The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel is narrated by Barclay. As a result, not only Tucker but all the other minor characters as well take their color from his rather aloof, egotistical attitude. Not that Barclay thinks he is a prize. On the contrary, there is a wry awareness of his severe limitations, of his inability to empathize with his wife and later with an Italian mistress, whose religious feelings are injured by Barclay’s unsympathetic rationalism and psychologizing. Barclay tends to caricature others, to make fun of Tucker’s and his wife’s use of “hon,” for example.

Reviewers have noted that William Golding is much more successful in his characterization of Barclay than of Tucker. Golding seems to know little about American academic life, about the kind of writing an academic writer such as Tucker would do, and even about the degrees Tucker would hold. In part, this ignorance may be Barclay’s, since the main character clearly is not very interested in the world from which Tucker comes. On the other hand, Barclay quotes Tucker’s words, and even these sometimes seem out of tune for an American.

Much more authentic are scenes at Barclay’s English club with the critic John St. John, one of those minor English characters Golding easily understands. Through his words, St. John comes alive and gives the reader a more penetrating look at Barclay than is possible to get in pages and pages of Barclay’s self-description and dialogue with Tucker. Here, for example, is St. John getting the best of Barclay at their club:You are utterly penetrable, Wilfred. You’d be perfectly happy with my little homilies if instead of calling you Rudesby I’d called you cher maltre, wouldn’t you now? We all have our ambitions such as they are—a K, perhaps, eh, Wilf? No? All passion spent?

Through such a passage, the rhythms of English talk, the sense of one character sizing up another, and a deep sense of place are established.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Wilfred (Wilf) Townsend Barclay

Wilfred (Wilf) Townsend Barclay, a successful English novelist. Turning sixty, with a scraggly yellow-white beard and thatch of hair and a broken-toothed grin, Wilf is struggling with his addictions to alcohol and women. The latter leads to his divorce and departure from his house in Wiltshire to become a wanderer around the globe. After the early death of his parents—he never knew his father—he had become a bank clerk. His inaccuracies were tolerated only because of his prowess as a wing threequarter on the local rugby team, but eventually he was fired. Spells as a groom, an actor, and a provincial reporter, then wartime service, preceded the writing of his first novel, Coldharbour. His success was maintained by such later novels as All We Like Sheep, The Birds of Prey, and Horses at the Spring. Although he is a skeptic about miracles, his aesthetic interest in stained glass leads him into an Italian cathedral, where he collapses in front of an image of Christ and subsequently claims to be suffering from the stigmata (except for the fatal wound in the side). Averse to but flattered by the desperate attempts of Rick Tucker to become his biographer, he treats him literally like a dog while alternately evading and manipulating him. Less excusably, he treats his wife, daughter, and acquaintances with an indifference scarcely mitigated by his financial generosity. His capacity for...

(The entire section is 510 words.)