The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Seven Ages offers no character development or plot, as one might expect of a Victorian or Edwardian novel, yet the narratives from the past of those long dead are profoundly moving: There is the sense that one is hearing authentic voices. From old papers, the Narrator reads incomplete facts about Isabel, Lady Lucy’s daughter. From her own grandmother, she learns of Sophie, the Matriarch, and Dora, the granddaughter. The voices from the present, like the voices from the past, offer no internal stream of consciousness or the entire life of any one woman. The character of the Narrator emerges from her memories, her thoughts about her daughters and her conversations with them.

The reader knows very little about Kate and Sally other than their mother’s perceptions: Kate is an empiricist and a hardworking realist, as well as a dedicated doctor. Sally, a struggling and vulnerable idealist, is a young mother having a predictably difficult time financially, as her mother worries that her grandchildren will not survive in inadequate housing. The reader learns that Sally had an abortion, but no further details about her life are provided or needed: Women, individuals, must choose among their available options.

With a small amount of money, the Narrator has several options. This woman has apparently been happy in her profession and is no revolutionary. She locates her childhood in the country under the influence of her grandmother and her...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a midwife retired after a thirty-five-year practice, the mother of Kate and Sally, and the grandmother of Emily and Adam. After years spent dedicated to women in her work as a midwife and in her role as a single mother, the narrator feels newly aware of her solitude. In the quiet darkness of the country, she is visited by memories, by women’s voices, and by tales from far history.

Granny Martin

Granny Martin, a pioneer in family planning, the grandmother of the narrator. In Granny Martin, the narrator finds precious knowledge, a clever mind, and the example of a woman who has “done things” with her talents. Before the Great War, the young Granny Martin works in a family planning clinic begun by Dora, a granddaughter of the Matriarch. Although the clinic is scorned and attacked by men, it is a valuable resource for women dying piecemeal from undergoing childbirth too often.


Sophie, called The Matriarch, the mistress of the manor house and an astute manager of family businesses. As Sophie, she is a lonely, timid, and delicate heiress who is restrained by her various guardians. Later, as the black-robed Matriarch, she is respected and feared by her household. When Sophie meets a man who laughs at her strict and dour housekeeper, she marries him. Life with the “Master” ruins her health; in the first seven years of marriage, she bears seven children. It is also ruinous to her manor, because the Master sells her meadows and home farm without her knowledge. The semi-invalid Sophie suffers from the local doctor’s ignorance, enduring his leeches and bleedings, his Victorian outrage, and his mistaken ideas about the female reproductive system. Freedom and the Matriarch are born together when the doctor and the...

(The entire section is 745 words.)