The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Though in many ways a minor character, Richie Deniston is central to the novel’s structure and meaning. His personality has been formed by both his father and his mother, and, though he understands the reasons for their separation, he still considers that they should not have been divorced since it is clear to him that Sir Gulliver and Helen remain attached and attracted to each other. Richie is a mediating element in the novel. Civilized, witty, educated, he can be contemplative as well as playful, and he seems comfortable with one foot in each world. Richie understands and accepts the moral forces that direct his father’s activities; in like manner, Richie comprehends and sympathizes with the pleasure principle that in the main guides his mother’s actions.

Only twenty-three, and when the novel opens in his first year at Cambridge, Richie has already spent three years involved in a barbaric war and has experienced not only the death of soldiers around him but also imprisonment and escape. As an antidote to war, Richie seeks the niceties of civilization—luxuries, comfort, good company, exquisite food and drink.

Barbary, on the other hand, is an anarchist, apparently opposing all authority, used to hiding bombs and derailing trains. While Richie was in the army, Barbary, three years younger, was growing up in occupied France, hanging out with the maquis, accepting, as if by osmosis, values common to those who, deprived of their...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Helen Michel

Helen Michel, the handsome and sensuous widow of Maurice Michel and former wife of Sir Gulliver Deniston. In her early forties, curvaceous, with tawny eyes, dark hair, and classical features, she is highly sexed and quite attractive. Intelligent but indolent, well-educated, artistic, and unconventional, she lives in a secluded seaside villa in France, for amusement translating Greek, playing chess, and occasionally gambling compulsively. Maurice Michel mysteriously drowned a few months earlier, and Helen is stepmother to his son Raoul. Her own children are Richie and Barbary Deniston and the infant Roland Michel, on whom both she and Barbary dote. Because Maurice had for a time been considered a “collaborator” of sorts, attempting to coexist with the Germans after they occupied France, Helen is shunned by many neighbors. Much preferring her own company and that of Maurice’s cousin Lucien Michel, a married man who becomes her lover after Maurice’s death, she is grateful for their distance. As the novel begins, she seems detached from Barbary, sending her to spend time with Sir Gully in England. After Barbary’s true parentage is revealed, Helen reclaims her, taking her back to France for the good of both mother and daughter.

Barbary Deniston

Barbary Deniston, Helen’s seventeen-year-old daughter by her second lover, a fact that is revealed at the end of the story. Small and young-looking, with olive skin, full lips, dark hair, and gray, slanting eyes, she always appears watchful and ill at ease. Although she trusts nobody, she worships Helen and has inherited her artistic ability. Caught in the tumult of World War II, she has joined the resistance, engaging in anarchy almost casually and continuing to do so after the need has passed, accompanied always by her stepbrother Raoul. Barbary prefers wilderness to civilization because it provides better places of refuge. Her name is indicative of her...

(The entire section is 805 words.)