The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The only character of any real complexity in Down from the Hill is Paul himself; most of the other characters are foils who reflect Paul’s development. The novel is narrated from two consecutive points of view: the first-person in part 1 and the third-person-limited in part 2. Through his interior monologues, Paul provides an ironic commentary on socialism and the nascent welfare state of 1945, and on Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain in 1983. The social criticism, however, focuses less on politics than on the replacement of the culture of friendly tea shops and bicycle journeys by a bleaker England of concrete and television.

Reliving the past even as a boy, Paul remembers visiting Uncle Fred in the hospital on the day of his bizarre death, the day Paul makes his uncle laugh so hard that he dies of a heart attack. Paul is deeply disturbed, while his father, who hates his brother Fred, is happy to see him gone. Paul’s relationship with his father, whom he suspects is responsible for the disappearance of Alice’s promised letter, among other things, is strained, like that between Paul Morel and his father in D. H. Lawrence’s novel Sons and Lovers (1913). Sheffield also has difficulty with his father, who unjustly accuses him of causing his mother’s death: “I’ll bloody kill him, though, if he don’t stop needling me.”

The only real conflict that Paul experiences on his journey, however, is the frustration of not being able to consummate his love for Alice. On his first night in Stafford, he wonders, although with a bad conscience, if he might not have been better...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Paul Morton

Paul Morton, a seventeen-year-old Nottingham factory worker. He leaves Nottingham on a six-day bicycle tour in the summer of 1945, then retraces his route by Volvo automobile in the summer of 1983, when he is a successful television scriptwriter separated from his third wife. Along his route, he meets people whom he recalls from his 1945 journey. In 1945, he stays nights in youth hostels, climbs ruins of an abbey, has a sexual encounter, and returns home to begin training as an air traffic controller. In 1983, he climbs the abbey wall and inquires about Alice Sands but declines to retrace the last segment of the tour, down from Broughton Hill.

Alice Sands

Alice Sands, the only person whom Paul plans to meet during his bicycle tour. With hazel eyes, auburn hair, and pale skin, she reminds him of the roses in Wishdale Abbey. With Gwen, they have fish and chips, go to movies in Stafford, and visit a castle. Paul never sees her again, though he learns in 1983 that she married a Canadian lawyer, lived for a while in Toronto, and had two children.


Gwen, a friend of Alice. Wearing strong perfume to cover odors acquired from her job in a fish shop, she is an unwelcome third party.

Uncle Fred

Uncle Fred, Paul’s uncle, though in 1983 Paul wonders if Fred in fact is his father. He lived a wild life, was despised by Paul’s father, and died in a home for the mentally incompetent. Paul is haunted by memories of Fred.

Albert Colston

Albert Colston, Paul’s friend in Nottingham. He promises to go on the 1945 bike tour but instead makes up a quarrel with his girlfriend and stays behind.


Janice, Paul’s current girlfriend in Nottingham in 1945. Straitlaced and ugly, with buck teeth, she no longer interests him.

Oswestry (Ozzie)

Oswestry (Ozzie), a youthful cyclist Paul meets in 1945. Wearing khaki knee shorts, he has...

(The entire section is 829 words.)