Joan Ogden, the protagonist. The oldest daughter of a retired British colonel and his pretentious wife, Joan has one sister and few friends. Her life is circumscribed by the domestic confines of the small, economically strapped family home in an obscure seaside resort. Short-haired Joan is willful, unconcerned with stereotypical feminine pursuits, and uncommonly intelligent. Encouraged by her beloved governess, she aspires to attend university and become a physician. Joan’s mother, however, struggles against all such plans. Joan’s development as a person, as a typical unmarried woman of her historical moment, is the novel’s focus.
Mary Ogden, Joan’s mother and her antagonist. Part of a once-notable family line, Mary sees her diminished existence as a military wife being measured by anniversaries of her forebears’ accomplishments. She consistently defers to her demanding husband and has difficulty managing her household. Inclined to neurotic, psychosomatic illnesses, she apparently loves her daughters but manipulatively maintains a lifelong iron grasp on Joan’s doting attention. Mary is a maddening, monstrous presence in the novel.
Elizabeth Rodney, Joan’s governess and friend. An exceptionally bright, well-educated woman, Elizabeth moves from Cambridge to Seabourne to live with her unmarried brother, a banker. She energetically...
(The entire section is 422 words.)