The book is essentially about Edith Hope; she is the only character whose mind is fully explored. The reader can evaluate her as she at first sees herself, as she believes her friends see her, as Mr. Neville sees her, and as she eventually sees herself in the light of her experiences at the hotel.
Despite Edith’s unassuming and self-effacing persona, she privately believes that she has inherited her father’s strength of character; by the end of the book, however, she is not too sure. Having suffered emotional neglect from her mother, she yearns for love—for the kind of domestic love she has experienced in little snatches with David, but with the security which Geoffrey had offered. Although she rejects feminist aspirations, she wants to be a free and equal partner within the romantic framework which she envisages. The unfolding of her character is full of ambiguities and contradictions which are presumably intentional; Edith is a person to argue about rather than to judge.
All the rest of the characters are presented through her own constantly changing perceptions of them. They are vividly, even grotesquely, visualized, but not deeply analyzed; they exist as grist for the mill of her introspection, helping her to confront her own emotional problems through negative example.
Madame de Bonneuil, who seems at first to be a rather gross bourgeoise, turns out to be a desperately lonely aristocrat who has been ruthlessly turned out of her splendid mansion across the lake by her son and his arrogant wife. Monica looks like a bored, high-born sophisticate but is in fact a fortune hunter who has succeeded in marrying a titled Englishman and is...
(The entire section is 686 words.)
Edith Hope, a successful writer of popular romantic fiction under a pseudonym. The book opens as Edith arrives at a hotel in a small town in Switzerland. Her friends coerced into taking this undesired holiday at the end of the season because they thought that she needed to get away to recover her normal good sense after an unfortunate incident in London, her home. A serious, hardworking woman in her late thirties, Edith makes no effort to enhance her natural attractiveness with stylish clothes or makeup. She keeps her thoughts and feelings to herself. No one knows about her secret life (her long-standing affair with a married man), nor does she reveal to anyone her decision about her wedding until the ceremony is about to take place. She does write long and wryly humorous letters to her lover, describing her fellow guests and the small events in their lives. She does not mail the letters.
Monica, also called Lady X, a young woman who also has been forced to spend some time at this dreary but highly reputable establishment, which serves as a kind of sanctuary for those needing such a place of temporary retirement. Monica’s husband, a titled Englishman, has sent her here in the hope that she will recover her health and give him an heir, but Monica is interested only in chocolates and her badly behaved lapdog. Out of loneliness, she and Edith develop a casual friendship.
Iris Pusey, a wealthy widow who is staying beyond the season with her daughter under mysterious circumstances that are never revealed. Mme Pusey is expensively dressed and uses cosmetics and perfume lavishly. She and her daughter have an intensely loving relationship, conversing at length and with animation about clothes and about their extravagant and glamorous former life, when M. Pusey was still living.
Jennifer Pusey, Mme Pusey’s daughter. Jennifer dresses and behaves like a young girl but is later revealed to be in her forties, at least. Mme Pusey’s true age is...
(The entire section is 856 words.)