The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The guests at the Hotel Swiss-Touring are individuals, refugees from domestic strife who nevertheless need relationships, regardless of how destructive those ties may be. Even though she has willingly left her family to follow Robert to Europe, Lilia misses them and feels their disapproval of her relationship; she salvages her “honor” and returns to England only after she leaves Robert. Initially, Robert seems less in need of the relationship, partly because of his ties to his mother and sisters, whose primacy is reaffirmed when he chooses his sister over Lilia. He cannot, however, accept her continued absence and declares, “I do not know what I am going to do without Mrs. Trollope.” Lilia must choose between Robert and “some kind of freedom”; Robert discovers that his “freedom” from commitment has its cost in self-deception and aimless wandering.

Although they are married, the Blaises are not a “family,” for they are bound only by their children and, more important, by Mrs. Blaise’s money. Mrs. Blaise lives at the Hotel Swiss-Touring and vows never to return to her home in Basel, where her husband lives, but she depends on her husband for drugs and for the bitterness and cynicism she needs to augment her own hostility toward the outside world. So insulated is she that she is literally wrapped up in clothes to protect herself against infection from others and from advances from her husband. Yet she is addicted to their relationship, for her husband can help her transform her insecurity and jealousy of Lilia into self-righteous snobbery. Although he does help his wife in a perverse, destructive way (he also contributes to her addiction by giving her drugs), Dr. Blaise sees marriage as a curse which sanctions slavery, and he can free himself only by killing his wife. Mrs. Blaise is so cynical about family and marriage...

(The entire section is 756 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Madame Bonnard

Madame Bonnard, the narrator, the wife of Roger and mother of Olivier. At the age of twenty-six, she runs the Hotel-Swiss-Touring, a fourth-class establishment. She is gossipy and sometimes friendly with her hotel guests, especially the “permanent” guests. She suspects her best friend, Julie, of trying to have an affair with Roger, and she judges Julie to be jealous and malicious.


Roger, her husband, who spies on the guests, usually discreetly. He chain-smokes and makes sure that he has a night out now and then. Although it is against Swiss law, he searches the belongings of Miss Abbey-Chillard, who has not paid her bill, and finds enough money to settle her account.

Mrs. Lilia Trollope

Mrs. Lilia Trollope, the character whose story is most fully explored, an Englishwoman who is divorced from her husband and living with Robert Wilkins under the pretext that he is her cousin. Lilia’s central conflict is that Robert will not marry her, although he lives off her money, claiming to manage it for her. She also complains of having nothing to do and of being ignored: Robert reads the newspaper at meals instead of talking to her. Mrs. Powell, an American racist, suspects Lilia of being Eurasian (Lilia’s mother was a Dutch-Javanese), and the narrator says that the Wilkinses do not want their blood mixed with that of a half-caste. Lilia is friendly with Madame Blaise, although she suspects the Blaises of somehow wanting to harm her. She is kind to Miss Abbey-Chillard, despite Robert’s annoyance, and gives her money to go to Zermatt to die with her friends. Lilia is religious, often going to church to pray to her saints for guidance. Her central decision, which the Princess Bili helps Lilia make, is to leave Robert and to return to England and her grown children. Even in leaving Robert, however, Lilia says that she has had a true love.

Mr. Robert Wilkins

Mr. Robert Wilkins, a retired man who follows the stock market and currency fluctuations. He lives with Lilia Trollope and has control of her money, as well as power of attorney over her. Robert says that he is a natural bachelor and does not want to be responsible for anyone else. When his sister comes to visit, Robert tells Lilia to make believe that she does not know him. Robert believes that Lilia...

(The entire section is 973 words.)