The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Describing herself, young Dicey says “I like looking for things . . . or hiding things, wondering who’ll find them. Or doing anything I can do, like getting on people’s nerves.” Called “Circe” by Clare, young Dicey or older Dinah has the urge and the capability to draw her friends into her projects, even against their better judgment. It is not surprising that Dinah conceals a gun in the coffer which the girls bury; the symbol of action and danger, it would have appealed to Dinah, an emotional daredevil. Young or old, Dinah possesses great zest for life and captivating innocence. Therefore, it is to be expected that, though a grandmother, Dinah still has the energy to organize her suitor, her houseboy, and her friends, in what she never will admit are slightly mad projects. At the end of the novel, one assumes that the wiser Dinah, waking, will still have her appealing innocence.

The schoolmates, Sheila and Clare, are similarly symbolized by what they chose to bury in the coffer. Sheila, the talented dancer who has now become a beautifully dressed, perpetually dieting wife, buries her physical flaw, the sixth toe with which she was born. Always concerned with appearances, Sheila is nervous about the publicity which may arise from the newspaper advertisements, hesitant about seeing her friends again, frightened about opening the coffer. She has suppressed the guilt she feels for abandoning her dying lover. At the end of the novel, however, she throws herself into nursing Dinah, and there is the hope that by accepting both life and herself, flaws and all, Sheila has become capable of truly living. Clare, too, must learn to participate in life. Never able to commit herself to an adult relationship, Clare, the efficient businesswoman, is still young “Mumbo,” who could not permit herself to love Dinah. When Clare buries a copy of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry in the coffer, she is deliberately refusing passion, feeling, and life itself. When she refuses to stay with the adult Dinah, she is once again denying her own emotions. It is significant that at the end of the book Clare has returned to say a proper farewell to Dinah; though she will not let herself be enchanted by Circe, she will admit her feelings.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dinah Piggott Delacroix

Dinah Piggott Delacroix (dee-NAH deh-lah-KRWAH), nicknamed Dicey as a child, the protagonist, a well-to-do English widow and grandmother. She is still slim and attractive, looking younger than her years (sixtyish); she is as spontaneous, willful, and imaginative as a child. Preoccupied with retaining the past, she is collecting treasured objects from her current friends to bury in a time capsule when she recalls the cache of secret treasures she and two eleven-year-old school friends buried some fifty years earlier, just before World War I. She impulsively seeks out those school friends through newspaper advertisements as a means of finding the box and exploring its contents. Although the box is discovered to be empty, by forcing the women (and herself) to confront their buried pasts in reminiscences, Dinah helps them to resolve their emotional problems and herself to grow up. A conflict with Clare brings the imaginative Dinah more respect for the individuality of others and for the passage of time in the world of reality.

Clare Burkin-Jones

Clare Burkin-Jones, nicknamed Mumbo as a child, the daughter of a handsome army major and his pedestrian wife. As a child, she was drawn to poetry and loved Dinah’s beautiful and artistically sensitive mother, as did the father whom she adored and whose death in the war she has never been able to...

(The entire section is 530 words.)