Both the excitement of its battle scenes and the impact of its demolition of Victorian assumptions tend to overshadow The Siege of Krishnapur’s cast of characters. The variety of the personalities depicted, however, and the varying responses evoked by the hardships of the siege do provide a degree of human interest that complements the novel’s more general historical and philosophical concerns.
The locus of the narrative, like the organization of Krishnapur’s defense, originates in the person of Mr. Hopkins, the Collector. It is he who first senses the impending rebellion, and it is his foresight and resolution that enable the garrison to hold out until help arrives. Since he is by far the strongest character among the defenders, a firm believer in the advance of reason and progress as well as a brave and resourceful leader, his gradual loss of faith in human perfectability is the most tragic occurrence in the book: If even a man of the Collector’s convictions and experience can see no light at the end of the tunnel, Farrell implies, the rest may well despair of what the future holds.
The quirky figures of Willoughby, the Magistrate who fantasizes about feeling the bumps on people’s heads, and Hampton, the Padre whose literal interpretation of the Bible becomes increasingly divorced from the real needs of his parishioners, are clever personifications of typical forms of Victorian eccentricity. Doctors Dunstaple and McNab are...
(The entire section is 440 words.)