip, and her petty games of one-upmanship against the meek Betty mark Evelyn as belonging to the paltry and boring dredges of the demoniac powers. Drawn to the illusory glory of service to Simon, Evelyn betrays Lester and is destroyed by the flood of grace at the novel’s climax.
Richard Furnival, the bereaved husband of Lester, a friend and astute critic of artist Jonathan Drayton. He had been a considerate husband but was insensitive to the sacrificial nature of love. Richard holds an important post in the government. His ever expanding consciousness of the forces of good and evil in the lives of Jonathan, Simon, Betty, and his ghost-wife Lester empower him to foil Simon’s conspiracy to achieve world domination.
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