A Mother and Two Daughters Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1982

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: December, 1978, to summer, 1979, and one day in 1984

Locale: North Carolina, Iowa, and Ocracoke Island

Characters DiscussedNell Purvis Strickland

Nell Mother and Two Daughters, APurvis Strickland, a sixty-three-year-old inhabitant of Mountain City, North Carolina. Nell had been trained as a nurse and had practiced but then had married Leonard Strickland, an attorney. They had two daughters, Cate and Lydia. Nell is a widow with many friends among the city’s best citizens. She is an intelligent, compassionate woman whose main interests are her family, her home, and her book discussion group, composed of longtime friends. Nell worries about her two daughters, who are very little alike, have trouble getting along, and are both going through large changes in their lives. She has always deferred to her husband; after his death, she must find her own identity and a reason to live.

Leonard Strickland

Leonard Strickland, an attorney who dies early in the novel. Leonard is a quiet, courteous, gentle, and philosophical man. He has been a faithful, devoted husband to Nell and father to Cate and Lydia. An idealist, Leonard had thought seriously of going to fight in the Spanish Civil War but was talked out of it by his uncle, Osgood. Leonard is an orderly, neat man. He is a good, conservative financial planner and provider. Leonard has a lantern jaw, stooped shoulders, and thick glasses. He hates violence and any kind of scene and enjoys listening to classical music on radio earphones and reading his beloved philosophers, Montaigne, Cicero, and Emerson. He has always been the voice of reason, and his widow and daughters think of him often, reflecting on what his opinion of various situations would be.

Cate Strickland Patchett Galitsky

Cate Strickland Patchett Galitsky, a twice-divorced thirty-nine-year-old when the novel opens. She is a college teacher specializing in the works of D. H. Lawrence. She is now teaching at the financially troubled Melanchthon College in Davenport, Iowa. Cate is an assertive, independent, strong-willed person who often causes turbulence, sometimes in her own family. She keeps her chin up and walks with an authoritative, pelvis-first stride. She is something of a leftist and feminist and enjoys shocking people, especially complacent people, and taking dramatic actions. Her behavior can border on the rude. To protest the Cambodian invasion, she took the students of the New York City private girls’ school at which she was then teaching to the Lincoln Tunnel in taxicabs and there blocked traffic until she was arrested. Cate’s first husband, Lieutenant Pringle Patchett, was an Air Force pilot. Her second, Jake Galitsky, went mad. Cate is unconventional and skeptical about the nuclear family. Childless, she is reluctant to endanger her independence again by marriage, however tempting it is. She is an activist for causes in which she believes.

Lydia Strickland Mansfield

Lydia Strickland Mansfield, a thirty-six-year-old mother of two boys and the estranged wife of Max Mansfield. Lydia is now a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the lover of Stanley Edelman. Lydia is a highly organized woman, perhaps a little manipulative. She has in the past kept her emotions under strict control and her life compartmentalized. She is an attractive, health-conscious woman with lavender-blue eyes. Lydia believes that she is beginning life anew, with her education, her lover, and her budding career in television, but she is still a worrier, never really relaxed and happy.

Maxwell Powell Mansfield

Maxwell Powell Mansfield, an investment banker in Winston-Salem, Lydia’s estranged husband. He is a careful man, a good financial planner, pragmatic and reliable. He is for a time bewildered and hurt by Lydia’s desire for a divorce. Max is a traditional husband, provider, and father to his two boys. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and studied at the London School of Economics. He pilots his own plane.

Leo Mansfield

Leo Mansfield, a somewhat rigid fifteen-year-old boy. He tends to be formal and critical, self-contained and principled, and perhaps even stubborn. An idealist, Leo plans to join the foreign service someday.

Dickie Mansfield

Dickie Mansfield, an overweight, cuddly, happy thirteen-year-old who is a talented clarinet player. He has sinus trouble and is not athletic but enjoys his music and takes the world as he finds it.

Elizabeth Broadbelt Mansfield

Elizabeth Broadbelt Mansfield, the granddaughter of the president of the bank where Max works. She is young, bright, athletic, and attractive.

Stanley Albert Edelman

Stanley Albert Edelman, a thirty-one-year-old podiatrist from Brooklyn. He is slim, dark, and Jewish, with an Italian mother. He practices in Winston-Salem and becomes Lydia’s lover. Edelman fears some kind of catastrophe and is survivalist-minded. Because one day it may be necessary to run, he believes that feet should be kept in good shape.

Roger Jernigan

Roger Jernigan, the owner of Sunny Enterprises, an Iowa-based insecticide/herbicide corporation. He lives in his own castle forty miles from Davenport. Roger is in his late forties, stocky, gap-toothed, and ruddy-faced, with unruly reddish-blond hair. He is strong-willed, overtly masculine, energetic, and curious, with shrewd green eyes. Roger is a believer in self-reliance and is somewhat conservative politically, especially when it comes to government interference in private enterprise. He courts Cate.

Jody Jernigan

Jody Jernigan, a twenty-year-old senior at Melanchthon College. Jody is a talented actor, singer, composer, and guitarist. He is a sensitive, graceful, willowy young man who may be a latent homosexual.

Sunny Jernigan

Sunny Jernigan, a mildly retarded thirty-three-year-old man whose clear features have remained boyish. He takes pleasure in weight training and will become his brother Jody’s bodyguard. Sunny is a happy person and capable of considerable independence.

Osgood Strickland

Osgood Strickland, Leonard’s old uncle, a hermit who lives near Mountain City in a mountain cave he owns. Osgood returned from World War I mutilated, missing the end of his nose.

Theodora Blount

Theodora Blount, the “maiden queen” of Mountain City society. Wealthy and in her sixties, she has never married. Theodora is conservative, somewhat selfish, and demanding. She is very concerned about family bloodlines, especially her own. She is Cate’s godmother.

