The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

To the villagers in Tuscany, where he makes a failed attempt to write a novel, Jerry Westerby is “the schoolboy”; as the son of a titled press baron, he merits the designation “honourable”: thus the novel’s ironic, oxymoronic title. It is a title which gains in suggestive power as the action unfolds. Like a schoolboy, Westerby quite often carries a booksack, invariably stocked with works by T. E. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and Graham Greene—all writers who knew the heart of darkness within man and the failures of romantic idealism. Westerby is a schoolboy also in the sense that he is a product of Sarratt, the Circus’ training school for field agents. Throughout the novel, Westerby is simply a “Sarratt man,” obediently carrying out orders, always reviewing in his mind what he was taught at Sarratt before taking action. His schooling covers all contingencies until the final scenes, when his sense of remorse for the deaths he has inadvertently caused conflicts with his feelings of loyalty toward Smiley.

Smiley, on the other hand, is rather professorial: eccentric, unfathomable, solitary. He appears in control of the entire operation until he learns that he has been betrayed. Ironically, Smiley does not realize the degree to which Westerby suffers precisely because their despair stems from the same root: loneliness.

In some ways, George Smiley, in his sixties, and Jerry Westerby, fifty-three, the protagonists of...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

George Smiley

George Smiley, a veteran of the British intelligence services who is assigned to rebuilding spy networks after the exposure of Bill Haydon, a “mole” working for the Russians. Haydon has compromised British agents all over the world, and Smiley’s job is to unravel Haydon’s treachery and rebuild the confidence not only of his government but also of the Americans—or, as the British call them, “the cousins”—who are reluctant to share information with the unreliable Brits and who are prone to taking over areas of the world where British intelligence has been dominant. Smiley’s problem is not only Karla—his arch Soviet adversary—but also the perceptions of his colleagues, some of whom think he is aging and losing his grip. Smiley’s low-key manner and elaborate politeness make him seem weak and vulnerable, whereas in fact he has a better grasp of strategy and of how to expose Karla’s agents than anyone else in England or America.

Peter Guillam

Peter Guillam, Smiley’s right-hand man. Although he is fiercely protective of his mentor’s power and fends off members of the intelligence service who are angling to replace Smiley, Guillam fears that Smiley’s critics may be right: Perhaps he is too old and too dispirited to break Karla’s spy network.

Connie Sachs

Connie Sachs, one of Smiley’s ardent supporters. She is a crack researcher who is able to anticipate most of Smiley’s moves and to understand that he is well ahead of...

(The entire section is 629 words.)