The Captain with the Whiskers Characters

Benedict Kiely

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Despite the reader’s comparatively brief acquaintance with the captain, he overshadows all other characters in this novel. Unlike those other characters, his power derives from a concerted application of his will. His children—and Owen notes how deliberately the captain uses the possessive pronoun when speaking of Maeve and her siblings—are literally regimented into submissive obedience. The captain drills and disciplines them with a tyrannical style usually reserved for raw military recruits. His rather obsessive need to behave in this manner is only in part a result of his own military background. In addition, he espouses an unexamined admiration for German methods and attitudes. More important, perhaps, the remarkable consistency of his malevolence is an expression of a philosophical despair which deems moot the value of life itself.

At the other end of the novel’s moral spectrum is the whiskey priest, Doc tor Grierson. His intellectual sophistication and gentle ways have condemned him to the rural backwater of the novel’s principal action. Here he is unable and perhaps unwilling to assert himself. Such passivity, the result, it seems, of his being a victim of an oppressive system (namely, the hierarchy of the Irish Catholic Church), is not to be judged adversely in the context of this novel’s overall vision. It provides the doctor with a love of nature and of what is natural in man. It enables him to dabble in things of the mind, without...

(The entire section is 529 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Owen Rodgers

Owen Rodgers, the narrator, in his twenties, a former medical student who eventually becomes a successful hotel manager. An incurable romantic leaning toward alcoholism, he is obsessed with the fall of the Chesney family and haunted by memories of its patriarch, Captain Conway Chesney. He becomes the chaste lover of Maeve Chesney, who represents to him the idealized queen of his dreams, while he becomes the actual and fatal lover of the other Chesney daughter, Greta. He ends up marrying his first love, Lucy, who dies after bearing him three children. He spends his remaining days in Dublin ruefully singing songs in seedy pubs.

Captain Conway Chesney

Captain Conway Chesney, the head of the Chesney family and patriarchal commandant of Bingen House. He is a hero of the Boer War and Owen Rodgers’ mentor. In spite of his death early in the story, his commanding presence remains and persistently manifests itself in the corrosive crippling of his children, both emotionally and spiritually. He is a small man, virulently anticlerical, and willfully vindictive, not only to his children but also to the entire area. His greatest sin is changing the name of his estate from its original Irish name of Magheracolton to its British name, Bingen House, thus severing the natives from their cultural and linguistic heritage.

Maeve Chesney

Maeve Chesney, one of the captain’s two daughters. She is lively, beautiful, and sexually desirable. She becomes Owen Rodgers’ idealized beloved but in reality is promiscuous, fun-loving, and rather shallow....

(The entire section is 662 words.)