Characters

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Dorothy Chambers
Margaret’s good friend Dorothy comes to visit on the fateful day that the story plays out. The short visit provides Glasgow with the chance for Margaret to share her most important ideals about love: that all people should be with those they love, even if it means giving up a spouse. When Margaret wonders why a woman would want to be with a man who clearly prefers another, Dorothy points out that couples stay together for other reasons, such as comfort and material gain. Dorothy’s crucial question—‘‘ Would you [give your husband up], if it were George’’—makes Margaret decide to give up her life with George so that he can be with Rose.

Dorothy also serves as a bridge between the generations. Unlike Margaret and like Rose, she smokes cigarettes. The knowing manner in which she speaks of a husband’s affair implies its commonness in the lifestyle of she and her circle.

George Fleming
George Fleming appears to be a ‘‘typical’’ husband of his time—he relies on his wife to take care of all his creature comforts and depends on the strength of her love while doing little to demonstrate his own. A lawyer, George appears to be driven less by passion than by convenience; even his affair with Rose began less out of desire for the younger woman and more out of convenience as Margaret was incapacitated at the time. When faced with the affair, instead of apologizing to his wife, George forms lawyerly, logical arguments. He believes that the affair should not bother Margaret because he never loved Rose. In doing so, he irrefutably proves that he neither understands his wife nor is willing to make any effort to do so.

Margaret Fleming
Margaret Fleming, the story’s protagonist, has been happily married to George for 20 years when she learns his alarming secret: that he is having an affair with a woman named Rose Morrison. Margaret has centered her life around that of her husband, taking care of his personal needs as well as assisting him professionally. She has sacrificed any independent life and suppressed her own desires. Now she feels that her whole life is an illusion and that her perfect world is destroyed.

Margaret’s beliefs that all people should be with those they love lead to her decision to sacrifice her own happiness and give up George. She reasons that George must love Rose, or else he would not betray her, Margaret. She also embraces her own martyrdom to elevate the pedestrian situation. Not until George rejects her offer to set him free, telling her the affair with Rose was merely a dalliance, does Margaret realize the futility of her gesture. She has lost her former happiness as well as the opportunity to be selfless—both the fundamentals of her life with George. By the end, Margaret has lost her idealistic view of love, her own marriage, and life itself.

Rose Morrison
Rose Morrison, a woman in her twenties, is a Bohemian artist type. She dresses in strange modern clothes, reads the latest books, and has a studio in Greenwich Village in New York City. At first she appears to the reader and to Margaret as the antithesis of her rival: wild, artsy, impassioned, and careless. However, her feelings for George prove that when it comes to matters of the heart, she is not so unlike Margaret, whom she calls a ‘‘Victorian woman’’; like the older woman, she believes that George’s happiness is more important than anything else.

Rose acted without George’s knowledge when she wrote of the affair to Margaret, and thus the feelings that she shares with the older woman reflect only her views, not George’s as well. Rose believes that the passion she and George share is indeed love, yet, unlike Margaret, she does not believe in the finality of love. In this way, her more Bohemian nature does assert itself.

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Critical Essays