The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The reader is given information about several of the characters, including many minor ones (such as Nusa’s brother Bojan, who appeared in 1915 in a Marseille police file under the false name issued to G. on the forged passport obtained from the British Foreign Office), but the only character who matters profoundly is G. himself. Everyone else is, as it were, simply a vector that intersects with and deflects the path of G.’s Iife.

In another sense, however, the real “hero” of this novel is the narrator, whose voice insistently interrupts the narrative to discourse on the poetics and aesthetics of the novel, on the course of European history both contemporaneous with the action and distant from it, and on the problems of representing in language the lived experience of a human consciousness. The narrator is at once assertive, knowledgeable, and authoritative, and strangely vulnerable, confused, unsure of the progress of his own narrative.

There is, however, yet a third “character” in this novel, one that possesses none of the self-conscious sophistication of the narrator, still less the implacable will of G. What emerges with a force and a determinate shape all its own is the march of modern European history, gathering momentum through the fervor of the Italian Risorgimento up to the nationalist rebellions of the Slavic peoples that will provide the proximate cause of World War I. G. is not only about the titular hero and his amorous adventures in the opening years of the twentieth century; it is, and perhaps more powerfully, about the emergence of historical forces and movements which will rip apart the last vestiges of the ancient regime in Europe and open up, if only briefly, the road to Socialist emancipation. How history unfolds, in a progressively coherent pattern visible only at those moments when it has crystallized into global trends that dominate all action and perception, this is the authentic subject of G. The novel portrays the emergence of the modern world in the conflagration of interimperialist war.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


G., the protagonist. Though described as an “ugly, intense young man,” he is very successful with women; he is seduced by his cousin Beatrice at the age of fifteen. As he gets older, his complexion grows sallower and his face thinner, making his nose appear larger. G. is a cynic who does not believe in “the Great Causes.” He does what he wants, ever in search of more conquests and new experiences. Although people assume that he must be an idealistic dreamer because of his actions (for example, he becomes a spy in Trieste for the Allied side), he seems to be the exact opposite, except that, at the end, he does take Nua the passport he promised her, heedless of his own safety. It is uncertain if this gesture is merely a way of ensuring Nua’s seduction. G. is killed because his actions have become so arbitrary as to indicate that he is a traitor, though he is not, because he holds no allegiances.


Laura, G.’s mother. A short woman with fair hair and a somewhat retroussé nose, Laura is described as being the opposite of her lover Umberto’s wife, Esther. Laura enjoys being unconventional: She married at the age of seventeen but two years later, in public, told her husband never to come back. The idea of having a child out of wedlock seems to her to indicate self-sufficiency rather than disgrace. Once she has the child, she is not interested in rearing him, but she will not allow Umberto to rear him either. Instead, Laura deposits G. at her cousins’ farm in England. Later, however, Laura takes G. to meet his father in Italy.


Umberto, a wealthy Italian candied-fruit merchant, G.’s father. Umberto is devoted to his mistress, Laura, though he never allows her to meet him in Livorno, where his wife lives. He does not see his son until G. is eleven years old, and he dies in 1908. G. adopts the guise of a wealthy Italian candied-fruit merchant when he is in Trieste, an identity that would have been his had he been Umberto’s legitimate son.



(The entire section is 851 words.)