Nicholas Jenkins, the narrator, a sympathetic and contemplative, yet oddly detached, man. Jenkins begins as a schoolboy, the son of a mid-level army officer, who encounters his longtime associates Stringham, Templer, and Widmerpool in an aristocratic milieu. Jenkins goes on to university and then to the bare beginnings of a literary career in London. He develops a new, more bohemian circle of friends, including such men as Barnby and Moreland, and has a passionate, adulterous love affair with Jean Templer, who eventually leaves him to go to Latin America. Jenkins begins to lose touch with Templer and Stringham as they diverge on their own separate paths. He then marries Isobel Tolland and concurrently sees his novelistic career begin to blossom. Volunteering for the army with the onset of World War II, Jenkins is stationed with a Welsh regiment in Northern Ireland before moving on to more useful work as a liaison officer between Britain and the other Allied powers. After the war, Jenkins feels dislocated by the death of so many of his friends. He manages to maintain an equilibrium that few of his friends possess. This enables him to survive in situations in which men like Widmerpool undergo a calamitous fall. It is when Jenkins learns of Widmerpool’s death that he has a final meeting with Jean Templer and glimpses the lost possibilities of his early love.
Kenneth Widmerpool, Jenkins’ schoolmate, foil, and alter ego. Widmerpool is mocked and bullied at school, especially by Stringham, but by the time he reaches London and goes into the business world, he has earned increasing respect. Widmerpool pushes his way to the top, despite several mishaps and botched love affairs. During the war, he rises to become Jenkins’ superior and marries Pamela Flitton. He is named a Life peer but is ruined by his wife’s misbehavior. Eventually, he becomes entangled in a sordid cult during the 1960’s, and he dies ignominiously.
Charles Stringham, a sensitive, aristocratic boy who is Jenkins’ best friend at school. Troubled by his parents’ divorce and by alcoholism, Stringham leads a sad life until rising to heroism while imprisoned by the Japanese at Singapore, where he loses his life.
(The entire section is 560 words.)