The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although the novel centers on Leonard’s interior life, Storey keeps at a disconcerting distance from his protagonist throughout the novel, frequently refusing to tell the reader directly what Leonard is thinking; phrases such as “He seemed angry” are common. Thus, although the novel is told from his perspective, Leonard himself finally appears an unfathomable creature—and this despite the novel’s rather labored presentation of his early psychological history and its provision of analogues. His father, for example, is also a solitary man with religious tendencies and chooses as his mate a robust working-class woman: Leonard confuses his mother with Tolson at several points, as if—in Storey’s world and perhaps in England—class identity were more powerful than family likeness. Similarly, his uncle’s unconsummated affair with Blakeley prefigures Leonard’s with Tolson. Essentially, the problem with Leonard as a character results from the fact that he is intended to represent the soul only, that is, only half a human being: In Radcliffe, Storey writes to illustrate his ideas; the ideas are not implicit in an organic piece of writing.

With the “body,” the other half, Storey has an unqualified success. Himself the son of a Yorkshire miner and a former professional footballer (experiences on which he drew in his first novel, This Sporting Life, 1960), Storey’s writing is at its best in the scenes involving Victor Tolson:...

(The entire section is 578 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Leonard Radcliffe

Leonard Radcliffe, the protagonist, the only male heir of a decaying aristocratic family, a visionary misfit, and a gifted artist. In the schematized world of this misogynist novel of ideas, Leonard represents one pole—the soul, and the aristocracy that once was England’s soul—and Tolson the other. It is inevitable that the two will come together and just as inevitable that their unholy (homosexual) union will prove disastrous. He is ultimately unfathomable, fragile, passionate, and an intensely private artist. Leonard’s ancestral home, The Place, functions as an extension of his mind; like him, it does not survive. He dies in a mental institution to which he has been committed after killing Tolson with his own hammer.

Victor (Vic) Tolson

Victor (Vic) Tolson, the antagonist, a skilled workman. Leonard’s childhood “protector” and “compensation,” Tolson, a vulgar giant of a man, represents the body and the working classes. Spawned on the ugly local council housing estate that eventually will engulf the Radcliffe family home, he first meets Leonard, his “Prince,” on the pale nine-year-old’s first day at the council school. Tolson, the boys’ favorite, is humiliated by Leonard’s mental abilities and superior class. Later betrayals, when the two have met again as adults, urge Tolson to reciprocation (as his name suggests, he is both “victim” and “victor”) by tricking...

(The entire section is 511 words.)