The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The chief interest of the novel lies in the development of the two main characters, Katherine Lind and Robin Fennel, since with the exception of the superb sketch of the self-important, wordy, unpleasant Lancelot Anstey, Philip Larkin does not lavish much attention on his minor characters.

The distinguishing characteristic of Katherine is that she is alone. This is partly a result of her foreignness, of which she is continually aware. She is forced to do the odd jobs at the library that no one else wants, which only emphasizes “that she was foreign and had no proper status there.” There is more than one hint that the English do not take kindly to foreigners in times of war.

The shock of her removal from her own country reinforces her isolation as she refuses to make friends. She resolves not to trust or to love, although in the past her happiness came from her relationships with other people. Now she believes that her strength must come solely from herself, but she cannot avoid the realization that her life has become like “a flat landscape, wry and rather small.” She has temporarily managed to convince herself that her meeting with Robin will change all that.

The events of the day force her into a modification of her attitudes. When she accompanies the wretched Miss Green, she feels protective and generous, happy at once more having someone who depends on her. Her happiness is also, however, a result of the expectations she holds for her renewed contact with Robin. Later in the day, when she talks with Miss Parbury and learns of her relationship with Anstey and of her invalid mother, Katherine senses “the undertow of people’s relations, two-thirds of which is without face, with only begging and lonely...

(The entire section is 717 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Katherine Lind

Katherine Lind, a foreign girl visiting in England. Twenty-two years old, Katherine is a refugee from an unnamed European country. Her home near the Rhine has been invaded by the British. Katherine is pale, with dark hair and a shield-shaped face. She has dark eyes, high cheekbones, and a wide mouth with full lips. She has returned to England, having previously spent a three-week summer holiday with the Fennels in Oxfordshire six years earlier. Lonely and isolated for the nearly two years she has been back in England, she lives above a chemist’s shop and works as a temporary assistant librarian. She has not notified the Fennels of her return, but when she reads that Jane’s child has died, she writes a letter of sympathy. Asked to escort Miss Green to the dentist, Katherine takes her afterward to her own apartment, where a note from Robin has been delivered. Prevented from keeping her appointment with Robin because she mistakenly picked up the wrong handbag at the chemist and feels obliged to retrieve Miss Green’s purse, Katherine vows to live without the pain and disappointment that such a reunion likely would bring. Katherine recognizes that she has lost the romanticism of youth and settles instead for self-protective pessimism.

Robin Fennel

Robin Fennel, Katherine’s English pen pal. Dark and slight, Robin possesses long eyelashes and bowlegs. Idolized by Katherine, he treats her as would a schoolboy, with courteous reserve and consideration but not romantically. When she is saved by him from toppling into the water, Katherine falls in love with him, even though his sister claims he is dull and ordinary. On the last night of Katherine’s summer visit, Robin awkwardly kisses her. When war breaks out, he joins the army and spends fourteen months as an artilleryman. Having not seen Katherine for six years, Robin...

(The entire section is 769 words.)