Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing Characters

May Sarton

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although Mrs. Stevens is seventeen years older than May Sarton was at the time of the book’s publication, and although there are many other differences between the author and her creation (Sarton, for example, has never married), in many ways F. Hilary Stevens is an autobiographical character. In her upper-class, cultured background, in her love of the country, in her disciplined work habits, in her production of both poetry and novels, and in her dependence on inspiration from personal involvement with other women, Hilary Stevens is like May Sarton. The comments made in the fictional interview are very like comments of Sarton to her own interviewers. May Sarton understands the “feminine” aspects of her protagonist—the need to arrange a beautiful bouquet, the compulsion to serve a proper tea to her guests, even her rather maternal response to young Jenny Hare and to troubled young Mar Hemmer.

The relationship between Mrs. Stevens and Mar, however, is extremely complex. Mar is a desperate, angry young man. At Amherst he fell in love with a male chemistry instructor and, after one sexual encounter, was rejected. Unable to continue his college career, he dropped out and came to his grandfather’s country place, where he broods, sails, and confides in Mrs. Stevens. In Mar, Mrs. Stevens sees boyish qualities, which remind her of her younger self, but also the masculine aggressiveness of her father. Moreover, she recognizes creative talent, which she...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

F. Hilary Stevens

F. Hilary Stevens, a poet and novelist. After living abroad for most of her life, Hilary, at the age of seventy, views herself as an outsider set apart by her profession, her self-imposed solitude, and her bisexuality. Her isolation gives her time for continual tension and dialogue between the Old Hilary, the servant whose business it is to organize daily life, which otherwise would fall into chaos, and the poet Hilary, the intensely sensitive artist whose job it is to organize and clarify her feelings by transforming them into poetry. Such tension and dialogue are primary characteristics of her writing as well as of her inner life. Her inner life is characterized as well by her relationships with her Muses, women who have inspired the artistic tension needed to fuel her poetic impulse. Throughout her life, Hilary has continually tried to come to grips with the problem of being a woman and a writer while remaining true to her sense of self. Although she has published two novels and nine volumes of poems in her career, Hilary has only recently achieved critical recognition. Having been ignored as a writer for so long, she suspects that her present fame is the result of her longevity rather than of sincere appreciation on the part of critics. The interview that constitutes the major portion of the book is a result of this newfound critical acclaim.

Mar Hemmer

Mar Hemmer, a college-age friend of Hilary....

(The entire section is 538 words.)