The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 708

Although the individuals portrayed in this novel are not really extraordinary, the leading figures are vividly drawn, while peripheral characters are colorful, somewhat eccentric types who enliven the proceedings. The relations of Patrick and Jenny form the antipodes about which the work as a whole revolves. While the novel, narrated...

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Although the individuals portrayed in this novel are not really extraordinary, the leading figures are vividly drawn, while peripheral characters are colorful, somewhat eccentric types who enliven the proceedings. The relations of Patrick and Jenny form the antipodes about which the work as a whole revolves. While the novel, narrated in the third person, presents events alternately as the major characters perceive them (fifteen chapters in all are told from Jenny’s perspective, ten from Patrick’s, and two from both standpoints), the author seems more comfortable with Patrick’s point of view. At thirty, he is older than most of the others, and he carries an air of suavity that presumably is commensurate with his worldly experience. He has a remarkable repertory of lines suitable for nearly every sexual occasion, from the cajoling to the reproachful. Yet he also has a morbid, brooding side that is revealed only rarely to the others. His father left him when Patrick was ten. Only after some struggle did Patrick obtain an education and establish himself as a schoolteacher. Evidently fears of his own mortality perturb him: “Meditations on the old last end were giving him a good deal more trouble. Well, thinking about sex as much as possible was the only way to lick that.” At times, he has nightmares or visions of some respiratory or cardiac collapse. He is also contemptuous, sometimes openly so, toward those in authority who have more power than they deserve. (At Julian’s party, toward the end of the novel, he becomes involved in a bizarre quarrel that ends with Jenny’s boardinghouse keeper being shot in the backside.) Still, Patrick is moved by a sense of decency which, when dealing with women, is translated into an anguished oscillation between efforts at achieving physical satisfaction and a more principled approach. At times, he seems to suggest that during the course of his life, his own romantic illusions have been trampled.

Some readers may object that Jenny’s character is not so clearly drawn though it must be said that the author goes to some pains to present her side of the affair. She is serious, sensible, and somewhat cautious in her relation with men; at one point, the reader learns that a previous encounter with another man brought her to distrust those who are too openly bent upon physical conquest. From time to time, she frets about her figure—the men genuinely consider her attractive, but she regards herself as somewhat sparse in the bust as compared with models and entertainers. She grew up in an unnamed northern region of England, and occasionally the men reproach her for a cooler, more withdrawn temperament which they associate with that area. She also suffers from a nervous stutter that affects her speech at several dramatic moments. She is most remarkable, perhaps, for the spirited manner in which she parries Patrick’s contentions about erotic love; until the end, she upholds a sterner standard that defends her womanly prerogatives.

Much as they may seem to be foils for Patrick, the other men are intermittently interesting. Graham McClintoch is a deliberate, ponderous sort with has a passion for cricket; still, Patrick and Julian are reluctant to leave her around attractive women. Since he is the wealthiest of them and enjoys the best social connections, Julian is seemingly the most debonair; he evinces sense of camaraderie when dealing with the others. He, too, experience twinges of conscience after inciting Patrick into undertaking rash and risk ventures.

The other women are somewhat less closely worked characters; in some respects, their conduct indicates aberrant paths by which healthy romantic pursuits may fall by the wayside. Anna le Page is perhaps the most glaring example of this tendency; her free and easy manner conceals a bitterness toward men which has become transmuted into outright lesbian inclinations. Sheila Torkington, who is described as a tall, mannish creature with a receding chin, has to be rescued from the toils of some rather pointless promiscuity. Joan, the blonde demigoddess with whom Patrick has one brief tryst, is laconic, unfeeling, and disconcertingly perfunctory in her sexual performance. Apart from some odd quirks and mannerisms, none of them is particularly diverting or memorable in her own right.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 875

