The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Antonia is the novel’s dark lady, while Lilia is the novel’s snow queen—the lady of ice rather than of light, although she is not the villainess. Both women come to see that they have jointly conspired and consented to their symbiotic relationship out of fear of facing the truth. When the truth emerges, however, Antonia handles it with equanimity. She has the strength to accept Jane’s independence. Instead of breaking, Antonia seems, for the first time, relieved.

Antonia, the wielder of all power at Montefort, comes to recognize that she actually has very little power and that she is alone except for her relationship with the Danbys. It is she who has needed them more than they have needed her. It was she even more than Lilia who needed to keep the ghost of Guy alive so that she would not have to face the world unescorted. She is also left with Montefort, the decaying relic, a remnant of an Anglo-Irish aristocracy, which, like her romantic tie to Guy, is literally crumbling before her eyes for want of not only money but also the genteel traditions which spawned it.

Lilia Danby, perhaps the character initially seen as the weakest and most helpless, the jilted fiancee with no resources of her own, proves to be a strong individual in her own right. Belatedly, she comes to grips with her life and her own responsibility for it and only barely salvages her relationship with her husband. She confronts Guy’s ghost, and seconds later, her living husband, Fred. She then reasserts her position as mistress of the house, dispelling not only the specter of Guy but also Antonia, ending their dominance over the destiny of the Danby family.

Jane is the naive girl, the quester who is “drawn by the expectation and desire of...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Antonia Montefort

Antonia Montefort, a photographer in her early fifties, the owner of the dilapidated Montefort manor in the south of Ireland. Antonia inherited the manor from Guy Montefort, her cousin, who was killed in action in World War I at the age of twenty. Antonia lives in London but occasionally visits the manor, where she is served by the Danbys: Fred runs the manor farm, and Lilia, his wife, manages the housework in a dilatory way. Antonia, having arranged their marriage, keeps them on the manor out of a sense of responsibility. Capricious and demanding, Antonia is indolent, caustic, and fearful of old age.

Jane Danby

Jane Danby, the twenty-year-old daughter of Fred and Lilia. She is the favorite of her father and of Antonia, who has paid for her education. Exploring the attic one day, Jane finds a beautiful Edwardian dress and a packet of letters signed by Guy and tied in white ribbon. The recipient of the letter is not named, but they clearly are love letters and inspire Jane to speculate obsessively about the writer and the woman to whom he was writing. She even imagines that his ghost is present on a few occasions. She suspects that it was her mother, Lilia, to whom the letters were addressed, and Lilia does not deny it but does not read the letters. The mystery is solved at the end of the novel, when Jane burns the letters after discovering that they were not written to her mother. Jane tells Antonia...

(The entire section is 575 words.)