The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Bentleys’ contempt for Horizon and its provincial values is the social expression of their private despair. Philip, an aspiring but unaccomplished artist, has become a clergyman not out of religious conviction but simply in order to make a living, while Mrs. Bentley, a moderately talented musician, has given up dreams of a musical career to play the organ in her husband’s church on Sundays. Philip’s unhappiness expresses itself in his rejection of all social intercourse; he habitually retreats to his private study, where, instead of writing sermons, he sketches the bleak landscapes and false-fronted towns which reflect the desolation and hypocrisy he feels. Mrs. Bentley is plagued by guilt. Believing that marriage has thwarted her husband’s artistic ambition, and feeling sensitive about his disappointed desire for children, she takes extraordinary pains to humor Philip’s eccentricities. Occasionally, how ever, her excess of guilt and resentment explodes outward in angry tirades against him; unable to bear the emotional burden alone, she must sometimes force him to share it.

Ironically, although neither husband nor wife is happy, Mrs. Bentley derives a perverse security in their sharing of unhappiness. This security is shaken when Paul Kirby introduces them to Steve. The Bentleys adopt Steve in spite of the murmured protests from the townspeople that Steve comes from a bad family and, worse, that the boy is a Roman Catholic. Projecting onto Steve the indignation he still feels toward his own boyhood humiliations, Philip defends Steve passionately against the opinion of the town. Mrs. Bentley’s attitude toward the boy is ambivalent: “I like Steve, and at the same time I resent him. I grudge every minute...

(The entire section is 707 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mrs. Bentley

Mrs. Bentley, the wife of Philip Bentley; her first name is never given. She narrates the novel through the journal she keeps during two years of their life in Horizon. She is pale, with dark shadows under her eyes, wears no makeup, and often mentions that her clothes are shabby. She is a loyal, loving, and protective wife but also a frustrated artist, having given up her study of the piano to follow Philip. She records her despair at Philip’s growing alienation from her and from his work, her guilt at not being able to have children after giving birth to a stillborn son a year after their marriage, and her resentment of the conditions of spiritual and physical poverty in which they are forced to live. As an educated and sensitive outsider, she despises the pettiness and mean-spiritedness of many of her husband’s parishioners but is careful not to offend them; she is reserved and makes few friends. Recognizing her husband’s unhappiness, she takes an aggressive role in collecting his back salary from the towns where he previously preached, saving money so that he can afford to leave the church. She also takes the lead in trying to resurrect their faltering marriage, supporting her husband’s ill-fated attempt to adopt Steve Kulanich, an abandoned teenager from the wrong side of the tracks, and finally accepting Philip’s illegitimate child as an adoptive son when the child’s mother dies in childbirth.

Philip Bentley

Philip Bentley, a United Church minister, the illegitimate son of a waitress and a young preacher who aspired to be a painter and died before his son’s birth. Philip is thirty-six years old, a strong, handsome man despite his tired eyes and the haggard look caused by poverty and unhappiness. He entered the church to receive the education he could not otherwise afford, planning to repay his loans with a year or two of preaching; he now finds himself trapped financially and unable to escape to pursue a career as a painter....

(The entire section is 822 words.)