The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Edward Baltram moves from despair to hope in the course of the novel. What brings about this change is not so much his own efforts but the efforts of and contact with others. For example, Thomas McCaskerville works behind the scenes to bring Edward to Seegard, while Stuart helps the mother of the boy Edward has inadvertently killed to forgive him. In addition, the appearance of such characters as Brownie and Jesse helps Edward return to a more normal perception of the possibilities in life. Edward must, however, make that last step by himself; when he does so, he becomes, in perhaps a truer sense than Stuart, an apprentice to the good. Furthermore, when he thinks of becoming a writer and using his experiences, he unites the advice of Thomas, the role of his father, Jesse, and the example of his stepfather, Harry.

Stuart Cuno is something of a stereotyped character; he is so earnest about becoming good that he creates misery and disruption wherever he goes. His concept of goodness has something of the abstract about it. It is only at the end of the novel, when Stuart finds a specific outlet for his attempts to do good, that he becomes a force for good. He is to become a teacher of small children in order to “give them an idea of what goodness is, and how to love it.”

Jesse Baltram has many of the traits of the great artist; he lives an unconventional life, he loves many women, and his art is ignored or unappreciated. Jesse, however, is now only the shadow of his once-heroic self. His madness and infirmities reduce him to a near-childish state. Even in that reduced state, however, he can reach out, touch, and change others. The few words he speaks to Midge and Stuart alter their lives, and his forgiveness begins to bring about some important changes in Edward. His death is as romantic and mysterious as one can imagine; it is similar to the death of Percy Bysshe Shelley or that of George Gordon, Lord Byron. After his death, “Jesse lives” begins to appear on walls in London. In a curious way, then, Jesse embodies many of the aspects of the great artist even though he has lost the ability to create.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Edward Baltram

Edward Baltram, a man who hopes to bring joy and happiness to his beloved friend Mark Wilsden by giving him a hallucinogenic drug hidden in a sandwich. As Mark falls asleep under the influence of the drug, Sarah Plowmain telephones, and Edward goes to her apartment, where they make love. While Edward is away, Mark apparently wakes, then falls to his death from the window of Edward’s room. From his euphoric heights of sensual and mind-altered pleasure, Edward is plunged into a mental, emotional, and spiritual hell, blaming himself for Mark’s death. The novel portrays the consequences of the other characters trying to help cure or intensify Edward’s depression. Edward slowly begins to understand that his pain will never go away but that he can live with it, as others do.

Jesse Baltram

Jesse Baltram, an elderly, bedridden mystic living on the edge of insanity. He is Edward’s father as the result of a brief affair with Chloe Warriston. He exerts a powerful influence on Mother May, Bettina, and Ilona, who protect him from the outside world while they wait for him to die. As an artist, his early fame, now diminished through inactivity, will blossom anew at his death. As a lover of many women, his fame continues to burn brightly. His large and remarkable head is out of proportion to his diseased body. He drowns in the small river running near Seegard, fulfilling a vision that Edward had.

Harry Cuno

Harry Cuno, twice a widower, a man in his mid-to late forties. He married Chloe Warriston knowing that she carried Jesse’s child and reared Edward as his own. He lives with his older son, Stuart, from his first marriage. He is having an affair with Midge, Chloe’s sister and wife to his best friend, Thomas McCaskerville. Returning from a passionate weekend away from London, he and Midge lose their way, get their car stuck in a ditch, and find themselves at Seegard, where both Edward and Stuart happen to be. Midge ends their affair, and Harry, a writer, sets out for Italy to confer with his publisher, another woman.

Stuart Cuno

Stuart Cuno, a man in his mid-twenties who has had a revelation and has become an advocate of the pure in heart, the “white” existence as opposed to Edward’s “black.” Tall, bulky, and awkward, Stuart is a source of strength to Edward, Midge, Harry, and Meredith (Midge’s son). Estranged from Harry after discovering the affair, and from Edward before Mark’s accident, Stuart eventually reconciles with both. The novel ends with father, son, and stepson drinking champagne toasts to one another’s health and to the future at home together.

Margaret (Midge) Warriston McCaskerville

Margaret (Midge) Warriston McCaskerville, a former model married to Thomas and the mother of Meredith, age thirteen. As a child, she once was noticed by Jesse and has been haunted by the memory. She and Harry have attempted to keep their love of two years secret but have been caught once by Meredith and then by Stuart, Edward, Mother May, Bettina, Ilona, and Jesse at Seegard. Jesse thinks that Midge is her sister, Chloe. She finally decides to leave Harry and to tell Thomas the truth, something that Stuart has been urging her to do.


(The entire section is 1358 words.)