Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 581
The depiction of a long-running sisterhood, augmented by the pleasure of watching the children grow up with their own independent visions of life, gives The Radiant Way immense appeal. Alix swells with gratitude to the gods for her son Nicholas and his beautiful, talented companion, Ilse. They are both talented artists, generous and open to life, and the fortune that Deborah Manning, Nicholas’ grandmother, bestows on them gives a storybook happy closure to their affairs.
Liz’s children and stepchildren appear less prominently, but they all seem to be coping successfully with youth’s vicissitudes and are finding their own places. They have so far sidestepped the great traps laid for young people by drugs, alcohol, and sex, and clearly Liz has had much to do with their success. She has loved her stepsons as she has loved her own daughters, and she is loved by them in return. The successes of the Headleand children contrast with the collapse into madness and death of the unfortunate Jilly Fox, whose parents are vacationing in foreign lands when Jilly is beheaded. With so much urban madness everywhere around them, the children of Liz and Alix keep level heads.
Celia Harper, daughter of Shirley and Cliff, is every bit her Aunt Liz’s niece. Although she has not realized it yet, Shirley is incubating another Cambridge intellectual from Northam. Celia reads about the Brigantes, she watches the fuddled domesticity around her, and she waits. She is nurturing her wits and gathering the strength to leap. No early sex with awkward blue-collar Romeos for her; her eye is on Oxbridge and a life amid richer sensibilities.
The mainly unproblematic sex lives of Liz, Alix, and Esther offer little to titillate the voyeur. Liz’s first marriage, to Edgar Lintot, was a disappointment, but Charles’s sexuality complemented hers in a gratifying way—at least until the years had diminished its infinite variety. Liz had a number of extramarital misadventures—including one with a Dutchman on a boat that she still remembers—but with Charles’s departure she decides it is time to say goodbye to all that. She has warm feelings for a roving journalist named Stephen Cox, but he does not notice.
Alix’s first marriage lacked the brutality of Liz’s, but Sebastian Manning’s carnal feelings were either stunted or turned in another direction. His early death by accident freed Alix from what would have soon become a life in death and left her with a great gift in her son, Nicholas. Brian Bowen provides the sexual companionship she had missed in Sebastian, and they remain well attuned to each other in a generally contented union. When Brian’s oldest friend falls in love with Alix and kisses her impulsively in an unguarded moment, Alix is stirred but is resolute in passing this milestone of married life.
Esther Breuer appears to lead a fully satisfying life without the gratifications of sex. Her fastidiousness about physical contact allows her to maintain her long, apparently platonic, problem-free relationship with her werewolf authority, Claudio Volpe. Speculation that she is a lesbian seems to be confounded by the picture presented of her in bed with Claudio’s sister, both of them lying there chastely, like two virgins awaiting their lovers on St. Agnes Eve. Esther and Claudio enjoy a close relationship that is rooted in mutual interests, and this closeness is deepened by their heterosexuality, but that is it. Not all relationships are founded on carnality.