The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Because each of the six main characters is such a distinct individual, so sharply drawn, the interplay between them is fascinating even though the events in their lives are in themselves of relatively minor significance. Portrayed with precision and restraint, each one is revealed primarily through dialogue and inner reflection, but the author varies her method of characterization by such devices as having Liz, the youngest, say almost everything she thinks and feels, often contradicting herself—she is warmhearted, impulsive, easily disappointed, easily pleased—while Frances, on the other hand, so absorbed in her work that she rarely speaks at any length, is portrayed through reflection and meditation, so that what she leaves unspoken she expresses in her thoughts. This method of characterization is particularly effective in Frances’ case because she is both reclusive and sharply analytical, observant, and passionately dedicated to her work.

Morland Beddoes is the character Elizabeth Taylor chooses to present primarily through her own description of him: the quiet way he works and lives, the advantage that others take of his sympathetic and generous nature. Thus, his almost immediate and total involvement with the other characters is entirely credible and consistent. He is also given to introspection, and it is not long before he realizes that Camilla is unexpectedly important to him, though his devotion to Frances and her paintings is by no means...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Camilla Hill

Camilla Hill, an unmarried school secretary in her late thirties who usually makes no effort to enhance her pleasant-enough, blue-eyed looks and good figure. After years of lazy, serene summer holidays with her two closest friends and confidantes, Camilla is confronted this summer with their separate preoccupations: Frances Rutherford’s with old age and despair, and Liz Nicholson’s with marriage and new motherhood. Resentful, alienated, and increasingly aware of her own encroaching middle age and her life’s sterility, Camilla is quickly becoming waspish and bitter. Casting about for stimulation, she begins a curiously unpleasant, desultory near-affair with Richard Elton, whom she meets on the train to her holiday. Camilla is violently shaken from her emotional lethargy by Richard’s revelation of his horrible secret, but it is not a happy awakening.

Frances Rutherford

Frances Rutherford, in her seventies, once Liz’s governess, now a painter and sometime pianist. Advancing old age, worsening rheumatism, and approaching death have all darkened Frances’ vision; violence and inhumanity are now the subjects of her paintings, which once delicately reflected simpler, more pleasant details of life. Frances now feels that she has wasted her life. Her resentment is expressed in her brusque treatment of Camilla and particularly Liz, to whom she devoted much of her younger life. Her anger is somewhat softened by Morland Beddoes’ sympathetic, devoted admiration, so that she can finally accept her increasing need to...

(The entire section is 646 words.)