The Captain with the Whiskers recounts the experiences of loyal, trusting Owen Rodgers with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The author, however, has succeeded in preventing the work from being as excessively schematic as such a bald description of its contents might suggest. With exemplary skill, he has woven an inescapable net of interrelationships between those three fateful terms by giving them a single origin. This origin is the captain with the whiskers, Conway Chesney, and even though he dies unexpectedly quite early in the novel, it is his oppressive shadow which poisonously conditions all that follows.
Not only does the captain contaminate his own family, but also he finds innocent Owen irresistible, with the result that although he is, strictly speaking, an outsider, Owen is as seriously affected by the captain’s influence as are the captain’s children. Not for nothing is Owen frequently referred to by the various Chesney children as “one of us.” The bulk of the novel, in fact, is an account of Owen’s helpless involvement with his dissolute Chesney contemporaries.
The most serious of these entanglements is Owen’s heartbreaking affair with Maeve Chesney, the captain’s daughter. Forsaking the rather predictable Lucy, Owen conducts an impossibly idealistic romance with Maeve. The denial of the flesh, on Owen’s part, which is at the heart of the affair, denotes his unworldliness, both in principle and, with more painful relevance, in practice, since it does not correspond to Maeve’s...
(The entire section is 631 words.)