The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Kingsley Amis is a satirist and as such is interested in using characters to make points about aberrant behavior (generally social, but not always so), most immediately exemplified by “types” rather than individuals. His characters have an obviously caricatured quality and are rarely, in this novel, seen as other than surface representations of certain exaggerated points of view.

Garnet Bowen is used as the commentator for this consideration of human and social foibles. By profession a writer, by personal inclination skeptical and wary, he is appropriately skilled in commenting upon everything (and usually does) with some aptly scarifying wittiness. This kind of character is the common focus of Amis’ novels. Bowen is educated, intelligent, thin-skinned, and quick to respond to any pomposity or stupidity. He is, however, not lacking in eccentricity himself, and Amis uses Bowen’s prejudices to mock that peculiar British disease, the disdain for foreigners over the water, a hangover attitude from the days of the old Empire. Bowen is a bundle of nerves, responding to the constant bombardments of normal social irritants with constant, witty verbal counter-punching which makes for much of the pleasure of the novel and which ranges from offhand swipes at popular singers (Frank Sinatra), architecture, red tape, and the beastliness of travel, to quirky in-jokes upon the state of modern literature. He is never without an opinion; indeed, it might be said...

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Garnet Bowen

Garnet Bowen, a freelance writer. He is a large man with a well-made frame and an inefficient air. He supports his family with some difficulty on his income from bits of journalism, radio talks, and occasional lectures. He is also a xenophobic Englishman. When an American firm offers him (under the name Garret Owen) a substantial fee to write a travel article, however, he reluctantly decides that he will go abroad. Still another inducement to travel is the opportunity to work for a publishing firm for which he has read an occasional manuscript and with which he hopes to land a permanent position.

Barbara Bowen

Barbara Bowen, Garnet’s wife and the mother of his three young children. She is a small, pretty, dark woman who thoroughly approves of her husband’s irregular self-employment. She believes that he must be free to do his own work, for he will one day be a fine novelist or dramatist. Unlike her husband, she loves the idea of foreign travel, and her mother is willing to put up much of the money and lend them a car. She wishes especially to visit Portugal.

Bennie Hyman

Bennie Hyman, a principal member of the publishing firm for which Garnet wishes to work. He is a successful young bachelor with an athletic appearance. He has received a manuscript, the first in many years, from a reclusive old novelist living in Portugal. The novelist dealt with only one editor, who has died and left behind no evidence of the relationship. Years before, there were rumors of the novelist’s death. The young publisher wants Garnet to take a house in Portugal, meet the recluse, and judge whether he is genuine or an impostor.

Wulfstan Strether

Wulfstan Strether, a novelist and recluse who is also known as Buckmaster. He is a tall, white-haired, hawk-faced man of sixty. He is the author of a 120,000-word manuscript titled One Word More. He is pleased to entertain Garnet, but he is not an easy man to read and is not easily manipulated. His very decent behavior produces feelings of guilt in Garnet, who is also being plagued, as he feared he would be, by an assortment of natives and fellow tourists.