Characters

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Last Updated on July 22, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 370

John Wellfleet

John Wellfleet, the first narrator, is seventy-six years old when the novel begins. Living in a rest home, he looks back at civilization before the bombs destroyed it. He currently lives in Metro, former Montreal. André Gervais approaches him with the request that he organize some newly discovered family papers from his family, which Gervais believes will shed important light on twentieth-century Canada. Occupying himself with this task gives John a new lease on life so that he leaves the home to join André’s community, but he dies not long after doing so.

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Conrad Dehmel

Conrad Dehmel, the second narrator, was a German Egyptologist and historian. His narrative, one of the papers uncovered, covers his past in Nazi Germany. Conrad married young but soon divorced and then found true love with Hanna, who was Jewish. Dehmel led a double life in Germany; while holding an academic post, he publicly supported, and then joined, the Gestapo, all the while conducting espionage for the resistance and trying to help Hannah’s family escape. He was caught and imprisoned, but after the war he moved to North America, where he met and married Stephanie. Years later, Dehmel appeared on Timothy’s This Is Now show, which ultimately led to a mistaken viewer killing him.

André Gervais

André Gervais, a young French Canadian, tracks John down after finding his family’s papers. Gervais is the voice of optimism and the new generation.

Timothy Wellfleet

Timothy Wellfleet, John’s cousin, hosted This Is Now, a 1970s television show. Timothy hypocritically criticized capitalist materialism while working in a commercial medium. When he brought Dehmel onto his show, he was unaware that Dehmel’s wife was his foster mother. After Dehmel was killed, he disappeared.

Esther Stahr

Esther Stahr, who produced This Is Now, was Timothy’s mistress. She rethought and eventually left her position and ended their relationship before Dehmel appeared.

Stephanie Wellfleet

Stephanie Wellfleet, Dehmel’s wife, was also John’s mother and Timothy’s foster mother.

Hanna Enlich

Hanna Enlich, Conrad’s lover, was a cellist. Although she was Jewish, Hanna returned to Nazi Germany to try to reach her father, who had been imprisoned. They were caught trying to flee. She forgave Conrad for breaking under torture.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 586

The reader of Voices in Time finds out comparatively little about the constructor of the narrative, John Wellfleet. He acts as the bridge between the generations, as a man who recalls what Montreal and the rest of the world was like before the Destructions, and as a kind of conscience for the guilt and responsibility of the generation who finally brought about the end of civilization and the death of billions of human beings.

The central figure is Conrad Dehmel, named after Joseph Conrad, the author of Heart of Darkness (1902), and Richard Dehmel, the German Romantic poet. Conrad Dehmel combines the tragic fate of German Romanticism, which could be said to lie behind both Nazism and militarism, and man’s inherent capacity for evil. His ill-fated love for a Jewish woman and his desire to work for the downfall of Hitler involve him in a web of deceit and destruction from which there is no escape except through the purgatory of Belsen. He is forced to acknowledge that intelligent and rational men are the last to recognize the bared teeth of the human ape, which is why Hitler’s rise to power was not prevented by the educated elite of Germany. Under torture, he reveals the whereabouts of his fiancee and her father, a betrayal that haunts him for the rest of his life. This is the reason he consents to go on television with Timothy, for he recognizes the same forces at work in the FLQ and the October Crisis of 1970. Not long before he is assassinated, Conrad notes that the storm signals of crisis indicate that the world might soon go out of control again, because no age has been secure from the psychopath with power. Men are screaming for freedom without realizing that freedom without discipline is a return to slavery.

The exemplar of this kind of cry for freedom is Timothy Wellfleet, apostle of the permissive society of the 1960’s. Not surprisingly, this voice of the electronic age cannot write coherently, as his letters and diaries show. His self-centered ravings reflect the style of a writer such as Norman Mailer, whose work represents for MacLennan a betrayal of the discipline of art. Yet Timothy wields enormous power through his ability to manipulate the responses of his audiences via television. He has power without any responsibility.

Andre Gervais represents the inheritors; he is a member of the young generation that has been left a world in ruins. They are trying to emerge from the repression of the Bureaucracy to rebuild the ruins not only of cities and towns but also of civilization itself. He and his friends seek to know about a past that has been almost totally annihilated.

