Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lily Gates

Lily Gates, a woman in her twenties who takes care of three working-class men. Attractive, blonde, and bright, Lily wants desperately to break out of the boredom of her daily domestic chores. A romantic by nature who lost her mother as a child, she makes the most of her banal life. She falls in love with the romantic Bert Jones and elopes with him to Liverpool, where, unable to find his parents, he abandons her on the street. She returns home full of guilt and takes up her domestic duties as before. She resigns herself to living without love in Birmingham.

Joe Gates

Joe Gates, the father of Lily and a worker in the Dupret Foundry, a cynical, manipulative, selfish man in his sixties who tries to avoid work. He lives in the household of Mr. Craigan, his best friend, with his daughter and Mr. Dale. To advance himself at work, he befriends the notorious informer, Mr. Tupe, and spends drunken evenings with him. He threatens to blackmail his closest friend, Mr. Craigan, loses his job, and spends his remaining years in an alcoholic haze.

Mr. Craigan

Mr. Craigan, the head of the household and a master moulder at the foundry. He is in his mid-sixties and is a confirmed bachelor. Although he is not a relative, Lily Gates calls him Grandad. He provides a home for Lily, Joe Gates, and the young Mr. Dale. He uses his control benignly and is terrified of being abandoned by everyone in his old age even though he has put money away for his retirement years. He spends his nonworking hours listening to classical music and rereading the novels of Charles Dickens. Although he is highly respected at work by everyone, he is...

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The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

One of Green’s primary achievements as a modern novelist is his success in creating characters almost solely through dialogue. When the characters of Living are not talking to one another about everyday woes and ambitions, they are engaging in habitual or minor actions which do little to distinguish them from the background of anonymity that is established at the beginning of the novel:Bridesley, Birmingham. Two o’clock. Thousands came back from dinner along the streets.   “What we want is go, push,” said the works manager to son of Mr. Dupret. “What I say to them is let’s get on with it, let’s get the stuff out.”   Thousands came back to factories they worked in from their dinners.   “I’m always at them but they know me. They know I’m a father and a mother to them. If they’re in trouble they’ve but to come to me. And they turn out beautiful work, beautiful work. I’d do anything for ’em and they know it.”   Noise of lathes working began again in this factory. Hundreds went along road outside, men and girls. Some turned in to Dupret factory.

The manager’s falsely paternalistic speech is composed almost entirely of hollow cliches which fail to mask the drudgery and ordinariness of the workers’ lives. Against this gray backdrop “character” rarely emerges; the speech patterns and actions of the novel’s principals, related through the deadpan, noncommittal voice of Green’s narrator, become ritualistic and routine gestures only occasionally interrupted by a colorful flight of birds or an abrupt action such as Lily’s departure for Liverpool with Jones. Even Richard Dupret, whose money and education should, according to the aristocratic philosophy, distinguish him from the crowd, can only speak in conventional phrases or not at all when convention fails him in a complex emotional situation. In a sense, Living is a novel without character, faithfully portraying the nature of the quotidian for both rich and poor. If “character” exists in a Green novel, it can be perceived in those unusual moments when a character such as Lily notices a slight alteration in or sudden movement of something that has been there all along again, Green’s birds serve this purpose. They are signs of an “otherness” which subtends the assumed and false naturalness of everyday life and of ritualized being.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bassoff, Bruce. Toward Loving: The Poetics of the Novel and the Practice of Henry Green, 1975.

Mengham, Rod. The Idiom of the Time: The Writings of Henry Green, 1982.

North, Michael. Henry Green and the Writing of his Generation, 1984.

Odom, Keith. Henry Green, 1978.

Weatherhead, A. Kingsley. A Reading of Henry Green, 1961.