The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In a manner consistent with farce and with her predilection for using characters to achieve a particular effect, to explore certain philosophic propositions, Murdoch has put together what can only be called an eccentric cast of characters. Indeed, much of the pleasure of her novels comes from the richness of her characters, who often provide curious appeal in the things they do or know as well as in the way they exist as simple human beings. Yet they are rarely simple human beings. Bruno, for example, is not simply an old man dying; he is physically a monster, disgustingly reminiscent of the spiders he loves, but this implied comparison goes beyond simple parallelism, since his highly professional knowledge of spiders is slyly used to illustrate certain ideas about life and death. Bruno’s stamp collection is another detail which Murdoch uses to flesh out her character; it functions as a touchstone in the battle of wills which is at the base of the novel’s action and which ultimately must be swept away to allow some of the characters to make sense of their relationships on grounds less warped by financial considerations.

The past haunts Bruno, Miles, and Danby, all three of whom are crippled by the memory of their dead wives and who must become reconciled to the past if they are to be free. The women are also under the spell of the past: Lisa turns away from the cloistered religious life for protection as a kind of injured bird cared for by Miles and...

(The entire section is 556 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bruno Greensleave

Bruno Greensleave, a terminally ill old man. Bruno’s illness has disfigured him, so that he looks somewhat like the arachnids he studies; his head seems bulbous and enlarged, but his limbs are wasted and thin. Aware that he is dying, Bruno wishes to make amends for the missteps he has made along the way. He wants to reunite with his estranged son, Miles, and regrets that he did not go to his dying wife when she called for him.

Miles Greensleave

Miles Greensleave, Bruno’s son. He has been estranged from Bruno since his first marriage, to an Indian woman, Parvati. He works as a minor civil servant but considers his vocation to be poetry. He married Diana several years after Parvati’s death and lives a quiet, contemplative life. He realizes that he loves Lisa, Diana’s sister, who lives with them. He idealizes Lisa, and the loss of her enables him again to write poetry.

Danby Odell

Danby Odell, Bruno’s son-in-law. He has managed Bruno’s printing business since his marriage to Gwen, Bruno’s daughter, who has been dead for many years. Danby idolized Gwen, to whom he always felt slightly inferior. Danby takes care of Bruno, who lives in Danby’s house. Women find Danby charming, and he has been having an affair with Adelaide for some time before he flirts with Diana and then falls in love with Lisa.

Diana Greensleave

Diana Greensleave, Miles’s...

(The entire section is 608 words.)