The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Hugh MacLennan’s epigraph, from Rainer Maria Rilke, is “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect, and touch, and greet each other,” and the novel is dedicated to his wife. From these facts, one can conclude that domestic harmony between complementary characters—the total absorption of self and other—is seen as a sign or effect of love. Ironically, there is little protecting, touching, or greeting in the novel except that sort of protection which becomes smothering. Only at the end do Paul and Heather consider “the tangled roots and residues of their separate lives” and visualize their future as one. (She even disapproves of the word husband, believing it a word for other people, “a tence put up to keep others out.”)

The French-Catholic and English-Protestant communities are given female and male characteristics, respectively: the one is subservient, domestic, religious, complaisant; the other is dominant, gregarious, secular, belligerent. Accordingly, they attain the status of parties in a domestic tragedy. The fictive characters possess these community traits in different degrees.

When Heather reads Paul’s manuscript, she comments, “Your characters are all naturally vital people. But your main theme never gives them a chance. It keeps asserting that they’re doomed.” This is a valid criticism of Two Solitudes, in which the characters’ vitality is sapped continually by hate, mistrust, jealousy, and...

(The entire section is 562 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Athanase Tallard

Athanase Tallard (ah-tah-NAHZ tah-LAHR), an elderly French Canadian aristocrat, seigneur of Saint-Marc-des-Erables, and member of Parliament. As a federal politician, he is in an invidious position: Elected by French-speaking Catholic Quebec, he must work with English-speaking Protestants in Ottawa and is supporting national conscription, to which Quebec is opposed. A Catholic, Tallard is more intellectual, less biddable, and less religiously observant than the local priest desires—but Athanase knows the bishop. Tallard’s second marriage has alienated him from his elder son. Attracted by the vision of industrial development and employment for Saint-Marc, Tallard mortgages his property to join a consortium headed by Huntly McQueen. The local priest, fearing change, quarrels with him and orders the parish to boycott him. Athanase moves to Montreal, defiantly becomes Protestant, and sends his younger son to an English school. Having offended French Canadians, Tallard is useless to McQueen. Ruined, he dies, returning to the Catholic faith on his deathbed.

Kathleen Tallard

Kathleen Tallard, Athanase’s second wife, a young Irish Catholic beauty and former hatcheck girl, Paul’s mother. Kathleen cannot share her husband’s political life, hates rural Quebec, and longs for urban distractions and male admiration. Nine years after Athanase’s death, Kathleen marries an American businessman. Her character stresses the gap between Anglophones and Francophones even when religion is not an issue. She also contributes an English component to Paul.

Marius Tallard

Marius Tallard, the son of Athanase and Marie Adele, Athanase’s...

(The entire section is 726 words.)