The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Antony Clarendon

Antony Clarendon, a sensitive, idealistic youth. He was reared in a traditional English upper-class home, its values so secure he assumed that this contented and harmonious world would be eternal. During European travels, he falls in love with Katha, an Austrian girl, whose innocent passion satisfies his quest for beauty. All of his idyllic expectations are shattered by his experiences as an officer during the terrible battles of 1916. Overwhelmed by postwar conditions and in despair that he cannot find Katha, he becomes cynical and self-destructive. He resolves, without love, to marry Margaret, a sophisticated woman of his own class, and pretends to enjoy the social round expected of him. Her father makes him the well-paid director of the family company. Soon his whole nature rebels against this empty routine, which thwarts his spiritual principles. He separates from his wife and wanders idly, until by chance he again encounters Katha. In the mutuality of their renewed love, he finds contentment.

Margaret Clarendon

Margaret Clarendon, Antony’s wife. She is a typical product of her class, elegant and superficial. Completely fulfilled by her role as wife and hostess, she never questions the values of her upbringing. Her unthinking acceptance of the social patterns she has inherited strikes Antony as selfish arrogance. Insensitively, she cannot comprehend why he does not relish the wealthy comfort she provides. When she cannot and will not appreciate his aesthetic yearning for simpler, less materialistic virtues, he rejects her and the world she exemplifies.

Katharina (Katha)

Katharina (Katha), an Austrian girl who meets Antony on a romantic Italian island, where they have a passionate youthful affair and plan a loving future. Their plans are disrupted by the declaration of war. During the war and the economic dislocation of its aftermath, she suffers such poverty that she is driven to prostitution until she finds a wretched, low-paying job. She retains her romantic dreams of being reunited with Antony and rediscovering their love. She personifies Antony’s idealism and love of beauty and lives to share his yearning for a life free from the dictates of the snobbery of the business world.


(The entire section is 939 words.)