The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Like Trevor’s other fiction, The Boarding-House is a work not only of character but also of characters. William Trevor has populated his novel with the pathetic and the looney. Each of the main figures harbors a secret desire: Major Eele frequents strip-tease clubs, especially those employing black dancers; Miss Clerricot desires to have a man make an indecent pass at her; Tome Obd has been courting a white woman who befriended him twelve years before. The death of Mr. Bird, watched over by Nurse Clock, precipitates an unveiling of the various personalities who have been living within the orderly and protected environment of his boarding-house.

Major Eele, of somewhat dubious rank and position, spends his days attending what he calls “art” films, mostly of the African ballet type, and his evenings sitting before the television set in the communal lounge of the boarding-house berating Venables or making racist remarks at Mr. Obd, the Nigerian. The Major is of the old school: He is obtuse and blustering, possessing an uncanny ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and to be unaware that he has done so. He at first mistakes Mrs. Le Tor for what he describes as a “professional” but later goes out with her and confesses his blunder, only to have her retaliate by getting him drunk and embarrassing him at the boarding-house. Like his former wife, Mrs. Le Tor manipulates the Major and shows him to be a blundering incompetent,...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

William Wagner Bird

William Wagner Bird, a boardinghouse owner. He dies in the first chapter and leaves his boardinghouse to two difficult boarders, Nurse Clock and Studdy. His diary provides background on the history of the residents. Nothing in the behavior of the new co-owners or the chaos they create provides a clue about why they were chosen.

E. A. Clock

E. A. Clock, a visiting nurse, resident, and coinheritor of the house. Bilked by a charm school when she was young, she is brusque, efficient, and intrusive. Her major focus is in alleviating the pain of the elderly. To that end, she decides unilaterally to turn the house into a nursing home, ordering “undesirables” to locate elsewhere. She is the central intelligence of the novel, being the only one who realizes the nefarious nature of Studdy.


Studdy, alias Moran, a petty crook, blackmailer, resident, and coinheritor of the house. He preys on women, including an invalid from whom he bilks money; a woman who brings the “meals on wheels”; Mrs. le Tor, whom he sees in a tea shop; and Miss Clerricot, a timid secretary. He writes anonymous letters to terrorize victims, not necessarily to obtain money but for the enjoyment of power over people. He dislikes Nurse Clock so much that he wears a pin in his lapel with which to prick her.

Miss Clerricot

Miss Clerricot, a middle-aged secretary and...

(The entire section is 570 words.)