A Painter of Our Time Characters

John Berger

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel almost exclusively concerns a single character and his story. All other characters and events are deployed to illuminate the thoughts and actions of Lavin. This is in part an effect of the text’s formal organization—centering on Lavin’s journal—but it also results from Berger’s apparent intention to write something like a pure novel of thought, in which plot and character are subordinated to the demands of presenting a conflict of ideas. This is one of the several aspects of A Painter of Our Time that mark it as distinctly modernist, in the tradition of James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, Andre Gide, and, perhaps most pertinent to this novel, Jean-Paul Sartre.

This is not to say that Lavin is exhausted as a character by the expression of his thoughts. One gets the sense of a complex personality (even if it is a familiar type, the bohemian artist), of a man who lives and works in an environment that, if one knows London at all, is palpable and recognizable. The problem with Lavin as a character, the one that Berger seems to have set himself, is that, among his friends, he has almost nothing to say. Like other painters and sculptors whom one knows, Lavin is almost subverbal, inarticulate to the point of near autism when in company. Almost the only words he “speaks” in the text are those left in his journal—and this, the reader learns from the first entry, is in itself a sudden departure from his customary practice of...

(The entire section is 574 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Janos Lavin

Janos Lavin, a Hungarian painter and art teacher in London who is some twenty-five years older than his wife. He is dedicated to his art and strives to be as true to himself as he can be. He appears unconcerned with daily events but pays close attention to every detail within his line of sight. He begins to keep a diary after he hears about the execution of his childhood friend, Laszlo, for treason against the state. Janos wants to believe that he does not accept compromise, but at the same time he fears that his entire life as a painter has been a compromise of the ideals of his youth. He decides at the moment of his greatest artistic triumph to return to Hungary to continue political work. He is not heard from again, and his friends suspect that he has been killed.

Diana Lavin

Diana Lavin, also known as Rosie, Janos’ wife. She married him during a time in which she was working with refugees. She loves him in a maternal way, but when he does not respond as expected, she becomes cold, silent, and quarrelsome by turns. Diana, who is from an upper-middle-class English family, feels betrayed by Janos when he does not become the commercial success as a painter that she had hoped he would be. In her late forties, she has become disillusioned and no longer encourages Janos to be monetarily successful. She goes with resigned detachment to a library job that supports their material needs. When Janos finally succeeds in getting a show at a major gallery, she regains her energy and enthusiasm. After Janos returns to Hungary, she begins an affair with one of his refugee friends.


John, the narrator, a friend of Janos and an art critic. John discovers Janos’ diary hidden in the...

(The entire section is 721 words.)