The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Gentlemen in England depicts a post-Darwinian Britain which has lost its faith in a Supreme Being fully in control of His created universe. This loss is exemplified most dramatically in the lives of the geologist Horace Nettleship and the painter Timothy Lupton, but it is just as true of Charlotte Nettleship’s life.

Through his geological research, Horace, the unhappy atheist, has helped “shed the last vestiges of credence in Archbishop Ussher’s theory that the world had been fashioned at a precise date in 4004 b.c.e.” His speciality is volcanoes, but he confines his potency to his scholarship. An aunt “had told him at a formative age that it was injurious to the constitution if one’s back touched a chair,” hence he must never relax his guard or he might fall into a genuine and thus “improper” relationship with others.

Charlotte and Horace can find nothing to talk about for fifteen years, and when Nettleship eventually uncovers Charlotte’s buoyant but misspent desire for Timothy Lupton, he assaults her in an attempt at self-affirmation. Actions speak louder than words, and, in this case, such actions solemnly ratify Horace’s public break from faith of any sort. Lupton, who seemingly had no faith to lose, is apparently disgusted by Charlotte’s innocence in all this; the novel’s narrator comments, “only innocents commit adultery; of all sins it is the one which suggests the most optimistic capacity to alter the status quo. She actually thought her life could be improved!”

The result of this pervasive human apostasy is the death of marriage and the demise of the family as a stabilizing institution in society. Charlotte comes to represent a generation of daughters, mothers, and wives who lived lives of quiet desperation in touch with the world, if at all, only through their fathers, husbands, or children. She reminds herself, “We must make our pleasures at home,” and thereby resigns herself to a hollow, shadowy existence on the periphery of human life.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Horace Nettleship

Horace Nettleship, a geology professor at London University who specializes in volcanoes. Bald and quiet, with gray whiskers, Horace has chosen to be consumed by his work so as to ignore the reality that he has lost his Christian faith in God and humanity. In addition, because of his retreat into his research, he gradually loses the affection of Charlotte, his wife. Their relationship is reduced to public formalities; when at home, they communicate with each other by addressing their comments to their children, Lionel and Maudie.

Charlotte Nettleship

Charlotte Nettleship, Horace’s angry and discontented wife. Only thirty-nine years old, she is dissatisfied with the drudgery of her daily life and is angry that she was allowed to marry in her naïveté at the age of eighteen. Although she views Horace as a worthy and honest man, through the years she has come to realize that she does not like him. Bored with her own life, she looks for the excitement and romance that she believes her husband does not provide in their relationship. Mistaking the attention that Timothy Lupton, a family friend, displays toward Maudie as intended for herself, Charlotte convinces herself that Timothy is her lover and plans a rendezvous with him on the Continent.

Lionel Nettleship

Lionel Nettleship, Horace and Charlotte’s oldest child, who is away from home to study at a university. Influenced by various students as well as driven by his own...

(The entire section is 621 words.)