The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Jane Gardam’s perceptive young girl protagonists are generally the brightest and the strongest characters in her novels. To this rule, Margaret is no exception. In a world where the adult characters drift on the currents of circumstance and passion, Margaret observes, pursues her own interests, and preserves her own independence. Whether she is climbing a tall tree, exploring a private estate, or crawling up a cliff to save herself from drowning, Margaret has control over her emotions and her destiny.

Although Margaret’s mother must define her own life by adopting her husband’s causes, she admires her daughter’s strength. Recognizing the fact that the adults in the book all attempt to enlist Margaret’s loyalty and to blur her judgment, Elinor notes, “She has a better brain than all of them.... She sees straight and clear. She’s strong as a lion.... She’s the child his mother should have had, poor feeble Charles.”

Although she loves Charles, Elinor realizes that he is weak. Despite his own love for Elinor, Charles could not resist his mother’s threats and broke off the engagement, hoping for an inheritance which his mother later refused. As Margaret sees, Binkie, too, is weak, fearful of illness, consumed by hatred for her mother, wasting her Cambridge education. Charles himself views Elinor as shy and self-conscious, a hometown girlfriend who was easy to forget when he was at Cambridge, now a dowdy matron. Only when Elinor...

(The entire section is 420 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Margaret Marsh

Margaret Marsh, an eight-year-old girl. Precocious, inquisitive, and outspoken, Margaret enjoys climbing trees and exploring the grounds of the big manor house on her outings with Lydia, a servant. Her surprisingly exhaustive knowledge of biblical texts (inculcated by her fundamentalist father) is of limited help in answering her larger questions about God and life. Her candid observations of an adult world she only partially understands provide the novel’s primary point of view.

Elinor Marsh

Elinor Marsh, Margaret’s mother, aged thirty-six. Large and maternal, she nevertheless retains her youthful beauty. She is eager to be a friend to Margaret and tries (rather unsuccessfully) not to let her new baby boy distract her attention from her daughter. Initially attracted to Kenneth Marsh because of the intensely religious “goodness” he exudes, she leaves him when she discovers him in the arms of Lydia. She flees to a former fiancé, Charles Frayling, whose acquaintance she has recently renewed; from this union, she bears a son. Eventually, she marries the local vicar, Father Carter.

Kenneth Marsh

Kenneth Marsh, Margaret’s father, who works in a bank. A neat, controlled, fervently religious man, Marsh belongs to a denomination called the Primal Saints. Marsh denounces sin energetically, but the attractions of the serving girl Lydia, who he initially argues has been sent to them by God that they may redeem her, prove too tempting for him. He is discovered by both Margaret and Elinor attempting to seduce Lydia. Later that day, Kenneth drowns trying to save Margaret after she is caught by the tide far from shore during a storm.

Charles Frayling

Charles Frayling, a local schoolmaster. Elinor’s childhood love, Charles rather neglected her after he went away to Queen’s College, Cambridge, but at his...

(The entire section is 789 words.)