Peter Grimes, the best-known character, largely because of the opera Peter Grimes (1945), written by Benjamin Britten Evil-tempered and willful, the young Grimes first defies and then abuses his kindly father, a fisherman. Although he repents briefly after his father’s death, Grimes is soon his old self, drinking for amusement and fishing and stealing to support himself. A sadist by nature, Grimes takes a poor boy as an apprentice. For his own pleasure, Grimes beats him, starves him, and eventually causes his death. After two other boys in Grimes’s care also die, the parish authorities refuse to place others with him. Shunned by his neighbors and haunted by the ghosts of his father and the three dead apprentices, Grimes dies alone. In his opera, Britten changed the monster of this work to an innocent man, misunderstood and slandered by his neighbors.
Abel Keene, a decent, respectable man. Tiring of a teacher’s hectic life, Keene finds an ideal job as bookkeeper for a merchant. Because he yearns for companionship and acceptance, he is easily persuaded to join the merchant’s son and his friends in their carousals. Flattered by the attention, Keene cannot see that he is merely the butt of their jokes. When the merchant dies, Keene loses both his job and his supposed friends. In despair, he consults Calvinistic preachers, but they will not guarantee him God’s forgiveness, and Keene hangs himself.
Ellen Orford, a trusting, devout woman who is a lifelong victim of men and of society. As a child, she endures her stepfather’s cruelty. As a young woman, she gives her heart to a rich young man, but he marries someone of his own class, leaving Ellen with a retarded child. Ellen marries a tradesman, and they have five sons; however, after being converted to a fanatical sect, he comes to loathe Ellen and her daughter, the fruit of sin. After he kills himself, the...
(The entire section is 812 words.)