The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Of the novel’s ten major characters, only one, the priest, Austin Brierly, is known by both his first name and surname. The others are known solely as Angela, Dennis, Michael, Miles, Polly, Edward, Adrian, Ruth, and Violet—their individual identities nearly swamped by the homogeneity of their Catholic background. In creating a novel of nearly faceless characters, Lodge took a considerable risk, but one that is entirely appropriate to the novel’s larger meaning, for just as the characters search first for love and then for sexual satisfaction, which eventually leads them to the moral autonomy they both welcome and fear, so, too, does the reader find himself in a similar situation, trying to make his way through a narrative (as they do through a moral) labyrinth. The reader’s task is made all the more interesting and problematic in that the novel’s author, or rather its anonymous authorial narrator, frequently appears in his own novel, intruding in the narrative in order to comment on or digress from it. Even his attitude toward his characters is unstable. He, as well as the reader, can deride their naivete from his historically, or chronologically, privileged perspective, yet even as he indulges in this condescension, Lodge does not choose to dismiss them, treating them sympathetically and allowing them an individuality that both Church doctrine and the childlike way they are named seem to deny.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Adrian, one of nine characters whose fortunes and growth are traced from late adolescence to early middle age. They are representative not of English youth in general but of young Anglo-Catholics. Collectively, they are sexually ignorant and quite accepting of church doctrine. Their development is influenced profoundly by the changes then sweeping through Western society and more specifically through the Catholic Church as a result of Vatican II. Adrian is a particularly repressed, unquestioning young man. During his military service, this dogmatist of the political and religious right becomes disillusioned with British foreign policy (the Suez crisis). He marries Dorothy (“of course” a virgin) and later continues to move leftward, eventually becoming the chairman of Catholics for an Open Church.


Angela, a shopkeeper’s daughter and devout Catholic who has been “conditioned” to do all the right things. She and Dennis are the last of their college set to marry and the first to experience tragedy (one daughter is afflicted with Down syndrome, another is struck and killed by a van). Their marriage begins to dissolve.


Dennis, who is not a devout Catholic; he is, however, devoted to Angela. After a long and ardent but entirely chaste courtship, they marry and, as dutiful Catholics, multiply. Domestic tragedies lead Dennis to break first with the church and then with his wife. After a brief affair with his secretary, Lynn, Dennis returns to Angela.


Edward, a medical student with large ears and a funny face. He marries Tessa, an Anglican willing to convert to Catholicism to have a Catholic nuptial mass. Ignorance and inexperience rather than promiscuous intention account for her being pregnant with their first child at the time of the wedding. As a Midlands general practitioner, Edward counsels his patients to use the church-approved rhythm method until he comes to realize its negative consequences. Shunned by his Catholic colleagues...

(The entire section is 847 words.)