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...
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