The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

An author takes a great risk creating a story focused on a character who has no sense of self and has almost no language in which to describe her feelings and desires. Eva Trout is a large, unformed presence in this novel, yet it is possible to know her character through the perceptions of others. Iseult Arble is aware of Eva’s untrained intelligence and tries to help Eva give voice to her unhappiness; Eric Arble is drawn to the latent sensuality evident in Eva’s statuesque proportions. Of all who know Eva, perhaps Henry Dancey understands her best. Through him, readers can see Eva’s sensitivity, her desire to be free and to exercise control over her own life. Toward the end of the novel, Eva increases her self-awareness through the help of a priest and a sympathetic French doctor. Talking to them, she explains her hostility to Constantine and Iseult for the first time.

Elizabeth Bowen relies heavily on nuance to create her characters in this novel. Much information is conveyed through conversation, during which many things are only implied. Constantine’s contempt for women is revealed through his sarcastic comments on Iseult’s choice of food at a restaurant; Eric’s growing desire for Eva is conveyed by his vague worry over her health. Allusions to the past, clear only by the end of the novel, supply necessary information about Eva’s psychological makeup; influenced by her mother’s desertion, her father’s liaison with Constantine and his...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Eva Trout

Eva Trout, a large, clumsy, naïve English girl with only a weak sense of selfhood. At the age of twenty-five, she becomes heiress to the fortune of her father, Willy Trout, when he commits suicide. In Eva’s infancy, her mother was killed in a plane crash as she fled from her husband’s homosexual relationship with Constantine. Just before receiving her inheritance, Eva lives with a former teacher, Iseult, and unintentionally disrupts her marriage. Morally and spiritually homeless all her life and emotionally crippled by a childhood devoid of normal love—she cannot even cry—Eva first purchases a derelict mansion in England as a home and then leaves for America to create a family for herself by buying a baby, Jeremy, on the black market. Because she cannot accept her own sexuality, she cannot herself bear a child. Inarticulate and unwilling to communicate with others, she lives for some eight years in isolation with Jeremy, who proves to be a deaf-mute, in a world restricted to television and film images. Finally reaching out for fuller humanity, she emerges and takes him to England to receive training in speech. He shoots Eva as she is departing on a mock wedding journey, but her death is an apotheosis. Having inveigled her longtime friend Henry into a fake marriage for the sake of Jeremy’s future, Eva discovers in the moment before death that Henry would willingly marry her for herself, and in knowing herself to be loved she finally discovers her selfhood. Psychically whole at last, she dies crying tears of joy.

Iseult Arble

Iseult Arble, Eva’s former teacher, dark haired and of pleasing...

(The entire section is 679 words.)