The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A common feature of Wilson’s novels is the strong, self-reliant heroine. Ellen is privileged and sheltered as a child, coming from a prosperous family, educated at a private school, and living in a house near Stanley Park and the sea in Vancouver. She is ill-prepared for the tragedy of her mother’s death and tends to withdraw into herself and patronize other people, particularly her conventional sister Nora and Nora’s stuffy husband, the Member of Parliament. As further difficulties beset her—the remarriage of her father, the breakup of her love affair with Huw Peake, and the loss of her job through the death of the old financier—she changes and matures, but it is not until the almost fatal accident with her nephew that she becomes fully aware of her tendency toward disdain and superiority. She took little Johnny out in the dinghy as part of a process designed to toughen him, for she believed that Nora was bringing him up a sissy. “With all her ways of the superior onlooker,” Wilson writes, “she had nearly drowned him, that’s all. She had better mind her own business. Everyone had better mind their own business. A gap had closed.” She can now be reconciled with her family and freely give her love to George.

Ellen’s father, Frank, was not particularly helpful in her development, since he was away during much of her childhood and finds it difficult to communicate when he is with her. His marriage to the woman whom he meets on the ship...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ellen “Gypsy” Cuppy

Ellen “Gypsy” Cuppy, a young woman who grows to maturity in the course of the novel. The small, dark, bright-eyed younger daughter of the Cuppy family, Ellen possesses an intelligence, imagination, and independence that allow her to look critically at society and the people with whom she comes in contact. At the age of sixteen, after her mother’s sudden death, she takes a cruise to London with her father, which strains their relationship. Ellen then returns to Canada, joins the Canadian navy as a Wren, and, after the war, works at an office job in Vancouver. During this time, she breaks off an engagement to Huw Peake, the stepbrother of Morgan Peake, who she finally realizes is bad-tempered. Later, in Saskatoon, she falls in love with George Gordon, a Montreal businessman whose love for her perseveres even after a boating accident, for which she is primarily responsible, severely disfigures her face.

Nora Cuppy

Nora Cuppy, Ellen’s older sister, tall, fair, and beautiful. The unimaginative and passive Nora marries Morgan Peake, who is nineteen years her senior, and gives birth to three sons; the first dies in infancy and the second is born with Down syndrome and is institutionalized. The third son, Johnny, is smothered by his overbearing and possessive mother. When Nora does allow her son out of her sight, he nearly drowns in Active Pass, and Ellen, who tries to save him, receives the disfigurement that changes her life.

Frank Cuppy

Frank Cuppy, Ellen and Nora’s father, employed in the oil business. Tall, good-looking, and successful, Frank is an absentee husband and father whose work often takes him to Mexico and Persia. Although he...

(The entire section is 713 words.)