The Girl Green as Elderflower Characters

Randolph Stow

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Crispin Clare, the central character, is in transition, moving from sickness to health, attempting to connect past and present, to integrate a fragmented and confused self into a whole, healthy human being. In many ways he is opaque: From the context of the real-life narrative, he himself says little to cast light on his own thoughts and evident traumas; indeed, for one who is recovering from serious mental illness, he seems, on the surface, strangely quiet, unassuming, “normal.” It is only in brief moments of action—the faint during the Ouija-board game, the paranoia during the first meeting with Jim—that the reader suspects the troubled mind beneath the almost passive exterior, and it is only with Matthew Perry, in the middle of the night, that Clare can confront his painful past. That he is recovering by the novel’s end is made evident not only by the fact that he has secured a teaching position but also in Stow’s hints that past and present, imagination and reality, are beginning to merge into a unified whole.

Other characters in the novel face similar challenges to the self, but they function primarily as foils to, if not projections of, Clare. Clare’s nineteen-year-old cousin, Mark, like Clare is entering a new phase of his life (adulthood) and is undefined sexually. Jim Maunoir, the priest who has lost faith in his calling, appears, near the novel’s end, to be about to return to the priesthood—to have found himself. Matthew Perry,...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Crispin Clare

Crispin Clare, a twenty-five-year-old anthropologist who has experienced a physical and emotional breakdown. Suffering from malaria, he attempted to commit suicide. Recuperating in isolation at The Hole Farm in Suffolk, England, where his ancestors lived, Crispin attempts to accomplish in writing a goal that he cannot verbalize. Between visits and games with his cousin’s children, Clare reads Latin tales of twelfth century England. When he writes, the children, the locals, and Crispin’s visitors dissolve into a mysterious blend of medieval legend, superstition, folk tales, and twentieth century culture: Medieval children play Monopoly, and a twelfth century merman is enchanted by a transistor radio. Fascinated by a mysterious young woman seen locally, whom he associates with the medieval “girl green as elderflower,” Clare writes his way back to health. He grapples with his past through the visit of his friend Matthew Perry, with the present through the children, and with the problem of good and evil through his contact with the disaffected American priest Jim-Jacques Maunoir.

Alicia Clare

Alicia Clare, the recent widow of Crispin Clare’s cousin Charles. At forty-three (the age of soon-to-be-inaugurated President Kennedy), Alicia is youthful and attractive in a manner reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, with hair that gives red glints in the firelight. As the mother of the adolescent Marco and his younger brother and sister, Lucy and Mikey, she appears with them in various forms in the tales that Crispin tells. Alicia is the stable force in Crispin’s world, busying herself with household duties, yet needing adult conversation.

Marco (Mark) Clare

Marco (Mark) Clare, the tall nineteen-year-old son of Alicia and Charles Clare. With dark hair that, like Alicia’s, has a hint of copper, Mark is troubled by adolescent woes, yet he is an insightful...

(The entire section is 798 words.)