The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The character of Rose Aubrey is largely autobiographical. Rebecca West’s mother gave up a promising musical career to rear a family. Similarly, her father had interests in writing and politics, repeatedly lost money on the stock exchange, and abandoned his family. Afterward, West’s mother sold a valuable painting to provide for her children. Much of the rich texture in the novel can be attributed to West’s vivid memories of her childhood in such a household.

Rose, as the narrator, unifies the text; her consciousness colors all the elements in the novel. There are, however, two different Roses. The first is the young girl, who, luckily for the reader, is uncommonly perceptive for a child. The second is the mature Rose, who, after a span of fifty years, is reflecting on her childhood. Some of the novel’s quiet optimism comes from this double vision.

The characters in the novel can be categorized according to their stabilizing influence or lack of it. Generally, the women in the novel provide order in a chaotic world. Clare is the center of her family. Her warmth, understanding, and accessibility provide the children with security in spite of the ragged clothes and decrepit furniture. In addition, she teaches the children the value of music, enabling them to see beyond their poverty. Like Clare, Constance has the fortitude to overcome difficult situations. Their children—Rose, Mary, and Rosamund—have the same ability to meet disasters and to survive, an important trait in the world of the novel where men are in control and are, nevertheless, a destabilizing force....

(The entire section is 653 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Rose Aubrey

Rose Aubrey, the narrator, the middle child (with her twin, Mary) in the Aubrey family. The novel covers the period from her young girlhood to her first engagement as a professional pianist. Rose defines herself through her musical identity and her family affection. She inherits psychic gifts from her mother. Her parents’ eccentricity develops her survival skills of selective vision and creative lying. She adores her parents and deals realistically with the strains they place on her; she is convinced that everything will be all right in the end.

Clare Keith Aubrey

Clare Keith Aubrey, Rose’s mother, a concert pianist who abandoned her career to be married and have children. She has the ferocity of genius in her family devotion as well as in her music. A highly principled intellectual, she is gifted with second sight but unable to deal with practical life except through savage self-discipline and sacrifice. The constant strain makes her gaunt, nervous, and outwardly ridiculous.

Piers Aubrey

Piers Aubrey, the brilliant, unstable father of the family, a journalist and political writer. He loses jobs suddenly and gambles family funds on the stock exchange. He is infinitely kind to Aunt Lily yet often completely disregards his family’s welfare. He has a talent for fine carpentry and makes his children enchanting gifts. His charm and genius win their adoration, yet he abandons them. His absence...

(The entire section is 609 words.)