Time and the Conways

by J. B. Priestley

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Characters Discussed

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Mrs. Conway

Mrs. Conway, a widow living in a provincial town. She is in her mid-forties at the start of the play and is well dressed, talkative, and very conscious of her status in local society. She is at her best at parties and other social gatherings; she has little practical knowledge or talent. Her behavior as a mother is a central concern in the play. The promising lives of her children are shown to be wasted, and she herself faces financial ruin at the end of the play.

Alan Conway

Alan Conway, the eldest son, a clerk. Rather shy and silent, he is in his early twenties as the play begins. He stammers and dresses shabbily. Initially, he seems a failure in contrast to the other characters. His sense of futility finally extends to the rest of the family. He is truly good-natured and is the person closest to Kay. It is Alan who elaborates for Kay the theory of time at the heart of the play.

Madge Conway

Madge Conway, the eldest sister. She is a well-educated and efficient woman, busy with plans for social and political reform. She is the least attractive of the sisters but has a romantic interest in Gerald Thornton early in the play, an interest that might be returned. A possible union with Thornton is thwarted by her mother, who treats her ideas with scorn. Madge ultimately becomes the hostile, defensive headmistress of a girls’ school.

Robin Conway

Robin Conway, the younger son, his mother’s favorite and a loafer with no apparent talent. Robin is returning from World War I as the play begins. He is charming and good-looking and spends much of his time pursuing Joan Helford, to whom he is married and whom he subsequently abandons. He manipulates his mother, who gives him money, but he proves unable to help her when she faces financial difficulties.

Hazel Conway

Hazel Conway, the most beautiful and popular of the Conway sisters. Fair-haired, elegant, and seemingly self-confident, she is at her best at parties and games. She is pursued by and finally married to Ernest Beevers, a social-climbing young man who represents everything that the Conways scorn. She becomes a weak and terrorized wife.

Kay Conway

Kay Conway, an aspiring writer. The play begins at a party celebrating her twenty-first birthday. Not as pretty as Hazel or as serious as Madge, she is sensitive and doubtful of her own talent. Kay’s perceptions control the structure of the play; the middle act is her vision of the family’s future. Like the other Conways, she fails at what she tries to do: She gives up writing novels for a career as a popular journalist and becomes the mistress of a married man.

Carol Conway

Carol Conway, the youngest child. Sixteen years old as the play begins, she is energetic and charming, without the social affectations seen in most of the family. She is also very morbid and is obsessed with thoughts of death, particularly with memories of her father’s drowning. She is the only member of the family who welcomes Ernest Beevers into their social circle. Carol dies young, and her death symbolizes the loss of vitality and goodness in the Conways.

Joan Helford

Joan Helford, a local woman. Pretty but unexceptional, Joan is a friend of the Conway family. She is in love with Robin, whom she idolizes. This attachment puts her in conflict with Mrs. Conway, who is jealous of Robin’s interest in her. Her difficult marriage only promotes her worst qualities, and she becomes a slovenly and irritable middle-aged woman.

Ernest Beevers

Ernest...

(This entire section contains 770 words.)

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Beevers, a local businessman. He is approximately thirty years old as the play begins. Of a somewhat lower social class than the Conways, he is small and shy but has a growing sense of his own authority. Fascinated by the Conways and in love with Hazel, Beevers is at first awkward and out of place in the Conway home. He comes to dominate Hazel and to sneer at the rest of the family. Ultimately, he will deny them the money needed to make Mrs. Conway financially secure.

Gerald Thornton

Gerald Thornton, the family solicitor. A promising young man of roughly thirty years as the play begins, he is good-looking and well-groomed. He carefully maintains an air of gentility and professionalism. Embarrassed by Mrs. Conway’s ridicule of Madge, he proves too weak to pursue his interest in her or in her political ideas, and he lapses into a petty provincial by the end of the play, presiding over the inevitable dismantling of the Conway home.

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