Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 701
Susan Traherne, the central character of the drama, who is profoundly frustrated in her attempt to find personal and professional fulfillment in postwar England. At the age of seventeen, she served as a Special Operations Executive Courier, working with the French Resistance against the occupying Germans in 1943. After the war, she regards the future with hope and optimism but finds only frustration and boredom. Her life peaks emotionally when she meets a British agent, known only as Codename Lazar, under dangerous circumstances in France. She is courted by Raymond Brock, a career diplomat who loves her, and by a working-class lover named Mick, with whom she attempts, without success, to have a child. After she suffers a nervous breakdown, Brock marries her and attempts to care for her. Always restless and unpredictable, Susan manages to ruin Brock’s career, then deserts him. Although her motives are ambiguous, Susan is meant to be a sympathetic character.
Raymond Brock, a career diplomat, forty-one years old in 1962, who first meets Susan in Brussels in 1947 and agrees to help her through a difficult situation when the married man with whom she is traveling dies of a heart attack. Brock later courts her in London and marries her after an explosive situation that results in her nervous breakdown. Brock is described as delightfully ingenuous, a man whose natural humor is eroded by years of dull, bureaucratic service at the Foreign Office, where mediocrity is valued and rewarded.
Alice Park, Susan’s friend and flat mate after the war, a would-be writer, bohemian, and nonconformist. She later becomes a teacher, then a social worker, founding a home for unwed mothers. She is sprightly, optimistic, witty, and slightly younger than Susan.
Sir Leonard Darwin
Sir Leonard Darwin, a career diplomat and Brock’s superior in Brussels in 1947. He distinguished himself in Djakarta. In scene 7 (October, 1956), he is disturbed because his superiors did not inform him of their policy regarding the Suez Canal. A man of high principles and old-fashioned values, he resigns in protest. When he later dies, his funeral brings Brock and Susan back to London from their post in Iran.
Codename Lazar, the man Susan meets in France in 1943 while on a military mission. They meet again years later at a shabby hotel in the seaside resort of Blackpool in 1962. Like Susan, he wants “some sort of edge” to the life he leads but has not found it in peacetime Britain. Instead, he has become a corporate bureaucrat, with a wife and a home in the suburbs. He is Susan’s male counterpart.
Mick, Susan’s working-class friend, whom she chooses to be the father of her child. He falls in love with her, but when he is unable to make her pregnant, she humiliates and rejects him, brutally and violently.
Sir Andrew Charleson
Sir Andrew Charleson, a man in his early fifties, the head of personnel at the Foreign Office. A cold, calculating, and ruthless man, he explains to Susan that manners and tact, not intelligence, ensure success and promotion. After he explains that “behavior is all,” she threatens suicide if her husband is not advanced. Sir Andrew responds by forcing Brock into early retirement.
Dorcas Frey, a tall, heavily built seventeen-year-old blonde who attends Darwin’s funeral with Susan, Alice, and Brock in 1961. Alice teaches history to her at the Kensington Academy. She desires an abortion and asks Susan for money.
Louise, a teenager from Liverpool who poses nude for Alice in 1952, when Alice is attempting to become an artist, in the scene in which Susan shoots at the rejected Mick.
M. Wong, a short, “permanently smiling” sycophantic Burmese diplomat whose obsequious manner and imperfect English create humor during...
(The entire section contains 2187 words.)
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