The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Jacob Flanders is the focal point of this novel, a complicated character who is interesting not only because of his struggles to see and understand the world but also because he provides the reader with the opportunity to observe the other characters’ way of seeing as well. The other characters see Jacob and the world from the outside and find it difficult to describe him. They frequently speak of his being “distinguished-looking,” but they are unable to specify in what way. As the narrator puts it, “distinction was one of the words to use naturally, though, from looking at him, one would have found it difficult to say which seat in the opera house was his, stalls, gallery, or dress circle.” In their attempts to describe him, some characters, such as Clara Durrant, who loves him, see him in sentimental terms, while others, such as Captain Barfoot from Scarborough, see him as simply likable but for no specific reason. In all cases, the characters see only Jacob’s surface, never witnessing the complexity within.

Jacob himself tries to simplify the world and his role in it by a romanticized view of specific people and the specific time in which he lives, the twentieth century. Thus, he has an affair with Florinda, a prostitute, taking her word for it that she is a virgin, telling himself that she looks “wild and frail and beautiful . . . and thus the women of the Greeks were.” His attempt to idealize Florinda, however, is short-lived, for her...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jacob Flanders

Jacob Flanders, the main character, educated at the University of Cambridge to a position of privilege, from which he pronounces stereotypical observations on the classics, women, and the world. After he becomes a casualty of the war, his mother must sort out his belongings in his room at the end of the novel.

Captain Barfoot

Captain Barfoot, whose decorous evening calls on Mrs. Flanders over the years are marked by the local Scarborough gossips as proprietary.

Betty Flanders

Betty Flanders, Jacob’s mother, who helplessly tries to imagine and participate in the independent life of her son (mainly through letters) while remaining tied by economic necessity to Scarborough. At the end, she confronts Jacob’s room, to which he will never return.

Dick Bonamy

Dick Bonamy, Jacob’s friend, a fellow inheritor of male privilege. Bonamy attends Mrs. Flanders as she faces her deceased son’s room and his effects at the end of the novel.

Timmy Durrant

Timmy Durrant, a school friend of Jacob with whom he sails for a holiday around the Scilly Isles.

Clara Durrant

Clara Durrant, Timmy’s sister, who is in love with Jacob but must remain expectantly silent in deference to custom.

Sandra Wentworth Williams

Sandra Wentworth Williams, a beautiful married woman whom Jacob meets while touring Greece. He falls in love with her, half-encouraged by her.


Florinda, a woman with whom Jacob has his first affair, which he breaks off when he sees her in the street on someone else’s arm.

Fanny Elmer

Fanny Elmer, an artist’s model who reads Tom Jones for Jacob’s sake. Her heart is broken by Jacob’s indifference.