The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 428

At the beginning of Jake’s Thing , Jake complains to his physician about what he believes is a simple sexual dysfunction. He even hints to the doctor that some sort of medication might set him straight. By the end of the novel, however, after a series of psychological therapies, Jake’s...

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At the beginning of Jake’s Thing, Jake complains to his physician about what he believes is a simple sexual dysfunction. He even hints to the doctor that some sort of medication might set him straight. By the end of the novel, however, after a series of psychological therapies, Jake’s problem is compounded tenfold. In the concluding chapter, when Jake is finally offered a physical remedy in the form of testosterone supplements, he is so utterly averse to women that he responds with a decisive “No thanks.”

Jake Richardson belongs to an older generation of men who have conservative notions of sexual decency. Rosenberg may be correct in his assessment of Jake’s puritanical “guilt and shame,” but Jake resents having to apologize for attitudes which he considers natural and proper. Although Jake assures Rosenberg that he does not mind “exposing his genitals in public” for the purpose of therapy, Rosenberg’s obsession with the topic of such exposure annoys him. Jake believes that there are physical and psychological matters which ought to remain private. It seems to Jake that Rosenberg’s insistent theme of public pubic display is an analogue for the modern mania for psychoanalytic exposure. Jake particularly resents the moral hegemony of the mental health profession, and he despises its cant: “If there’s one word that sums up everything that’s gone wrong since the War, it’s Workshop. After Youth, that is.” Despite his resentment, however, Jake persists in his therapy, partly because of an old-fashioned respect for the authority of doctors and partly because of his concern for Brenda’s happiness.

Jake’s recent encounters with women convince him that he does not really like the opposite sex. He is offended and intimidated by the women who picket his college; he is utterly repelled by the overbearing personality of his former mistress, Eve; he is alarmed by Kelly’s invasion of his privacy at Oxford; and he is demoralized by Brenda’s accusation that he is the sort of man who is only interested in women for sex. Eve essentially repeats Brenda’s accusation the morning after she and Jake make love. When he confesses his attitudes toward women to a homosexual colleague at Oxford, Jake admits that Eve and Brenda are right: “I’d really only wanted one thing. [Eve] told me so this morning and that’s when I saw it. I don’t even like them much.” Two subsequent experiences, Kelly’s nasty suicide attempt and Brenda’s elopement with Geoffrey, persuade Jake that his antipathy is well-founded.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 681

Jake Richardson

Jake Richardson, a reader in early Mediterranean history and a fellow of Comyns College, Oxford. He is fifty-nine years old, thickset, and round-faced; he wears glasses and has a history of being attractive to women. In the past, he had a reputation for being inclined to take advantage of his attractiveness. He is very intelligent, somewhat conservative in his ways, and very quick to react, if usually only in his mind, to the silliness of modern life. He has been ill and seemingly as a result has lost his desire for sex, causing some problems with his wife. He reluctantly takes medical advice, first from his family doctor, then from a psychologist specializing in sexual difficulties, and eventually from a sexual therapist working in group encounters. Too clever, too skeptical, and too impatient to fall in with the chic jargon of contemporary sexual theories, Jake, possessed of a scathing capacity to know fools when he sees them, finally tells off everyone. In the process, his wife leaves him, realizing, as he does, that his problem is not medical or even psychological, but simply a matter of no longer caring to try to please women for the pleasures of sex, which have no hold over him anymore.

Brenda Richardson

Brenda Richardson, Jake’s third wife, only forty-seven years old but running somewhat to fat, which they both suspect may have something to do with Jake’s disinterest in sex. Still a handsome woman, with lovely green eyes, Brenda is willing to help Jake. She goes on a diet, takes instruction with Jake, and attends therapy with him. Sex is, however, not their only problem, and Brenda, who is a sensible, caring woman, finally recognizes that Jake really does not care all that much for or about her anymore, and she is capable of doing something about it.

Alcestis Mabbott

Alcestis Mabbott, a middle-aged, fat friend of Brenda, whom Jake despises. A social worker, she is something of a constant adversary of Jake, on most occasions. Brenda calls her “Allie,” but Jake’s nickname is consistent with his feelings about her: He calls her “Smudger.” She proves in the end to be not quite as silly as he thinks.

Geoffrey Mabbott

Geoffrey Mabbott, Alcestis’ third husband, a buyer for a chutney firm, although he despises all things Indian. Jake finds him a constant joke; he is a bad dresser and often patently stupid. He attends Jake’s therapy group, supposedly to do something about his lack of self-esteem, but admits that he has no hope because he has no interest in anything.

Dr. Proinsias Rosenberg

Dr. Proinsias Rosenberg, a Harley Street psychologist, a tiny man with a thick Dublin accent, the son of a German father and an Irish mother. He is short-haired, clean-shaven, brown-eyed, and quite incapable of convincing Jake that he has any chance of solving Jake’s problem.


Ed, the “facilitator,” an American sex therapist in his late thirties. Heavyset and with a Latin complexion, he is inclined to bring out the worst in Jake with his flashy, seemingly uncaring handling of his patients and his offhanded indifference to their feelings.

Kelly Gambeson

Kelly Gambeson, a patient in the therapy group, an attractive young woman with red hair and a good figure, just the type that would have attracted Jake in former times. She is attracted to Jake and tries to seduce him. Not sure of whether she has mental difficulties (she claims not) or is instead fooling, he is shy of her, to a point that is almost disastrous.

Eve Greenstreet

Eve Greenstreet, a college secretary, now married but formerly an occasional lover of Jake. Handsome, with a gift for mocking foolish people, she seems to be interested in helping Jake but proves to be more interested in displaying her own cleverness.

Damon Lancewood

Damon Lancewood, an English don at the college. In his sixties, he is white-haired, with a military bearing and a longtime homosexual connection with a local businessman. A sensible confidant for Jake, he listens well and gives Jake some sense of perspective.

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