Richard Aldington calls Antony “an example of the modern romantic idealistic temperament,” a man who is “struggling towards what he believes will be a finer and fuller life.” He divides Antony’s life into two periods: before and after the Great War. Before 1914, Antony was protected from the harshness of evil. “No one ever told [him] that there were vast areas of England where children had never seen things growing, where the sun was hidden behind perpetual smoke, where the rain was black with smuts, and life a sort of organized hell.” The trenches of France changed everything, destroying his sense of permanence and contentment. Antony is a very disturbed and self-centered young man, inclined toward sentimentality, seeking refuge behind a presumption of his own moral superiority. His search for a new foundation will include “life with the woman he really loves” and “the energy and beauty of existence which he wants to contribute to their joint possession.”
The book’s other characters are mostly weak and two-dimensional. They drop in and out of Antony’s life, heightening his frustration, providing him with an opportunity to denounce the shortcomings of contemporary society. In any exchange they consistently emerge second-best. Antony sees them as compassionless, unable to understand the higher things of life. They are all stodgy ignoramuses living artificial lives, his wife, Margaret, included. He characteristically dismisses her reaction to his decision to throw away his career as an example of “exemplary bitchiness.”
Antony at thirty-three, still a bit too young for the proverbial mid-life crisis, sums up his life: “For twenty years he had been a happy child, for four years a wretched soldier, for a year and a half a half-demented crock, and for the rest a business parasite.” Antony’s two-week affair has become a symbol of salvation.
Katharina will infuse his life with new meaning, but her personality is one-dimensional. She is sexually desirable, compassionate, and completely devoted to making Antony happy. She is a male fantasy, a woman who fulfills her lover’s need to protect her. She smiles with delight when he gives her a smile. Despite Richard Aldington’s attempt to give her profundity by making her a victim, she remains unconvincing.