Ben Butley, a lecturer in English literature at London University. He is a childish, irresponsible, disorganized cynic who smokes constantly and drinks heavily. Ben frequently quotes Beatrix Potter and T. S. Eliot and ridicules others with his abrasive wit. Separated from his wife, Anne, he lives with his office mate, Joey Keyston, with whom he also lived before his marriage. Ben tells students that he cannot see them because of his administrative burden, but he also declines to speak with his department chairman, claiming to be too busy with tutorials. After a visit by Anne, who reveals that she is going to marry someone else, he learns that Joey also is leaving him. Frustrated at losing both wife and friend, Ben taunts Joey’s lover, Reg Nuttall, into striking him.
Joseph (Joey) Keyston
Joseph (Joey) Keyston, Ben’s colleague and roommate, who began his relationship with Ben as his student. He is Ben’s opposite: neat, organized, ambitious, and timid. Joey, who is working on an edition of Robert Herrick’s poetry, is concerned that Ben’s recklessness will interfere with his promotion in the English department. He is too frightened of his friend to tell Ben that he is moving in with Reg. Despite himself, he gets caught up in Ben’s cynical games, inventing a stereotyped Yorkshire working-class background for Reg. Joey accuses his mentor of attempting to make a mess of his life just as Ben has done...
(The entire section is 478 words.)