Women play a comparatively small part in the novel. There is Hanna Erlich, the strong Jewish woman whom Conrad loves and who persuades him that it is necessary to stand up against Nazi tyranny. Esther Starr, another strong woman, Timothy’s lover and his executive producer, tries unsuccessfully to restrain his excesses on television. Finally, Stephanie, who is Conrad’s wife, John’s mother, and for a time Timothy’s stepmother, a warm, generous woman, is ultimately powerless to prevent the web of destruction from closing around the men she loves. This imbalance of the sexes represents MacLennan’s belief that the period in which the novel is mainly set was dominated by boy-men intent on imposing their fantasies of ever larger explosions on the world. Women seem powerless to prevent this suicidal play.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 691

John Wellfleet

John Wellfleet, the narrator, age seventy-six, a former hippie and teacher and the survivor of the “clean” bombs that destroyed civilization. During the rebuilding of Metro (Montreal), the Wellfleet-Dehmel papers are discovered, and André Gervais asks John Wellfleet to put them in order. The papers reveal the history of the twentieth century. Happy in his rediscovery of the past and his usefulness to a new generation, John dies in a cottage near the Gervais family.

André Gervais

André Gervais, a young French Canadian, discoverer of the papers, discoverer of John, and representative of the new generation eager to rebuild a civilization connected with the best the past can offer. He befriends Wellfleet, discovers his body, and narrates his death. Their friendship represents the renewed linking of the generations and the transmission of history and wisdom that results.

Timothy Wellfleet

Timothy Wellfleet, John’s older cousin, an advertising man and host of the 1970’s television show This Is Now. The child of divorced parents and shaped by the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Timothy rejects his conventional suburban life and family and his success in advertising for Esther Stahr and television. Apparently criticizing the capitalist system, his abrasive show is really a safety valve for it. Unprincipled showmanship leads Timothy falsely to accuse Dehmel of Nazism, an accusation that leads to Dehmel’s murder. When Timothy discovers that his show has been canceled and his victim is the husband of his foster mother, he becomes distraught and disappears.

Esther Stahr

Esther Stahr, the Jewish coproducer of This Is Now and Timothy’s mistress. Realizing that Timothy destroys public men simply to entertain, she leaves him and the show before the Dehmel debacle.

Colonel Wellfleet

Colonel Wellfleet, Timothy’s father, a war hero and an archetypal male WASP of the Eisenhower period, rich, bewildered, and irrelevant in later decades.

Stephanie Wellfleet

Stephanie Wellfleet, John’s mother, Timothy’s foster mother, and the wife of Conrad Dehmel. She is a gentle, loving woman.

Conrad Dehmel

Conrad Dehmel, the second narrator, a German Egyptologist and historian. His narrative, written in German, is addressed to Stephanie and tells of his childhood in Freiburg with his gentle mother and grandfather, both musicians and cultured Europeans; of his father, a naval officer; and of his younger brother, Siegfried, a fanatical Nazi. Conrad foolishly marries the stupid Eva Schmidt and takes her to England, where he is studying. The marriage fails. Subsequently, he falls deeply in love with Hanna Enlich, a Jewish woman. In spite of her warnings, he returns to Adolf Hitler’s Germany, where he is trapped, becoming director of an academic institute and working for an anti-Gestapo intelligence service. Finally, he joins the Gestapo to help the Enlichs escape, but Eva Schmidt recognizes him and betrays him to her husband, Heinrich. Conrad breaks under Gestapo torture. The Allies liberate Dehmel from Belsen. He goes to North America and marries Stephanie. He appears on This Is Now to warn Canadians that casual violence, the manipulation of the economy and the society by hidden powers, and the absence of principle and restraint signal a civilization’s collapse. When Timothy accuses him of Nazism, Dehmel walks off the show, but a Jewish viewer, confusing him with Heinrich, subsequently shoots him.

Hanna Enlich

Hanna Enlich, Conrad’s mistress, a cellist and member of the Jewish intelligentsia. Hanna returns to Nazi Germany as a Red Cross official to help her interned father. Although Conrad arranges their escape, they are captured, and the Gestapo confronts them with Conrad. Understanding that under torture he has revealed their whereabouts, Hanna’s last act is to explain that they already had been captured, so the betrayal is unimportant.

Rear-Admiral Dehmel

Rear-Admiral Dehmel, Conrad’s father, a gunnery officer, technocrat, and unthinkingly obedient patriot. He is shattered by the defeat of 1914-1918, shamed by the Treaty of Versailles, and seduced by Nazi promises. Although he is promoted in the rebuilt navy, he becomes disillusioned with Nazism. Accused of being privy to the officers’ plot against Hitler, he is killed, and his wife is taken by the Gestapo. He represents the German officer class.

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