The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 875 words.)