The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

There are only two main characters in the novel: Harding and Hester. Lewis’ emotions are concentrated and intensified in Harding. Like Lewis, Harding is extremely idealistic but also “carries a sceptic on his back.” He has repudiated the intellectual attitudes of his time and feels ostracized by his professional colleagues and rivals. He has come to believe that history is not worth recording because it does not reveal man’s passion for sanity, decency, and morality but is, in fact, “the bloody catalogue of their backslidings.”

The relationship of Harding and Hester, clearly based on Lewis’ marriage, is solidly established in the opening section before being tested and destroyed in the Canadian crucible. Harding, who has an abnormal sexual appetite, also has an intellectual suspicion of panting and grunting between the bedsheets. He sees Hester as an abstract Woman and live pinup girl and never learns that she is a human being whose desires and needs are independent of his own. When he resists Hester’s sensuality, the basis of their marriage, and she can no longer reach him on the physical level, their passionate solidarity begins to crumble, and they start to watch each other with the sullen reserve of caged animals. Harding does not suspect the depth of his love for his wife or recognize the intensity of her suffering until it is too late to help her.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

René Harding

René Harding, an English professor of history, formidably handsome, bearded, broad-shouldered, brown-eyed, and somewhat dark, revealing his French lineage on his mother’s side. In his late forties, he has established himself as a thinker of considerable, if eccentric, proportion. His books are well known, and he has been made a member of the French Legion of Honour. At the end of the 1930’s, disgusted with the way in which politicians have allowed the world to slip inevitably toward war and believing that historians are partly responsible because of their praise of political leaders, he resigns his professorship and leaves for Canada with no prospects of employment. He is very intelligent, irascible, and somewhat intolerant of contrary opinion.

Hester Harding

Hester Harding, René’s wife, called Essie by him. She is a very pretty younger woman, with gray-blue eyes and ash-gold hair. She is not an intellectual and has little interest in her husband’s work, but their sexual life is happy and seems to keep them together. She accompanies her husband to Canada, but she is not happy about it and ultimately finds it much more difficult to adjust to what she considers the stupidities and intellectual vapidities of that country than does René, with severe consequences for their marriage. She is a kind, sweet-natured woman who is much taken for granted by her husband.

Percy Lamport

Percy Lamport, René’s brother-in-law, an insurance executive in his early fifties. Financially successful, he is inclined to left-wing enthusiasms in politics and to following fashionable artistic trends. Despite his liberal leanings, he is still a man of commerce, as his...

(The entire section is 715 words.)