Sophia Baines, a high-spirited girl, the one member of the family strong enough to stand out against her father. Because she detests keeping a shop and domestic obligations, her parents finally allow her to become a schoolteacher. After her father’s death, which is brought on by her carelessness, Sophia voluntarily returns to the shop as a penance. A brief, disillusioning marriage to Gerald Scales is followed by a long period in which Sophia has a successful business career in Paris. After a twenty-seven-year absence, she returns to Bursley (one of the “Five Towns” made famous by Arnold Bennett) and renews her dominance over her sister Constance. Sophia’s death is, according to the sister, simply an expression of God’s punishment for her willful ways.
Constance Baines, her older sister. A perfect foil for Sophia, Constance follows her sister in all things, short of violating her parents’ iron rule. She does repulse her mother, however, in the matter of marrying Sam Povey. She is extraordinarily capable, except in managing her son; this phase of her life is distinguished by failure. In later years, life becomes more than the obese Constance cares to cope with, and she submits, with martyrdom, to sciatica, rheumatism, and Sophia.
John Baines, their father, the bedridden but influential proprietor of a draper’s shop. He dominates the entire family. Whether from fear or respect, some member of his household has for many years constantly attended him. With his death, a new era begins for the family.
Mrs. Baines, his wife, who in actuality is the proprietor of the shop. Stern, authoritarian, and ever suspicious, she keeps the entire menage in line, except Sophia. By the time of Mrs....
(The entire section is 760 words.)