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The Historian

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The Historian, an anonymous first-person narrator, brisk, pleasantly jocular, and rather Dickensian. Although he has no part in the action, he provides humorous commentary on it.

Mr. Alfred Polly

Mr. Alfred Polly, a sensitive, dyspeptic petty tradesman, given to romantic dreams, mispronunciation, and pungent phrases. After starting as a draper’s assistant, he was left some money by his father, and acquired a shop and a wife. Fifteen years later, Mr. Polly is bald and chubby, and imagination and good will have been stifled by his neighbors and his wife. He bungles a suicide attempt but unexpectedly becomes a hero when he saves an old woman from the fire he has started. A short time later, he runs away. He wanders until he finds a wayside inn kept by a plump woman who is threatened by her worthless nephew, called Uncle Jim. Mr. Polly shows his pluck by standing up, rather quakingly, to Jim and defeating him in a series of comic fights. Five years later, he returns home, finds himself unneeded, and goes back to the inn for good.

Mrs. Miriam Polly

Mrs. Miriam Polly, his dowdy, unimaginative wife, a poor housekeeper and a worse cook, whom Mr. Polly married on the rebound from an abortive romance. Under the illusion that she would be tidy and affectionate, he soon learns otherwise. After he disappears and his supposed corpse is found, she and her sister start a tea shop with the insurance money. She is horrified when her husband returns to the village and is glad to see him go away again.

The Plump Woman

The Plump Woman, the proprietress of the Potwell Inn, a warm, easy-going, motherly person. Mr. Polly immediately likes her and takes a job as a handyman at the inn. She gives him permission to leave when Uncle Jim shows up, but the devotion she inspires induces Mr. Polly to defend her.

Uncle Jim

Uncle Jim, a short, tough, mean ex-convict. A comic villain, he teaches the plump woman’s granddaughter to swear. He goes after Mr. Polly with beer bottles, an axe, and a gun, but he complains that Mr. Polly does not fight fair when he finds himself dumped in the river. Eventually he runs off, drowns, and gets mistaken for Mr. Polly.

Polly

Polly, the plump woman’s granddaughter, a sprightly nine-year-old who at first worships Uncle Jim and then comes to admire Mr. Polly.

Aunt Larkins

Aunt Larkins, the mother of Mrs. Polly. She misrepresents her daughters and cries vulgarly at the wedding.

Annie Larkins

Annie Larkins, her daughter and Mrs. Polly’s sister. One of Mr. Polly’s kissing cousins, she enjoys vigorous embraces and laughs loudly at all his jokes. Then, as a middle-aged frump, she becomes Miriam’s partner in the tea shop venture.

Minnie Larkins

Minnie Larkins, another sister of Miriam. Though ill-bred and common, she almost won Mr. Polly for a husband.

Christabel

Christabel, a coy, pretty schoolgirl, Mr. Polly’s only romantic interest. For ten days he courts her as she sits on the schoolyard wall, but at last her teen-age schoolmates giggle and she runs off, shattering Mr. Polly’s dream.

Parsons

Parsons, Mr. Polly’s best friend when he was a draper’s assistant. Chubby, imaginative, a lover of poetry, Parsons gets in a battle with the store manager over a window display, is fired, and leaves.

Platt

Platt, the third member of the Parsons, Polly, Platt trio, also a clerk.

Mr. Howard Johnson

Mr. Howard Johnson, the cousin who puts Mr. Polly up for a while, urges him to buy a shop, and becomes sullen at the loss of rent when Mr. Polly marries.

Mrs. Johnson

Mrs. Johnson, his optimistic, vulgar wife.

Mr. Garvace

Mr. Garvace, the store manager who fired Parsons.

Rusper

Rusper, a shopkeeper, ignorant but with pretense to knowledge, whose quarrel with middle-aged Mr. Polly ends in a law court.

Rumbold

Rumbold, another obnoxious, mulish neighbor.

Mrs. Rumbold

Mrs. Rumbold, his mother, the old woman Mr. Polly saves in a fire.

Hicks

Hicks, a grumpy, gossipy, low-bred neighbor.

Mr. Voules

Mr. Voules, a fat, stupid man who takes charge of Mr. Polly’s wedding.

Uncle Pentstemon

Uncle Pentstemon, an old, crotchety, offensive relative.

Mrs. Amy Punt

Mrs. Amy Punt, another odious relative.

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