Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 528
Gilbert Pinfold, a renowned novelist modeled on the author. Pinfold is on a cruise to recover his health. He begins hearing voices in his cabin. He supposes they are the result of some crossed wiring that allows him to eavesdrop on intimate and incriminating conversations. First, Pinfold overhears a scene in which the captain punishes and inadvertently kills a crew member. The voices become involved in a plot against Pinfold. They accuse him of lying about his biography and acting, in general, as a fraud. When Pinfold tries to engage other passengers in a discussion of these nefarious doings, they all profess ignorance of what he is talking about. Pinfold’s paranoia reaches its height when he hears the captain and crew hatching a scheme to turn him over to a hostile Spanish vessel that is about to intercept and board the cruise ship. Not until he leaves the cruise is Pinfold convinced by his wife that all the plots and voices have been of his own devising, and that he has been taken in by his own hallucinations.
Captain Steerforth, who is in charge of the cruise ship. He becomes, in Pinfold’s mind, one of the chief intriguers against him. When the captain does his best to show Pinfold that he is mistaken in his suspicions that his telegrams have been read by other passengers, Pinfold presumes that his persecutors are simply trying to embarrass him by faking some of their plots.
Goneril, the most wicked of the conspirators against Pinfold. He never learns her real name; he calls her Goneril because of her unwavering enmity and lack of conscience.
Glover, a befuddled passenger who never knows how to react to Pinfold’s sudden confidences about incidents that turn out to exist only in Pinfold’s mind. Pinfold takes Glover’s embarrassment as proof of his inability to deal with the evil realities aboard ship.
Angel, a BBC interviewer whom Pinfold decides is behind the campaign against him. Even when Captain Steerforth shows Pinfold a passenger list that does not include Angel’s name, Pinfold remains certain that he is on board.
Margaret, a young woman who speaks constantly to Pinfold but who never materializes in the flesh. She is one of his voices and is part of the attempt to discredit him. She is also in love with him and even works up the normally faithful Pinfold into lusting after her. She is egged on by her scheming mother and her blustering father, both of whom urge her into bed with Pinfold. She demurs, coaxing an irritated Pinfold to declare his love outright before she comes to him. As the various efforts to destroy Pinfold fail, Margaret remains loyal to him. Pinfold even hears her voice after his wife convinces him that all the voices have been in his head and that he has made up the whole persecution story. In fact, Margaret goes so far as to declare that she does not exist but that she loves Pinfold anyway. Her voice fades as he returns home and resumes life with his wife and family.
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