The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Plot is subordinate to character in Tirra Lirra by the River, and character and events are rendered through the perceptions and judgments of Nora Porteous. Her story is one of swings between bleakness and beauty, between art and reality, and it is the story of her investigation of her own nature.

Nora is taunted in her youth by her sister Grace with the sarcastic remark “Who does she think she is?” Reading poetry and prose of “the bejewelled sort,” waiting for Lancelot, but, more important, inventing Camelot, “a region of my mind where infinite expansion was possible,” Nora lives a romantic life of suspension and waiting, waiting to be taken from her alien landscape, her practical family, and her dull neighbors into a world of similar temperaments where there will be no need to explain herself, where she will be at home.

In Sydney, having misjudged her Prince, Nora is forced to leave her like-minded friends and move into her mother-in-law’s house, into a situation more terrible than the one she left in Brisbane. In a valiant attempt to impose beauty where there is none, Nora begs a pittance to make a yellow bedcover, whitewash the walls, and paint the floor black. Once again, she endures the taunt, “Who does she think she is?” She is ridiculed as she searches for a job, and having no other possibility, she endures five years of marriage until Colin divorces her.

Nora is a strong, courageous woman. She sails to London in hopes of new Camelot. When she gets pregnant, she endures a painful, near-fatal abortion without complaint. She educates herself, starts a business, saves her money, and when her personal beauty fails, as does a...

(The entire section is 692 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Nora Roche Porteous

Nora Roche Porteous, a retired dressmaker. In her seventies, she returns to her family home in Brisbane, where she recalls her past while recovering from pneumonia. Having lost her father at the age of six, she grew up yearning for escape from the household of her mother and older sister. Marriage to Colin Porteous took her to the comparatively glamorous world of Sydney, but her husband proved unfeeling and ungenerous, installing her in his mother’s house and deriding her few contacts with creative friends. Nora turns an early skill at needlework into a profession. Her divorce settlement carries her to London, where she practices her craft for the next thirty-five years. A horrifying illegal abortion and, later, a ruinous face-lift cause greater withdrawal and shyness in a personality always prone to expect loss and disappointment. She concludes, however, that her search for autonomy and self-ratification has been proper and successful.

Grace Roche Chiddy

Grace Roche Chiddy, Nora’s older sister. She remained in Brisbane, hoping that submissiveness and moralizing would bolster her faith; in the end, “she had only opinions.” Nora’s early resentment of Grace is tempered in the narrative present by admiration for her late sister’s improvements in the decorating and landscaping of the house.

Olive Partridge

Olive Partridge, a childhood friend of Nora. She...

(The entire section is 557 words.)