Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

J. G. Farrell’s novel juxtaposes the singular character of a British former military officer to the group of Irish people with whom he interacts after he becomes engaged to an Irish woman and moves to Ireland. His inability to assimilate, or even to abandon his notions of superiority, plays a crucial role in driving the plot. Farrell offers a satirical treatment of a serious subject: the Irish rebellion against British rule.

Brendan Archer

Brendan Archer is a British former army major who travels to Kilnalough, Ireland, to resume his romance with Angela Spencer. Unable to put forth the effort to understand his surroundings, Archer fails to relate to the local people’s problems. After Angela’s death, he becomes involved with another woman, Sarah Devlin. He finally leaves the country after narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Sinn Fein nationalists.

Angela Spencer

Angela Spencer is a restrained, proper lady, no longer exactly young, who has agreed to marry Archer. Of mixed English and Irish heritage, Angela’s family occupies a unique niche in Kilnalough, where they own a run-down, cat-infested hotel. Once living in the same place, however, the gap between her and Archer expands. Angela’s limited social graces, Archer later learns, are a symptom of her very real health troubles. Stricken with leukemia, Angela retreats as her health declines into the solitude of her own room, where she passes away.

Ripon Spencer

Ripon Spencer is Angela’s brother. A flat character, he is a stereotypical small-town Romeo. His lack of initiative and common sense make him a foil for the logically-minded Archer. His romantic escapades become serious when he marries Maire. Although he is likely swayed by her family’s wealth, Maire’s father disapproves of the match.

Edward Spencer

Edward Spencer is Angela and Ripon’s father. A one-time boxer, as evident from his face and body, Spencer owns the Majestic Hotel. His moody, violent temperament, however, makes him ill-suited for a management role. Edward is more comfortable out hunting with his dogs. Spencer’s support for English interests—symbolized by his statue of Queen Victoria—and disdain for the Irish, which includes an opposition to Irish nationalism, makes him unpopular with many local people and incenses the rebels.

Sarah Devlin

The earthy, irreverent Sarah Devlin is Angela’s opposite in every way. Apparently interested in both Brendan Archer and Edward Spencer, she evades commitment while encouraging their attentions and Edward’s financial support. Her involvement with a British soldier, who abuses her, alienates her from her own Irish community.


The elderly Murphy is the hotel’s butler. As he is rabidly anti-English, he tries to mask his feelings by feigning loyalty to the Spencers until he loses all restraint and sets fire to the hotel.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access