The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Frank Harland is a curious character. His extraordinary impressionistic art demonstrates how sharply but obliquely he sees the land and people around him. Yet he is also reticent, self-effacing, and uncomfortable in social settings. Moreover, he is in every way unsophisticated. His simplicity is, however, an illusion: He is a supremely disciplined artist of profound cultural engagement. He lacks a milieu such as the fine salons and galleries of Europe, but between stints of isolation, he cultivates people of widely varied social backgrounds: tramps on the railroad, families such as Phil Vernon’s, surfers who happen upon his island, whoever crosses paths with him.

Harland is, in fact, so steeped in the everyday world of Southern Queensland that he appears never to enter so alien an institution as an art gallery. He never frames his canvases, and he sends his work, through an agent he appears never to address personally, to Sydney, which during most of the twentieth century was Australia’s closest approximation to an artistic capital.

Elements in the characters of many of Harland’s relatives and acquaintances bring into sharper focus his much more fully developed artistic sense and serve to emphasize how great his sacrifice is. Several, such as his father, the teller of tall tales, have artistic qualities or aspirations. Phil Vernon’s Aunt Roo longs for a life in the theater and, until she attains it, designs her less glamorous existence...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Frank Harland

Frank Harland, an Australian painter. At first a gawky country boy, Harland develops into an awkward, reticent, and eccentric man, described as “leathery” in appearance. His acute sensitivity sets him apart, so that he comes to epitomize the artist struggling against a bourgeois society. The novel traces his development as a painter, and the other characters acquire importance only as they contribute to or detract from that process. Although a fully realized character, Frank emerges as the quintessential Australian artist who constructs his art from the Australian myth and landscape.

Phil Vernon

Phil Vernon, a lawyer and longtime friend of Frank. Phil is the first-person narrator of parts of the book and represents the ordinary world that revolves around family, established social circles, and business. A child when he first meets the then-unknown artist, Phil finds that his otherwise conventional life is enriched through connections with Frank, whom he understands more fully than most.

Clem Harland

Clem Harland, Frank’s father. Clem, who is called a soft, round man, fails as a farmer and landowner but succeeds as a master storyteller. This dreaming, talkative, impractical man influences Frank’s own vision as an artist.

Tam Harland

Tam Harland, Frank’s brother. Slow-witted and overweight, Tam devotes his life to taking care of Frank,...

(The entire section is 441 words.)