One could reasonably argue that there is only one character in What’s Bred in the Bone: Francis Cornish himself. Indeed, Francis is the only character whose presentation is rounded and complex. Others, Zadok Hoyle or Tancred Saraceni, for example, may occupy the stage long enough to achieve a degree of complexity, but in general, the personages of the novel flit across the story only briefly, leaving a single imprint. Francis, on the other hand, is as fully achieved as a novelist can make a man—tender, tough-minded, generous, stingy, gullible, devious, wide-eyed, cynical, creative, critical, emotionally stunted, and open-hearted in various degrees and at various times. Although Francis is difficult for other people in the novel to read, he is a richly complex psyche for those, the two immortals and the reader, capable of looking deeply into him. Such an approach makes sense in a novel whose form is overtly that of a biography. As in actual biographies, secondary characters come in for comparatively scant development, while the main figure occupies virtually every paragraph.
The characters of the novel, aside from Francis, function as plot devices, that is, as comparatively static, even symbolic figures against which the main character can react and develop. In keeping with the author’s symbolic imagination and his interest in the psychology theories of C. G. Jung, many of the characters are archetypal figures, psychological types...
(The entire section is 465 words.)