Flora Crewe is an English poetess who travels by herself to India in April 1930, presumably for her health, to live and write. In India, she encounters Nirad Das, an amateur artist who paints her portrait while she writes. Flora learns from Das about the struggle among Indians for independence from British colonization. Flora’s interactions with Das take on an erotic tone when, one day, overcome by the heat, she lies naked in her bed while talking to him. While in India, Flora is also courted by the British official, David Durance. Flora dies and is buried in India in June, 1930. Over fifty years later, in the mid-1980s, the scholar Eldon Pike, who has published The Collected Letters of Flora Crewe, is collecting information for a biography he plans to write about her. Pike attempts to determine whether or not Flora had a ‘‘relationship’’ with Das, and whether or not a nude painting of Flora by Das actually existed. After Das’s death, Nirad Das, his son, finds the nude watercolor miniature in a trunk of his father’s belongings.
Eldon Pike is a scholar of Flora Crewe. He has edited the Collected Letters of Flora Crewe and, in the mid-1980s, is gathering research for a biography of Flora. As part of his research, Pike first visits Eleanor Swan, Flora’s younger sister, and then the hotel in India where Flora stayed. Pike, while well intentioned, is thoroughly absorbed in his scholarly perspective on Flora; he continually cites facts about her life, and persistently attempts to ascertain the truth about Flora. Pike is especially interested in tracking down various paintings of Flora by various artists, famous and unknown. He is also especially interested in determining whether or not Flora had a ‘‘relationship’’ with Das, and whether or not she posed for a nude portrait by the amateur Indian painter.
Eleanor Swan is Flora’s younger sister. In the mid-1980s, Pike, who is gathering information for a biography of Flora, visits her at her home in England. She is then visited by Anish Das, the son of Nirad Das, who wishes to learn more about his father’s painting of Flora. Eleanor, called Nell in her younger years, continually offers tea and cakes to her guests. She is skeptical about the value of Pike’s research on her sister, but is more receptive to Anish. After Flora’s death, Eleanor had traveled to India to visit her sister’s grave, where she met Eric, whom she subsequently married (but who is deceased during the ‘‘present’’ time of the action).
Nirad Das is an Indian man who first meets Flora after her lecture to the Theosophical Society in India, in 1930. Das is an amateur painter and asks to paint a portrait of Flora as she sits writing her poetry. During these painting sessions, Das and Flora discuss the politics of Indian colonization by the British Empire. Das is at first overly polite and subservient to Flora, but she encourages him to be his ‘‘Indian’’ self in her presence, and speak to her more naturally. During one painting session, Flora, overcome by the heat, ends up lying naked in bed under a sheet while Das sits uncomfortably in her bedroom. Over fifty years later, it is discovered that Das did, indeed, paint a watercolor miniature nude portrait of Flora, in addition to the portrait which appears on the cover of the published Collected Letters of Flora Crewe. In 1930, Das was arrested for throwing a mango during a riot in protest of British rule over India. After his death, Anish Das,...
(This entire section contains 802 words.)
Das’s son, discovers the nude portrait among his father’s belongings.
Anish Das is the son of Nirad Das. In the mid-1980s, Anish visits the home of Mrs. Swan, Flora’s sister, in England, to learn more about his father’s portrait of Flora. Anish had seen the reproduction on the cover the of Collected Letters of Flora Crewe,and recognized the style as his father’s. Anish tells Mrs. Swan that, after his father’s death, he had found a watercolor nude portrait of a European woman, who turns out to be Flora Crewe.
Coomaraswami is the president of the Theosophical Society in Jummapur, India. He greets Flora upon her arrival at the train station in 1930.
Dilip is an Indian man who attends to Pike at the hotel in India, and helps him track down information about Flora.
David Durance is a British official in India who briefly courts Flora. He asks her to marry him, but she refuses, and it is unclear whether she chose to have an affair with him.
Nazrul is the servant at the home in India where Flora stays.