The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Though the writer considers one of the great benefits of his country life to be its “near-solitude,” and though the novel’s primary emphasis is on his inner life, the novel’s other main characters are, like Jack, significant figures in this inner life. Their presence is somewhat abstract: There is little dialogue; the landlord, like the writer himself, is unnamed, and the writer denotes the others only by surnames or given names, never by both. The line between the writer’s speculations about them and some more objective reality is often blurred, and the reader can frequently discern a mirroring in which aspects of a character are clues to the writer’s sense of himself.

The landlord is the character with whom this mirroring is most explicit. The writer sees both of them as figures of the end of empire. The manor the landlord inherited, now decaying, was the product in part of imperial wealth; the writer himself is heir to the experience of a people displaced by the needs of the British colonial economy (his forebears were brought from India to Trinidad in the nineteenth century to work on sugar plantations). The landlord, like the writer, has sought seclusion in the world of the manor. Unlike the writer, though, the landlord has been reduced by his inheritance to “non-doing and nullity”: He was an artist in his youth, but his art never developed; he no longer travels, even to London.

Four other characters are economically and...

(The entire section is 479 words.)