The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

After thirty-five years in a London office, Dorothy Peabody is still a junior typist. This dutiful, unattractive, maiden daughter, past fifty, is unfulfilled spiritually, emotionally, and sexually. Encouraged by Diana Hopewell’s fibs, she imagines the writer to be everything that she is not. Her motivation is in part infatuation: “Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt, would be a tall woman graceful and shapely about the neck and breast.” Stunned that the novelist pays her any attention, and intent upon her novel’s vitality, Miss Peabody fails to notice that Diana Hopewell’s writing is latently pornographic.

Diana Hopewell is a writer of atypical drawing-room romances. She is, at least as she paints herself, in every way unlike Miss Peabody. The writer’s name denotes her optimism, while “Peabody” suggests insignificance. Hopewell paints herself in her letters as both a well-traveled, educated woman and a rugged lover of the outdoors. She talks of burning off paddocks and plowing fire breaks. All this is, it turns out, a fiction. When Miss Peabody arrives in Australia, she is told that her freshly dead heroine was paralyzed in a riding accident many years before and was emotionally crippled by an event she held secret. Diana Hopewell’s character, as distinct from her life’s true circumstances, is revealed by the sexual suggestiveness of her work, which she commits to paper in outlandish handwriting that is color-coded by character.


(The entire section is 554 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dorothy Peabody

Dorothy Peabody, a plain and shy unmarried woman in her fifties who works as an office clerk in London. She is friendless and without either intellectual or physical distinction. Dorothy’s existence is divided between mundane secretarial work and caring for her invalid mother. She longs for fulfillment and finds it in her correspondence with a female Australian novelist. Inspired by the apparently exciting lives of Diana Hopewell and her characters, Dorothy begins to expand her own life in minor ways, such as sampling brandy, buying colored stockings, and expressing new emotions. Her obsession with the writer and her work results in a growing mental unbalance as Dorothy confuses the characters’ lives with her own. She is placed on forced leave by her company and finds Diana dead when she reaches Australia. Dorothy’s continued fixation on Diana’s unfinished novel leads her to take Diana’s place at the nursing home to complete the story of the characters who have become so real to her.

Diana Hopewell

Diana Hopewell, a cultured and once active but now invalid novelist who, in her loneliness, seizes on Dorothy’s fan letter as an opportunity for friendship. Her correspondence contains not only portions of her new novel but also a fantasy of her own, in which she pretends she is still an independent and capable farm owner. Diana finds comfort in her fictional persona and in Dorothy’s admiration. Even in death, Diana has an impact on Dorothy: After Dorothy discovers the truth about her friend, she assumes Diana’s position and work.

Amy Peabody

Amy Peabody, Dorothy’s demanding invalid mother. Unable to leave her bed, Mrs. Peabody finds her only satisfaction in whining to her harried daughter and in reminiscing with her friend, Mrs. Brewer. Her death releases Dorothy from years of servitude and allows the latter to visit Australia.


(The entire section is 802 words.)