The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Judith Earle is the only fully realized character in Dusty Answer. Having led a protected and isolated early life, Judith is seen in juxtaposition to her childhood friends, the Fyfe cousins, who are presented only in their relation to Judith. When Judith goes up to Cambridge to begin her university career, she is an idealist, an innocent. She has spent the better part of eighteen years in introspection and in solitary activities. One has the sense that she has never really known her parents, who remain shadowy figures throughout the novel, her father appearing in it only through Judith’s allusions to him, and her mother appearing only peripherally toward the end.

Certainly the most interesting element of Lehmann’s characterization is that which has to do with Judith’s growing lesbian relationship with Jennifer Baird. Jennifer is the most beautiful, outgoing, and utterly desirable girl the shy, introspective Judith meets at Cambridge.

In counterbalance to Jennifer is Mabel Fuller, a dull, homely, ungainly girl who is ridiculed by the other girls. Judith, secure and happy in her relationship with Jennifer, becomes Mabel’s friend, largely out of sympathy for her. Yet, in Judith’s eyes at least, she eventually is to Jennifer as Mabel is to her. It is Mabel who begins to elicit jealousy in Judith by mentioning Jennifer’s seeming attachment to Geraldine Manners, a visitor who has come to stay the weekend with Jennifer but whose stay is extended long beyond that.

Mariella Fyfe is presented only sketchily. Her story, however, is an interesting one. She actually loves her cousin Julian, but Julian does not return her love. When Julian’s brother Charlie must go to war, Mariella marries him, much to his brother Julian’s dismay. The two quarrel over the marriage and do not make their peace before Charlie is killed. Julian’s remorse leads him to be overly protective of Charlie and Mariella’s son.

The careful characterization of Judith Earle in the novel is sustained through four of its five parts. Unfortunately, the last part of the book becomes melodramatic and the characterization is less than convincing. Indeed, at the very end of part 4, which presents Judith’s reaction to Martin’s drowning, the book slips into the melodramatic, and from that point until the end of the book, the author’s control over her material and characters decreases.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Judith Earle

Judith Earle, the protagonist, an only child who lives in the country. Only eighteen years old at the beginning of the novel, she has little experience of the world but a great need for love. Throughout her childhood, she was fascinated by the Fyfe cousins, who frequently visited next door. During and after her time at Cambridge, she continues to see them, reaching out first to one, then to another, for love, security, and a sense of her own identity. At the end of the novel, two have died, and Judith has broken with the others. When her lesbian lover from college also abandons her, Judith finally is free to live her own life.

Julian Fyfe

Julian Fyfe, a musically talented child, later a composer and music critic. Six years older than Judith, he is tall and thin, with an ugly face and a sarcastic manner. Perhaps because he is so detached from others, he is insecure about his relationships; he insists that he bores even himself. When he meets Judith in France, he tells her that he has loved her for ten years and persuades her to be his mistress; however, his brother’s death intervenes. At the end of the novel, he adopts his brother’s son, Michael Peter, who also is musical.

Charles (Charlie) Fyfe

Charles (Charlie) Fyfe, Julian’s younger brother. A tall, handsome, blue-eyed boy, he pretends courage but actually has many fears and weaknesses. It is Charles who gets sick easily, and it is Charles who is afraid of the dark and of blood. Although Judith adores him, Charles marries Mariella. Before their baby is born, he is killed in the war.

Mariella Fyfe

Mariella Fyfe, Charlie’s wife. Graceful and polite but somewhat remote as a child, she seems to care deeply only for dogs. She grieves briefly for Charlie, but she later admits that it is Julian whom she really loves. Realizing that she cannot be a devoted mother to her child, she turns him over to Julian to be reared.

Martin Fyfe


(The entire section is 836 words.)