The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Herbert Smeeth, the bookkeeper, Lilian Matfield, the secretary, and Harold Turgis, the junior clerk, are the three Twigg & Dersingham employees whom Priestley pictures in sharpest detail within a novel as rich in characterization as any by Charles Dickens. The author follows them as they travel to and from the City from various outlying residential districts. He observes their working day, their breaks for lunch and tea, their evening amusements, their weekend boredom.

Smeeth’s lower-middle-class family, completely dependent upon him, considers his job, the very center of his being, to be more secure than he knows it to be. His gentle warnings go unheeded; his short-lived pay raise is quickly squandered on food and drink to entertain the Mittys, Mrs. Smeeth’s relations, at an ill-timed party that parallels the Dersingham debacle.

Miss Matfield, who is approaching spinsterhood, lives in the respectable Burpenfield Club, a residential club for women from good middle-class homes in the country who are compelled by economic circumstances to live in London as cheaply as possible. Along with all the others there, she hates the club and awaits a Prince Charming to carry her away, not only from the Burpenfield but also from Angel Pavement. She would probably marry anyone who might ask her, even dull Norman Birtley, a friend from the country, who, ill at ease in the bewildering city, cannot muster either the will or the courage to ask for her...

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

James Golspie

James Golspie, the protagonist, a canny, blunt, vulgar, persuasive con man who easily takes advantage of the naïve Howard Brompart Dersingham and brings financial ruin to the firm of Twigg & Dersingham, dealers in veneer and inlays for furniture makers. Returning to England after a long absence, Golspie is looking for an outlet for his inexpensive wood products from the Baltic area. He is intrigued by the Angel Pavement address of Dersingham’s firm, descends on the unsuspecting group, and literally takes charge. He demands and gets his commissions in advance. Everything Golspie does affects the lives of those connected with the firm for good, at first, but eventually for evil. Medium in height, powerfully built, and nearly bald, Golspie has thick, bushy eyebrows and a huge drooping mustache. He repels and attracts simultaneously.

Howard Brompart Dersingham

Howard Brompart Dersingham, the owner, by inheritance, of Twigg & Dersingham, a firm that is slowly failing, primarily because of his incompetence. In his late thirties, he is a poor product of the English public school system. His greed, gullibility, and ineptness make easy Golspie’s destruction of the company.

“Pongo” Dersingham

“Pongo” Dersingham, his wife, in her early thirties. She is the mother of two young children. She pretends to live an exciting and full social life but in fact is rather dull. She does create an optimistic outlook at the end, seeing hope in the financial disaster her husband has created.

Harold Turgis

Harold Turgis, the junior clerk in the firm, in his early twenties. A sallow, shallow, poorly dressed, and physically unattractive young man, he has dreams of romance, spawned mostly through films and magazines. He fantasizes about romantic interludes with beautiful women. He meets Lena Golspie, who teases, torments, frustrates, and then dismisses him. He tries, in a fit of anger, to kill her, but he is as unsuccessful at that as he is at most things. Like the...

(The entire section is 851 words.)