The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The number of characters who are clearly definable is small, since several change roles so often that one never knows when or if they ever stand unmasked. The girl impersonating Lily Montgomery is explained as a schizophrenic patient of psychiatrist Conchis. Nicholas soon learns that she is really an actress named Julie Holmes, accompanied by her twin sister June, whose name later changes to Rose. Then Julie Holmes becomes a Dr. Vanessa Maxwell in a foreboding trial scene in which Nicholas is bound, gagged, and humiliated. He is later forced to watch an explicit love scene between his beloved Julie and the young black man who has played several parts in the masque. Nicholas realizes with a shock that he himself is involuntarily assuming the role of the venomous Iago. Whoever she is, Nicholas is mercifully cured of his infatuation and begins to yearn for the good, earthy benison of his lost love, Alison Kelly.

Alison receives limited characterization, as a person somewhat lost and out of step with conventional society. She seems unrefined, almost crude at times, but unusually perceptive and warmhearted. She is quite conscious of Nicholas’ shortcomings but offers him a love that he has not really deserved.

Nicholas himself reveals his character most openly, partly because he is telling the experience after the fact. He describes himself at school in England as a “wartime aesthete and cynic with expensive habits and affected manners.” He greatly admires D. H. Lawrence. “I got a third-class degree and a first-class illusion: that I was a poet. But nothing could have been less poetic than my seeing-through-all boredom with life in general and with making a living in particular.”...

(The entire section is 700 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Nicholas Urfe

Nicholas Urfe, a young Oxford graduate who mistakes himself for a poet and takes a job teaching English at the Lord Byron School for boys on the island of Phraxos, Greece. An only child of deceased middle-class parents, in his mid-twenties, he is honest and perceptive but an Oxford dandy and a self-centered existentialist who exploits the affections of women. He goes to Greece because he is bored, needs a new mystery, and is not ready to marry Alison Kelly, his latest romantic interest. On the lonely island, he is disillusioned to discover that he is inauthentic and not a poet after all. He becomes depressed to the brink of suicide but falls in love with Greece, with his role in a masque (or psychodrama) conducted by the mysterious Maurice Conchis, and with Lily, an ideal woman who plays several roles in the masque. Conchis shapes his consciousness, making him suffer and learn. In the course of his experiences, Nicholas compares himself to Adam, Narcissus, Icarus, Candide, Theseus, Eumenides, and Orpheus. In the end, he is “disintoxicated” by the idealized Lily and returns to England, where he seeks to reconcile with Alison as his true love, his “reality” and standard by which to live.

Alison Kelly

Alison Kelly, a young Australian woman living in London who falls in love with Nicholas. An independent yet waiflike girl in her early twenties, she has a thin boyish figure, a deep tan, long hair that is bleached almost blonde, truth-seeking gray eyes in a hard face, and a salty directness. She is not beautiful, often not even pretty, but has a natural warmth and aura of sexuality. She has had an abortion and has not been happy since, and she is breaking off an affair. To Nicholas, she seems intensely vital, daring, bluntly honest, and somewhat crude. Although she is an expert coaxer...

(The entire section is 756 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Nicholas Urfe is the protagonist who becomes the questing hero. The important woman in his life, whom he does not value at the outset, is...

(The entire section is 187 words.)