The Pardoner's Tale Characters

John Wain

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Giles is obviously the figure in The Pardoner’s Tale with whom John Wain is most intimately involved. He is a highly idiosyncratic figure with very recognizable weaknesses: He is easily depressed (there is an early thought of suicide), and he resorts to heavy drinking. The root cause of his death wish and drinking is loneliness. The early pages of the book, in which Giles meditates on his loss of Harriet, indicate this clearly enough. Like most of Wain’s heroes, Giles is very much a modern man: vague in his religious and humanitarian aspirations, rootless and alienated from the social life of the community in which he lives, and initially weak and confused in his relationships with women. Plagued by anxiety, depression, vague discontent, and a sense of inner emptiness, he seeks peace of mind under conditions that increasingly militate against it. Add to his problems the ever-growing urge toward self-destruction, and one begins to recognize in this novel a truly contemporary pulse beat. Like the protagonist of Albert Camus’ The Stranger (1942), Giles is a stranger in a world that does not make sense.

Unlike Wain’s earlier heroes, however, Giles tries to make sense of the world through the medium of his writing, by stepping back into what he calls “the protecting circle of art.” That is, the hero of his novel is a mask for himself. He is creating in Gus a character who is in his own predicament, and the agonies Gus endures provide a catalyst which enables Giles to express his deepest feelings about life. Gus, like Giles, suffers from meaninglessness and boredom. Both men are victims of the past. In each case, the afflicting circumstances involve a woman and unrequited love. Giles, like Gus, finds some comfort in a second woman, through whom, for a time, his sense of rejection and defeat is overcome. That Giles’s own initials (G. H.) match those of his hero may indicate his sympathy with the sentiments expressed, too. In Giles, therefore, Wain presents a character who tries to create, as artists do, a new existence out of the chaos of his life.

Also of interest is Giles’s life as a novelist. The reader sees him as a detached observer of those around him (even his name, Hermitage, suggests the life of a recluse). He is outwardly passive; the reader catches him at times overhearing conversations, watching people from a distance. Part of his separateness is his sensitivity, his unusual response to nuance and detail, to implication; he is almost hyperobservant. Yet he has also a great curiosity about other people, and he is an inveterate theorizer about their behavior. He has the notable gift for symbolic condensation through fragments of incident, bits and pieces of action, that seem to contain the meaning of a personality in a few words or gestures. By the end of the novel, the reader knows how a novelist thinks and feels, and experiences not only the writing but also its moments of inspiration, of...

(The entire section is 1207 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Giles Hermitage

Giles Hermitage, a moderately successful novelist. A stocky, graying bachelor of fifty, he is generally untidy in appearance. For seven years, he has lived contentedly in an English cathedral town, disappearing from life’s problems alternately into his work and into the arms of his mistress, Harriet. When Harriet breaks off their relationship, he realizes how important she is to him, and he is shattered. Only his meeting with a dying woman, Helen Chichester-Redfern, and her daughter, Dinah Redfern, who becomes his mistress, gives him interest in living. After the death of Helen, when Dinah deserts him, Giles is tempted to commit suicide. He must first complete his novel, however. Once it is completed, he is providentially saved by a letter from Harriet that sends him to join her in Australia.

Helen Chichester-Redfern

Helen Chichester-Redfern, an old lady. Although frail and thin, and obviously very near death, she is still strong-willed and surprisingly energetic. Her letter to Giles, praising his work and asking to meet him, brings him out of his despair over Harriet’s departure. After a series of visits, he discovers her real purpose: She wishes him to write a book about her husband’s desertion of her, which will ruin his reputation. When Giles promises to do so, she dies.

Diana (Dinah) Chichester-Redfern

Diana (Dinah) Chichester-Redfern, the daughter of Helen Chichester-Redfern. A slender, attractive girl with brown hair and green eyes, she is always neatly dressed and precise in her actions. She is a highly disciplined professional guitarist. Although...

(The entire section is 678 words.)