Laurie, the protagonist, the niece of Dorothea ffoulkes-Corbett. Both her name and her outlook (independent and tomboyish, with a zest for adventure and a love of solitude) keep her androgynous; no details of age or appearance are revealed. She narrates the adventures of the traveling party that includes Aunt Dot, Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg, herself, and, later, Dr. Halide Tanpinar and Xenophon. Enlisted by Aunt Dot as a sort of companion-cum-secretary on a trip to the Middle East, Laurie agrees to illustrate and contribute to the book about Turkey that her aunt plans to write, in addition to helping with the daily affairs of lodging, luggage, camping, transportation, dining, and caring for the camel. Like her aunt, she loves travel perhaps more than any other occupation, not only because she relishes new sights and experiences but also because she often thus encounters her mother (who had left Laurie’s clergyman father when Laurie was young) and her mother’s “protector,” both of whom are cheerful, lively, generous, and easygoing. Engaged in an affair of ten years’ duration with her married cousin Vere, Laurie yearns for the consolations of the Anglican Church (she comments that it is in her family’s blood) but cannot relinquish the love that it condemns. Trebizond, with its rich and ancient history encompassing many religions and cultures, becomes for her a symbol of the mystery at the center of life, and after Vere’s death she feels forever alienated both from its mystery and from the comfort of the church. Laurie’s character is partially drawn from the author’s own life: fascination with travel, enjoyment of writing and adventure, devotion to and alienation from the Anglican Church, and a lengthy affair with a married man, although in the author’s case the affair endured for more than twenty years and ended with her lover’s death from cancer.
Dorothea ffoulkes-Corbett, referred to as Aunt Dot, an eccentric feminist, adventurer, and missionary of sorts, very much her own person. She became a widow when her missionary husband tried to shoot her and himself to save them from cannibals; when he missed her, she feigned death to avoid his next shot, saw him kill himself, and then talked her way out of the stewpot by convincing the savages that she was a goddess. She spearheads the trip (taking the camel to make a good impression), greatly concerned about the plight of Middle Eastern women, whose religious beliefs contribute to their oppression. Convinced that only conversion to Christianity (specifically High Church Anglicanism) will liberate them, she takes along Father Chantry-Pigg to legitimize her travels, allowing her to be partially funded as a missionary. Traveling so near to “the curtain” between Turkey and Russia, which she has yearned for many years to visit and into which travel is forbidden because of the Cold War, she yields to temptation: She talks...
(The entire section is 1212 words.)