The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characterization of Aurora Greenway is strong enough to make every other character in the novel seem like a mere foil. With the possible exception of the strong-willed Rosie, everyone who comes into even momentary contact with Aurora is dominated by her, and she has kept many of the novel’s characters in tow for decades. At least three of her suitors (a term she insists upon with characteristic Victorian propriety) have been kept waiting for thirty years. Aurora Greenway is a woman who, despite her strong need for love and attention, keeps other people at a distance. Her perfectionism and her lack of self-criticism prevent her from becoming too close to anyone—including, sadly, her only child.

In many ways, Aurora is an anachronistic character, out of place in post-World War II America. A stickler for gracious manners and seemly behavior, Aurora values form over content. She is fanatically concerned with physical appearance, her own and that of her suitors: She will forgive a man much if he is well dressed. Aurora Greenway is in many ways reminiscent of the coquettes of nineteenth century British fiction. She is a self-absorbed romantic who has never questioned her right to everything and everyone she desires. A sensualist who loves to feel the wet grass beneath her bare feet and who delights above all else in good food and drink, she is also capable of surprising coldness and insensitivity. Her relationships with her suitors are for the most part old-fashionedly chaste and formal. Physical love is both a weapon for and a threat to Aurora, and it is not surprising that her comfortable but passionless marriage to the attractive Rudyard Greenway produced only one child.

Unfortunately, Aurora is the only fully developed major character in the novel. The other characters seem too obviously calculated...

(The entire section is 747 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Aurora Greenway

Aurora Greenway, a middle-aged, fairly prosperous widow in Houston, Texas. Aurora is incurably selfish but charming. She spends her time encouraging and then terrifying a host of middle-aged beaus. Her principal vanities are her lovely head of auburn hair, her vocabulary, and her authentic Renoir. Her principal disappointment—in addition to the suitors, who always fall short of her expectations—is her daughter, Emma, who is as ordinary as Aurora is eccentric. She bullies Emma and her suitors to make the most of themselves, to be more alive, and to seize the moment; often, though, her encouragements only paralyze them with terror.

Emma Horton

Emma Horton, Aurora’s only child, who lives in the shadow of her mother. Emma is bright, articulate, and capable of deep emotions, but she is mousy-haired, a little dumpy, and saddled with a bad marriage to a lethargic young English professor, Flap. Emma does not lack a spirit of adventure and has two romantic affairs, but they are without the flair and exuberance of her mother. Her strengths are principally as a mother and surface when she is dying of cancer and must plan for her children’s future in the midst of a disintegrating marriage. While Aurora makes trivia into high drama, Emma effaces the great tragedy of her short life into daily domestic detail.

Rosie Dunlop

Rosie Dunlop, Aurora’s maid, tiny and outspoken,...

(The entire section is 503 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Aurora Greenway, mother of Emma, dominates the novel. She is a profoundly eccentric woman, who charms men but is essentially uninterested in...

(The entire section is 81 words.)