The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Leonora is very much the Victorian trying to live in a post-Victorian world. She surrounds herself with Victoriana, even to the point of replacing her parents’ picture with that of her grandparents because she thinks that they, in their late Victorian dress, arA more distinguished looking. As she is handed out of a taxi in London, Leonora characteristically pictures herself being handed out of a carriage in a genteel past far removed from the London of the 1960’s.

Leonora looks down upon work as unworthy of her. Even the charitable work that one of her stature could do revolts her. In fact, Leonora looks down on almost everything and everyone, even her elderly neighbor Miss Foxe, who is “a person of gentle birth and refinement living in reduced circumstances.” Leonora’s arrogance comes through also in her habitual use of third person in her speaking and even in her thoughts: “One just did not want people like Miss Foxe impinging on one’s life.” By viewing herself as better than most of the rest of the world’s people, Leonora is better able to pretend, to herself at least, that her solitude is a chosen solitude, and one in which she is happy. She even explains away the absence of any sexual fulfillment in her life by protesting a Victorian distaste for such things:

Leonora liked to think of her life as calm of mind, all passion spent, or, more rarely, as emotion recollected in tranquillity. But had there ever really been passion, or even emotion? One or two tearful scenes in bed—for she had never enjoyed that kind of thing—and now it was such a relief that one didn’t have to worry anymore. Her men friends were mostly elderly cultured people, who admired her elegance and asked no more than the pleasure of her...

(The entire section is 741 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Leonora Eyre

Leonora Eyre, an aristocratic woman who lives in London, does not work, and is nearing the age of fifty. She is an attractive brunette, especially in the right kinds of light. She dresses well and entertains herself by buying Victorian objets d’art et de vertu and by reading. She rather complacently thinks of her life as passion spent and emotion recollected in tranquillity, although she cannot remember just where and when she spent the passion. On a number of occasions, she is faced with the fact that some of her friends think her cold and formidable. She does not accept this judgment, preferring to think her responses to life properly measured and rigorously tasteful.

Humphrey Boyce

Humphrey Boyce, the owner of an antique shop in London. Nearing sixty and a widower of many years, Humphrey is tall, slender, and, he thinks, bald in the most distinguished kind of way. He is rather fussy in the shop with Miss Caton, his typist, and with his nephew and employee, James Boyce. He meets Leonora in the book’s first chapter at an auction in Bond Street, then later finds himself in a contest for her affections with his nephew.

James Boyce

James Boyce, a twenty-four-year-old graduate of the University of Oxford. Recently orphaned by the death of his mother, he has gone to work for his uncle. He is attractive, well-mannered, and rather passive, falling, as he does, into...

(The entire section is 569 words.)