Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 515
Stella Kirby, an actress in her early thirties. She has not achieved the success she had dreamed of when she left her home in Eden End, in northern England, some years before. Her unexpected return creates upheaval for the rest of the household. To the prodigal daughter, Eden End has seemed a safe haven, but she soon learns that she no longer belongs in the innocent world of her youth. She foresees that the future may hold even more disappointments for her, but, reunited with the husband from whom she has been estranged, she goes off bravely to face that uncertain future.
Dr. Kirby, a widower, an ailing general practitioner about sixty years old. He is aware of the seriousness of his heart condition and his imminent death. Naïvely believing his daughter Stella to be a success, he admires her for having had the courage to pursue her dream. He had wanted to be a London specialist but had settled for something less at his wife’s urging. He is optimistic about a future that he will not live to see, unaware that England will soon be plunged into a shattering war that will disrupt the lives of all of his children.
Lilian Kirby, Stella’s younger sister, who acts as housekeeper for her father. She is in love with Geoffrey Farrant and jealous of her sister, whom Farrant still loves. Lilian, who hides her emotions in sarcasm, arranges for Stella’s estranged husband, Charles Appleby, to visit Eden End.
Geoffrey Farrant, a former army officer who retains his military bearing despite a slight limp. In his late thirties, he now manages a nearby estate but decides to try a new life in New Zealand, to Lilian’s dismay, once he learns that Stella is married.
Charles Appleby, Stella’s estranged husband, a second-rate actor, about forty years old, who dresses in loud Harris tweeds. There is evidence of charm and good breeding about him but also signs that he drinks too much. He has weathered many disappointments in his career and in his relationships with women but will carry on, because he recognizes that the wonders and beauty of life outweigh its inevitable setbacks and pain.
Wilfred Kirby, Dr. Kirby’s youngest and most unsophisticated child, about twenty-four years old. Sunburned and mustached, he is home on leave from a position with the British West Africa Company in Nigeria. Disappointed to learn that the barmaid he fancies flirts with all of her customers, he is looking forward to getting back to work in Africa, just as he had looked forward to coming home. For Wilfred, anticipation gives way to disenchantment.
Sarah, the seventy-year-old North Country nurse who has remained with the Kirby family long past the years of her usefulness. She indulges her former charges as if they are still children. As the representative of a simpler way of life that is coming to an end, she makes no attempt to cope with such gadgets as the newly installed telephone.
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