The Unicorn Characters
by Iris Murdoch

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The Unicorn Characters

Hannah Crean-Smith: A lovely blonde woman nearing middle age, she lives an almost total prisoner at Gaze Castle. Out of jealousy over her earlier affair with Pip Lejour, her husband, Peter, has locked her up in their home; he pays the staff to keep her inside while he lives abroad. Although her confinement is made palatable by alcohol and the staff’s entertainments, Hannah finally decides to leave her fairtytale-like existence. In the process, she kills her jailer and herself.

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Marian Taylor: A twenty-something Londoner who comes to Gaze to tutor Hannah and decides to help her escape. When the plan goes south, she must face her complicity in the tragic deaths.

Gerald Scottow: Gaze Castle’s keeper, who functions as Hannah’s jailer. He was formerly Peter’s lover but is currently involved with Jamesie Evercreech, the estate’s chauffeur, who had once helped Hannah try to leave. The middle-aged Scottow relies on his good looks and reputation for supernatural gifts, as well as his physical strength, to help him maintain control. After he threatens to leave and take Hannah, she shoots and kills him.

Denis Nolan: The clerk of Gaze, who becomes Marian’s accomplice in aiding Hannah to escape. Devoted to his mistress, he enjoys singing to her, but his fear of Gerald is paralyzing. He leaves Gaze after she dies.

Max Lejour: A retired classics professor who lives at nearby Riders Castle. Pip and Alice are his adult children. As he refuses to be involved directly with the events at Gaze, the question of his complicity arises. Upon her death, he is revealed as Hannah’s sole beneficiary.

Effingham Cooper: A frequent visitor to Riders as Max is his former tutor. Having fallen in love with Hannah, he can (or will) do little to practically aid her, believing there are magical forces in play, until Marian convinces him to help her escape. He escapes drowning when Denis rescues him.

Alice Lejour: Max’s daughter, who had been sexually attracted to Denis while he worked at Riders; her false rape accusation caused his move to Gaze. While she becomes fond of Marian, her love for Effingham works against her willingness to help Hannah.

Philip Lejour: He owns Riders, where he lives with his father and sister. He is a writer who was formerly Hannah’s love; Peter’s discovery of their affair precipitated his bizarre decision to lock up his wife. When he goes to the castle to help Marian carry out the escape plan, Hannah will not go with him but kills Gerald with his gun. Pip apparently dies by suicide with the gun.

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Hannah is the unicorn of the title, a rare and mysterious creature who enchants all around her but who is inaccessible to everyone. Both whore and goddess, murderess and saint, she is either a wretched prisoner or a willing recluse. Unknowable and unreachable, she enchants all around her, and in the love that each character feels for her is encompassed the full range of human affection. Since her reality is impossible to know, she becomes the reflection of each character’s fantasy about her. Like the unicorn, she is a test of the purity and innocence of the others in her own guilt and suffering.

In many ways, the lesser figures at Gaze are as mysterious as their mistress. Gerald is sexual magnetism and power, and few escape his appeal. Long associated with the husband figure (Peter never appears except as a corpse), Gerald is also surrogate master at Gaze, and his domination of Jamesie is emblematic of his dark and unconventional control over the house. Jamesie is the elfin page who has been corrupted by Gerald, and his older sister, Violet, is bitter and contemptuous of the household she keeps; she is Gerald’s female counterpart, actualized in her attempted lesbian seduction of Marian. Denis Nolan, having replaced Jamesie as page to Hannah, is a Lawrentian “natural man,” an embodiment of the hard beauty of the local region, as well as a bridge to Riders.

As characters, both Pip and Alice Lejour are less fully developed than those in the...

(The entire section is 2,011 words.)