The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Hanley’s use of an omniscient third-person narrator enables the reader to see how each of the characters thinks and feels. He shows the reader Clem’s frustration with his painting, Lena’s disillusionment with her husband, and the terror of the various tenants of the Chesil Place house during the German bombing. The prose with which Hanley communicates these characters’ emotions is idiomatic, highly individualized, and charged with emotion.

Despite the fact that the efforts of Clem Stevens to paint are squarely at the center of the plot of Hanley’s A Dream Journey, the protagonist of the novel is his wife, Lena. The painter’s death is not dramatized in the third part of the book. The focus is on the reactions of the Grimpens, the former art dealer Cruickshank, and Lena to Clem’s death, and its meaning is different for each of them. In the first section of the novel, the narrator enters Clem’s mind to record his fear of being left by Lena, his growing awareness that he has stopped functioning as an artist, and his paranoia when faced with the world outside his apartment. This characterization is deft, but it serves chiefly to underscore Lena’s dilemma. She has sacrificed as much as Clem in pursuit of his artistic success, and she accepts only reluctantly that his paintings never measure up to his intentions.

Hanley fills A Dream Journey with sets of character foils for the Stevens couple. In the first and third parts of the...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Clement (Clem) Stevens

Clement (Clem) Stevens, an unsuccessful, fifty-six-year-old artist from the provinces. He lives with Lena in Chelsea, London, five floors up in a once-elegant house, now due for demolition. He and Lena lived there through World War II. Paralyzed by inertia and without contact with the outside world, he spends his days with his rejected paintings, never leaving the house and drinking and smoking heavily, continually reading, fearing that Lena will leave him. He is in poor health. The turning point in his life seems to have been the loss of a canvas during an air raid in the war, when the house was full of occupants. After once venturing out of the house, he dies when an oil stove explodes. The police suspect that he was trying to burn his paintings.

Lena Stevens

Lena Stevens, a tall woman, aged sixty, with a severe expression and large hands. She uses Clem’s surname. She has been Clem’s loyal companion for the ten years since they moved into their flat, at the beginning of the war. At first, she believed in Clem’s ability, but now she pities his failure and is wearied by his listlessness and helpless dependence. She remains loyal and prepares his meals. Her remaining pleasure consists of shopping expeditions by bus to the distant area of London where they first met. The onset of her breast cancer already was apparent during the war years. After Clem’s death, she analyzes the weaknesses...

(The entire section is 583 words.)