Jenny Bunn

Jenny Bunn, a twenty-one-year-old schoolteacher. She is, in most things, an ordinary young woman, pleasant, with average tastes and wants. She is better than average in the domestic virtues, disciplined and orderly in her habits, and accommodating of others. She has a resolute moral compass, and here her problem begins. She is strikingly beautiful, but, with the guidance of her dour, pedestrian, north-of-England morality, she has resolved to remain a virgin until she marries. Being sensible, she has learned to deal with the barrage of sexual attention that comes from almost every quarter, from even the most respectable or homely of men and, occasionally, from women. She has more difficulty with her own divided nature, however, which does and does not want to remain firm. She also surmounts this difficulty. She does want to be married, and here she falters. The men whom she finds who will naturally respect her morality do not interest her. They are the pathetic, homely, and absurd men of the town. The men who do interest her are impatient with her reserve. After Jenny has lived for a time in the company of women for whom virginity is no longer even a wistful memory, and after she has had difficulties with almost every character in the novel (those who have no direct designs on her are offended when Jenny attracts people close to them), she falls prey to the less-than-honorable actions of Patrick Standish, with whom she is in love, and whom she had hoped to marry. She becomes his mistress.

Patrick Standish

Patrick Standish, a master at a local boys’ school. Handsome, intelligent, and cosmopolitan, he is a self-styled rake and playboy and devotes much of his energy to womanizing. He also is a conscientious and concerned teacher, in spite of himself, and he has another nature, less avaricious and more self-content. This other nature, hidden behind the playboy at adolescence, has rarely been seen since. In his adult persona, he has grasped what he thinks he ought to want, at the expense of what he does want. One look at Jenny is enough to bring out the wolf in him, and their first date establishes the pattern that continues through the novel. Patrick behaves badly and then tries to argue her out of her principles. Later, he regrets his boorishness and tries to make amends; Jenny, seeing no ready alternatives, forgives him. Their romance goes thus, up and down through the novel, the down moments being many, and the up moments including a long idyll when it looks as though they will marry, during which Patrick begins to feel something like his preadolescent contentment. Finally, Patrick gives in to his lesser self. In actions that, if not quite amounting to rape, are certainly more than seduction, he makes Jenny his mistress.

Graham McClintoch

Graham McClintoch, a young chemistry instructor and Patrick’s roommate. A would-be Patrick Standish, Graham is the prototype for the homely and pathetic men who would respect Jenny’s morality but are quite unfit to be her husband. Although he devotes as much energy as Patrick to sexual misadventures and dotes on Patrick’s advice, he has no success. His one date with Jenny falters when he becomes more interested in his own self-pitying fantasies than he is in Jenny. There are good sides to him, and he is not meant to be farcical, except perhaps as a romantic figure. During the crisis at the end of the novel, his natural chivalry proves insufficient to save Jenny from Patrick.

Anna le Page

Anna le Page, a French girl who lives in Jenny’s boardinghouse. She is a posturing and cosmopolitan woman, the most extreme of the many who appear in the novel. When Jenny makes a sincere try at friendship, Anna gives back only a large dose of polemics on the theme of free love and self-expression and makes a pass at her. By the end of the novel, she has revealed to Jenny that her public persona, by which she was, in her own eyes, a rebel and an outcast, is simple fabrication. Jenny thinks only that in revealing her true self she seems all the more false.

Julian Ormerod

Julian Ormerod, an upper-class friend of the men. He is the master of ceremonies for most of the book’s fun and mayhem. He has built up a real charm out of a supercilious manner. He has his own moral compass, and although his north is nowhere near Jenny’s, these two are in a way meant for each other. He knows enough not to make an unwelcome proposition, and he knows not to let his desire for a woman run away with his better judgment. He is the prototype of the man who might respect women’s virtue, at least in the woman he meant to marry, without being pathetic. As such, he is something of a missing link for the novel, considered a dying breed. At the time of the novel, he is simply not disposed to be married, and he and Jenny quickly establish a solid understanding. He and Jenny may be friends, and she gets some of the benefit of his natural chivalry, but their relations end there.

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