The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel focuses primarily on character, and in particular on one character. Events exist primarily to express character. Characters other than Jane seem but pale shadows of real people, for they exist as fragmentary and ancillary parts of Jane’s life. Her opening confessional statement, “I couldn’t reach out a hand to save myself, so unwilling am I to set myself up against my fate,” is the overture to the orchestration of a series of variations on her fears and desires, conflicting fears and desires that “James and Malcolm [had] in their respective ways, died for me.” In reality, those fears and desires are for herself.

Stubbornly and mindlessly, she resists action, the kind of action embodied by Lucy, action as seen in her husband’s realization of musical success, action as represented by James and his car business, and, most of all, the action which her family traditions dictate. In this she resembles Mabel, the heroine of D. H. Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” who gives in to instinct, feeling the need to do something only when the threat of drowning in “willingness” seems too threatening.

Surrendering to her nature takes form at the outset, when she insists on having her child alone, with the midwife coming in only to attend to perfunctory duties. She lies in the damp sheets of “birthing” for days, refusing to allow anyone to change them. Only James smooths them and eventually slips into them quietly, wordlessly, sharing her surrender to nature. She...

(The entire section is 621 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jane Gray

Jane Gray, the narrator, twenty-eight years old, the wife of Malcolm, mother of Laurie and Bianca, cousin of Lucy, and lover of James. She is a published poet and tells her own story. To evoke the importance and complexity of her love, she alternates between first-person and third-person narratives, telling of her shy and lonely childhood and of her drifting into an unhappy and violent marriage. She acknowledges her sexual beauty but is passive, hard-hearted, selfish, and frigid. Although she rejects her husband, Malcolm, she responds to James’s confident persistence. With James, she experienced the “miracle” of orgasm, an experience rendered metaphorically by the “waterfall” of the title. Despite some reservations, she knows that this experience has changed her life. She is with James when he crashes his car but is not hurt. At the end, although she is still technically married to Malcolm, she and James remain lovers.

James Otford

James Otford, Lucy’s husband, a father of three, and Jane’s lover. He is part owner of a garage and drives sports cars recklessly both on the road and on the racetrack. His appearance, featuring pale eyes and a hard face, is threatening, yet his soft, gray-blond hair suggests the gentle, loving persistence and kindness by which he awakens Jane’s sexuality. He is seriously injured in the automobile crash but recovers almost completely. At the end of the story, although he has not left Lucy, he is still intimate with Jane.

Malcolm Gray

Malcolm Gray, the...

(The entire section is 649 words.)