The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Each of Davies’ characters, even the secondary ones, must face how their past lives have affected the present. As in real life, most people come to terms with their difficulties; paradoxically, those who do not are often individuals apparently in greatest control of their lives. For example, Dunstan Ramsay’s life seems, at first, to hold little promise. His provincial background, followed by the war experience, which nearly takes his life and leaves him without a leg, does not stop him from seeking an education and becoming a respected history master able to influence the many boys whom he teaches. Indeed, his early struggles inspire his lifelong interest in the study of saints. He writes extensively on this subject, and his books receive the praise of internationally recognized scholars. This is not to say that his past allows a troubleless future. Dunstan remains filled with guilt and responsibility for the events which follow from those of his early life. He never marries, despite an impossible flirtation with a woman half his age and fittingly named “Faustina.” Throughout his life, he archetypally views the women he encounters as either angels or demons. Even though he lives more boldly in his later years, primarily because of his friendship with Liesl and Magnus, Dunstan’s life remains more modest in scale than those of his friends; nevertheless, he prefers this conservatism. In his own estimation, the only view which actually counts, his is a well-lived life.

Boy Staunton, by contrast, would seem from the beginning in complete control of his life. Reared in wealth, handsome, and considered “young ruler” by the people of Deptford, he becomes enormously prosperous by his own efforts but is never able to manage the difficulties of his personal life. His beautiful first wife, Leola, tries suicide, primarily because of her inability to deal with Boy’s...

(The entire section is 770 words.)