Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550
Anthony (Tony) and Brenda Last are a married couple whose crumbling relationship is at the heart of the novel. Tony, arguably the most sympathetic character in the novel, is an English country gentleman whose ancestral home, Hetton Abbey, is a source of tremendous pride for him. Tony loves his life in the country and is unfailingly generous and good-natured—perhaps too much so, for when Brenda, bored and idle in the country, begins having an affair with John Beaver, a guest at Hetton Abbey, Tony remains completely oblivious. In fact, Brenda has to inform her husband of her affair in order to initiate divorce proceedings. Tony is easily manipulated and deceived; only when he realizes the truth about Brenda’s greed and selfishness does he finally learn the word “no” and refuse to grant her the divorce she seeks.
Seeking respite from the dramas and complications of his life, Tony meets up with an explorer, Dr. Messinger, who takes him on an expedition to the Amazon rainforest in search of a lost ancient city. Messinger’s incompetence results in Tony’s falling ill and wandering aimlessly through the rainforest when suddenly Tony is miraculously saved by Mr. Todd, a man who at first seems to be a savior but eventually becomes a kidnapper. At the end of the novel, Tony is officially declared dead in England, and Hetton Abbey is passed on to his cousins. Tony’s misfortunes are often the result of chance and fate, not Tony’s own doing, and so he becomes a victim of cruel people, an ambivalent world, and the ruthless hierarchy of British class status.
Brenda Last finds country life unbearably dull and longs to be in exciting London, where John Beaver, unemployed and purposeless, floats about, mooching off the generosity of his friends. Brenda is demanding about what she wants and unfeeling about what her actions do to Tony. In fact, when Tony and Brenda’s son, John, dies, Brenda is “relieved” to learn that it’s not John Beaver who’s dead, but rather her own child; she then tells her bereaved and mourning husband that she wants to leave him for Beaver. At the end of the novel, Tony’s alleged death allows Brenda the freedom to marry again, which of course she does for money and social status.
John Beaver is the agent the causes much of the novel’s action. His presence at Hetton Abbey and his affair with Brenda are responsible for the falling apart of Tony and Brenda’s marriage. He is a superficial hedonist; he feels no guilt about his affair with Brenda, nor is he worried about his unemployment and his lack of purpose. That he causes misfortune for those around him does not trouble him in the slightest.
Other characters include Jock Grant-Menzies, Tony’s friend and the man whom Brenda marries at the end of the novel; John Andrew Last, Tony and Brenda’s son who dies; Mrs. Beaver, John’s mother, who bemoans the person John is but enables his behavior nonetheless; Dr. Messinger, the inept explorer who leads Tony into the Amazon jungle and then dies as he is swept down a waterfall; and Mr. Todd, the man who initially saves Tony from the Amazon but then becomes Tony’s kidnapper.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424
Anthony Last, called Tony, a young Englishman whose dream is to restore his Hetton Abbey to its feudal glory. He does not suspect his wife’s infidelity until she informs him of it and asks for a divorce. Agreeing at first, he becomes angry at her family’s greed for alimony and refuses to give her a divorce. To get away, he goes on an expedition to the jungles of South America. There he contracts a fever and is nursed back to health by a trader who keeps Tony a permanent prisoner, forcing him to read and reread aloud the works of Charles Dickens interminably. Finally, Tony is declared officially dead. His abbey passes on to a cousin; his wife moves on to a new husband.
Brenda Last, Tony’s wife. Bored with their life, she takes a room in London and has an affair with a selfish young man who loses interest when Brenda can obtain neither money nor a divorce. After Tony is declared dead, she marries another of his bachelor friends.
John Beaver, a worthless young bachelor whose social success consists chiefly in his availability as an extra man. He has an affair with Brenda but later discards her.
Mrs. Beaver, his mother, an interior decorator. She rents Brenda the one-room flat from which Brenda conducts her affair with John; after Tony’s disappearance, with Brenda unable to get his money, she refuses Brenda’s application for a job.
John Andrew Last
John Andrew Last, Brenda and Tony’s son. He is killed while fox hunting, when his mount is struck by a runaway horse. Receiving the news of his death, Brenda at first thinks that John Beaver is being discussed. Learning that her son is the one who is killed, she is relieved;, thus realizing how much she cares for Beaver, she resolves to get a divorce.
Jock Grant-Menzies, Tony’s friend, whom Brenda marries after Tony’s disappearance.
Dr. Messinger, the explorer with whom Tony sets out on his travels. Deserted by their Indian guides, he and Tony venture down a jungle river in hopes it will lead them out. Dr. Messinger leaves the delirious Tony on shore and goes on for help, but the boat capsizes, and he drowns.
Todd, an illiterate trader who loves Dickens’ novels. After finding Tony and nursing him back to health, Todd keeps him a prisoner so that he can spend his life hearing Tony read Dickens over and over.