The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Brendan Archer is both the protagonist and the observer in the novel. As the protagonist, he is attempting to carry off a bride; as the observer, he is attempting just as desperately to understand the mad environment in which both of his prospective brides live. Much of the humor of the novel comes from the collision between the well-bred, war-shocked, proper Major Archer and the irrational characters of Kilnalough, who assume that he understands what is going on and seem to feel no compulsion to explain anything to him.

Without exception, all the characters except Archer are eccentrics. Edward Spencer is a fire-breathing landowner given to sudden enthusiasms, such as experiments in a hotel which is falling down around him. His son Ripon Spencer is a lusty, mindless young man with the manners of a peasant; his young twin daughters find amusement in dressing a boy in their dead sister’s clothes. Sarah Devlin is an unpredictable flirt, whose attitudes toward the men around her change from moment to moment but whose charm enables her to insult them with impunity. The various elderly residents are brilliantly differentiated but all somewhat out of touch with reality. Even two characters who seem to be minor prove to be complex and important: the pale tutor Evans, who exhibits his venomous hatred of the Spencers when he kills the grandmother’s cat and again when he is found by Archer slobbering his loathing of the dancers below him, and the butler Murphy, who exhibits his unsuspected antipathies when he moves through the hotel spreading gasoline over the cats, who think he is their friend, filling the shoes of the ladies he pretended to serve so loyally, and at last joyfully setting afire the place where he worked for so long. If Archer finds it difficult to understand the people of Kilnalough, at least he realizes that he does not really know them. The Anglo-Irish, like most people in a hierarchical society, mistake the pretended loyalty of their subordinates for the real thing. They believe that they know them, while they are being consistently deceived.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Major Brendan Archer

Major Brendan Archer, the protagonist, a shy, well-bred British major who witnesses the fall of the British empire in Ireland at first hand. Tired, disoriented, and shell-shocked, Archer goes to Kilnalough to investigate his uncertain engagement to Angela. As he patiently awaits some personal response from her, he becomes fascinated by the uncertainty, decay, and general Irishness of her surroundings, and he experiences the frustrations and lunacies of Anglo-Irish life and the troubles that provide the satiric edge of the book. Valuing propriety, reason, and detachment, he is amazed at the eccentricity and the vulgar excesses of the Anglo-Irish. As he seeks to bring order to the chaos about him, he gradually takes on hotel responsibilities. He provides a liberal outsider’s view on the viciousness of reprisals and a pro-Irish perspective in debates with his host. Except for occasional rather vague sexual fantasies, he is brusque, judicious, and responsible: a peacemaker. For his trouble, the Sinn Féin bury him neck-high in sand to let him drown with the tide. Only rescue by the small, elderly ladies of the Majestic Hotel allows him to flee Ireland with his life and with the only reward for his efforts: the hotel’s much-abused statue of Venus.

Angela Spencer

Angela Spencer, Archer’s Anglo-Irish fiancée. A straightforward mine of trivial gossip in letters, Angela is a remote, untouchable model of decorum in person. She finessed a slight acquaintance with Major Archer into an engagement, and her detailed letters provide a graspable reality at odds with the confusion left by the war. She soon disappears into her room, however, only to exit in a coffin, having slowly succumbed to leukemia. Her deathbed letter is as long-winded and embarrassing as her personal presence. It is her tenuous relationship with Archer that motivates his observations on the Anglo-Irish troubles.

Edward Spencer...

(The entire section is 807 words.)