Horace Lamb, the middle-aged head of a British household of gentry. He is tyrannical, domineering, selfish, ruthless, pompous, and humorless. In the face of his difficulties in supporting a menage of family and relatives, he is avaricious. He has married Charlotte for her money in an effort to preserve his position. He strives to economize to save his estate, while his wife, feeling powerless, pretends not to notice. Meanwhile, Horace denies his household basic material comforts—heat, food, and proper clothing—because his commitment is to the past, his property and heritage, rather than to his future, that is, his children. His conception of serving his dependents involves sacrifice on their part, not on his. Horace is always suspicious of them and their motives. He ostensibly reforms in the wake of three brushes with death and his wife’s planned elopement with his own cousin, Mortimer, who shares his household. His change of heart may be genuine and permanent, or it may merely be a strategy to outmaneuver the others.
Charlotte Lamb, Horace’s fifty-year-old wife, who has no faith in herself as spouse or mother. She married Horace for love, hoping to fulfill herself. Charlotte is a good woman, and her plan to leave Horace now is motivated more by her desire to provide her children with a happier home than by her love for Mortimer Lamb. On her return from a long voyage, she finds a “reformed” Horace and castigates him for his past behavior.
Mortimer Lamb, Horace’s dependent, fifty-four-year-old cousin, a good but ineffectual man. He resents his situation as well as Horace’s harshness and constant efforts to economize, especially by keeping the house chilly to save coal. Mortimer is attracted to Horace despite the latter’s tyrannical rule, and he recognizes that he needs his cousin....
(The entire section is 773 words.)