A gentle man who has difficulty making choices in a chaotic universe, Anthony Keating almost seems to welcome the external constraints imposed upon him. Reared in a cathedral city and educated at Oxford, Anthony, as the son of a clergyman-schoolmaster, is at first more eager to escape the expectations of his father than to establish his own identity. He marries young, lives by “his wits,” and follows a friend’s suggestion that he get a job writing for television. It is not surprising that Anthony finds “incomprehensible virtues” in Giles Peters, the friend who tells him what to do: Giles can make decisions.
Outwardly successful, Anthony gradually comes to recognize that his marriage is a failure and his job lacks challenge. Just as Anthony is “ripe for conversion, to some new creed,” he meets “self-made” property developer Len Wincobank, who is devoted, “with a kind of blinkered faithful zeal,” to rebuilding the face of England. Margaret Drabble’s use of the language of religious experience is suggestive here. When the old faiths go by the wayside, energetic men such as Anthony will look for substitutes. In a society apparently ruled by chance, the preoccupation with property development and speculation, which is, after all, a form of gambling, seems appropriate.
Len’s example inspires Anthony, with the help of Giles and his money, to form his own property development firm, the Imperial Delight Company. The name is inherited from an archaic candy factory purchased by the new partners but, nevertheless, indicates the significance of the venture. Although Anthony believes himself to be “a modern man, an operator, at one with the spirit of the age,” his enthusiasm seems to belong to an earlier time, his “sense of empire” rather like that of a nineteenth century captain of industry. Characteristically, his greatest “pride” lies not, as in Len’s case, in his plans for new buildings but in the “possession” of a defunct gasometer “a work of art” that will ultimately “have to come...
(The entire section is 837 words.)