The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

There are many parallels between Muriel Spark and her protagonist, Caroline Rose. Both are half-Jewish converts to Catholicism, and both are writers concerned not only with the form of the modern novel but also with the problems of good and evil in the modern world. Like Muriel Spark, Caroline Rose is an “intellectual” Catholic whose faith enables her to see the world from the vantage point of satire. Both women are observers, and both maintain a healthy distance from the worlds they observe.

Muriel Spark has the great gift of conveying the whole of a character in a very few strokes. Louisa Jepp, for example, “is short, and seen from the side especially, her form resembles a neat double potato just turned up from the soil with its small round head, its body from which hang the roots, her two thin legs below her full brown skirt and corpulence.” In the following description of Georgina Hogg, Spark suggests that she is as beastly physically as she is spiritually: “an angular face, cropped white hair, no eyelashes, rimless glasses, a small flat nose of which the tip was twitching as she ate, a very thin neck, a colossal bosom.”

Secondary characters are described equally effectively by what is omitted rather than what is stated. Caroline’s comforters—Willi Stock, who belongs to “one of the half-worlds of Caroline’s past,” Laurence Manders, a believer in “sheer literal truths,” and Helena Manders, with her “peculiar faith that no evil could touch her”— are kept shadowy and indistinct while “whitehaired young-faced Ernest Manders” and his wife Eleanor, “indistinct, in need of some touching-up,” are “almost not there at all.”

Spark similarly omits more than she reveals about her protagonist. Instead of physical descriptions, the reader is given momentary insights into her thoughts, which are “fine as teeth.” Caroline’s relationship to the novel is paradoxical: “. . . of her constant influence on its course she remained unaware and now she was impatient for the story to come to an end, knowing that the narrative could never become coherent to her until she was at last outside it, and at the same time consummately inside it.”

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Caroline Rose

Caroline Rose, a woman of about thirty with a Cambridge education. She is thin, angular, sharp, and inquiring, well-dressed and good-looking. After converting to Catholicism, she renounces sex, stops living with her lover, Laurence Manders, and goes on a religious retreat. When she hears ghostly voices and a typewriter, she thinks that she is mad but soon guesses that the typewriter is typing the novel of her life and the lives of others. She wonders if this mysterious “author” is a figure from some other dimension—perhaps a soul from purgatory, perhaps Satan himself. She breaks her leg when she and Laurence have a serious automobile accident. More and more, her thoughts influence the novel; she senses its approaching end. At a climactic picnic, she falls into the river with Georgina Hogg, struggles free, and saves herself. She seems to envision a happy ending, though whether in fiction or in reality is unclear.

Laurence Manders

Laurence Manders, a man of about thirty, a lapsed Catholic who works as a sports commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Despite the fact that Caroline leaves him, he still loves her, and he worries about her sanity. At the end, he discovers Caroline’s notes for her novel and protests that she misrepresents him. Perhaps he is rewarded by a happy ending.

Georgina Hogg

Georgina Hogg, a woman of about fifty, the cousin and first wife of Mervyn Hogg and the mother of Andrew. She is sanctimonious, bullying, self-centered, and universally hated. Her hair is white, her pale-blue eyes have no lashes, and her bosom is tremendous. She was Laurence’s nursery governess and now works at a religious retreat center. There are hints that she is not a real person; on the way to a picnic that plays a crucial part in the plot, she falls asleep in the car and disappears like a witch. Later, she struggles with Caroline in the river and apparently drowns. No body is recovered.

Louisa Jepp


(The entire section is 833 words.)