The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333

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...

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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

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

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 self-analysis allows him to see himself as a clown caught with his pants falling down.

Richard (Rick) Linbergh Tucker

Richard (Rick) Linbergh Tucker, an American academic. Six feet, three inches tall and weighing 225 pounds, Rick is covered by a forest of dark hair, has a broad nose with a bridge slightly sunken, a long upper lip, and the lower one dropped a fraction from it. In the years he spends trailing Wilfred Barclay, Rick later affects an Afro hairstyle, a shirt open to the navel, flared white trousers trimmed with sequins, and a gold necklace with every kind of trendy ornament attached. First as a diffident and plodding graduate student, then as a tenured assistant professor in the Department of English and Allied Studies at the University of Astrakhan in Nebraska, Rick trails Wilf around Europe, deviously trying to get Wilf to appoint him as his official biographer. Frustrated, humiliated, and growing increasingly ludicrous and desperate in his obsessive pursuit, Rick at the end appears to be turning to murder to secure his prey.

Mary Lou Tucker

Mary Lou Tucker, Rick’s wife. A slim twenty-year-old former student of Rick at Astrakhan University who majored in flower arranging and bibliography. She serves as bait in an unsuccessful attempt to lure Wilf into signing a document appointing Rick as Wilf’s official biographer. Although he finds her mind as interesting as a piece of string, Wilf does base the character Helen Davenant, in his pastoral novel Horses at the Spring, on her. After splitting up with Rick, Mary Lou is reported to have become one of the women kept by Halliday, Rick’s rich sponsor.

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