Wickie Lee

Wickie Lee, a teenage, pregnant, unmarried mountain girl who is taken in by Theodora Blount, for reasons of Theodora’s own. She is skilled at making ingenious dolls of walnut shells, corn shucks, and old nylon stockings.

Azalea Clark

Azalea Clark, Theodora Blount’s black maid, from Mountain City. She is, in the way these things evolve, also Theodora’s close friend.

Sicca Dowling

Sicca Dowling, a widow who is a good friend of Theodora and Nell. She has a serious drinking problem.

Latrobe Bell

Latrobe Bell, a one-term U.S. representative from Mountain City who once courted Theodora. Bell is a political reactionary, given to fulminating against communists, foreigners, and the like.

Buddy Bell

Buddy Bell, the son of Latrobe and Lucy Bell. He works in missile research in Huntsville, Alabama.

Jerome Ennis

Jerome Ennis, a forty-one-year-old who runs a home security business. He is married to Teenie, who is two years younger than he is. Both childhood friends of Cate, they have a son, Johnny. Teenie runs a nursery school in Mountain City.

Renee Peverell-Watson

Renee Peverell-Watson, a teacher of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has a doctorate from Harvard, is stylish, smokes little cigars, and has a fashionable home and clothes. She is a mulatto, and the white Reverend Peverell was one of her ancestors. She is an inspirational friend and teacher of Lydia.

Calvin Edwards

Calvin Edwards, a black television producer at a station in Greensboro. He is thirty-six years old, Renee’s boyfriend, and Mary McGregor Turnbull’s producer. A large, heavy man with a rich bass voice, Edwards is loose and casual. He dreams of establishing a television network devoted to cultural programming.

Mary McGregor Turnbull

Mary McGregor Turnbull, an elegant and well-connected elderly lady of a fine old family who has a television cooking show, Southern Kitchens. She gives Lydia her start.

Merle Meekins Chapin

Merle Meekins Chapin, the wife of the Reverend Marcus Chapin. She was a childhood friend of Nell and her classmate at Farragut Pines Academy. Merle is ill when they meet again on Ocracoke Island.

Marcus Chapin

Marcus Chapin, an Episcopal priest in his sixties. He is a religious conservative, opposed to the ordination of women. He is, temporarily at least, without a parish. Marcus is fit, with white crewcut hair and blue eyes. He is greatly saddened by his beloved wife’s illness.

BibliographyAmerica. CXLVI, April 17, 1982, p. 305.Current Biography 56 (October, 1995): 26-29. Profiles Godwin’s life and career as an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Critical reaction to her work is discussed, providing a valuable framework within which to compare Godwin’s novels with various other of her writings.Godwin, Gail. “A Dialogue with Gail Godwin.” Interview by Lihong Xie. The Mississippi Quarterly 46 (Spring, 1993): 167-184. Godwin discusses her works, comparing them to major or minor keys in music depending on the emphasis she gives them in relation to certain plot elements and characters. Among the topics she covers in this interview are characterization, as well as the southern influence on her writing.Godwin, Gail. “The Southern Belle.” Ms. 4 (July, 1975): 49-52, 84-85. Defines the ideal of behavior held up to Southern girls by their mothers. Some young women adopt stereotypical behavior; others escape by leaving the South. Essential to the study of A Mother and Two Daughters as well as Godwin’s other fiction.Kissel, Susan S. Moving On: The Heroines of Shirley Ann Grau, Anne Tyler, and Gail Godwin. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press, 1996. This critical analysis of Grau, Tyler, and Godwin reveals how the work of Chopin, McCullers, O’Connor, and Mitchell, as well as other southern women writers, has influenced each author. Also discusses Godwin’s universal communal vision.The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, January 10, 1982, p. 3.The New Yorker. LVII, January 18, 1982, p. 129.Newsweek. XCIX, January 11, 1982, p. 62.Pelzer, Linda C. “Visions and Versions of Self: The Other Women in A Mother and Two Daughters.” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 34 (Spring, 1993): 155-163. Focusing on A Mother and Two Daughters, Pelzer explores the identity crisis of three women who must define themselves in relation to their families and the social contexts of their communities. An interesting study in the theme of self-creation in Godwin’s works.Prenshaw, Peggy Whitman, ed. Women Writers of the Contemporary South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. An important compilation of critical essays on Godwin and other Southern women authors. In her perceptive study “Gail Godwin and the Ideal of Southern Womanhood,” Carolyn Rhodes argues that A Mother and Two Daughters is the first of Godwin’s novels in which women are able to reject “hypocrisy and shallowness” while remaining within Southern society. The initial chapter of this work also contains interesting comments made by Godwin in an interview.Saturday Review. IX, January, 1982, p. 64.Sternburg, Janet, ed. The Writer on Her Work. 2 vols. New York: W. W. Norton, 1980-1991. Essays by various writers on their craft. Godwin writes about the unusual household in which she was reared, which consisted of three women: her grandmother, her mother, and the author. As the breadwinner and a writer, Godwin’s mother had an important influence on her view of the roles of women.Time. CXIX, January 25, 1982, p. 72.Times Literary Supplement. March 5, 1982, p. 246.Tyler, Anne. “All in the Family.” The New Republic 186 (February 17, 1982): 39-40. A review of A Mother and Two Daughters by a major Southern novelist. Although her work is somewhat lacking in suspense and ends too suddenly, writes Tyler, its minor flaws are more than made up for by its major virtues, including the author’s superb characterization, especially her new skill in developing “solidly believable” men. Praises Godwin’s accurate descriptions of everyday life and the richness of her narrative.Wimsatt, Mary Ann. “Gail Godwin, the South, and the Canons.” The Southern Literary Journal 27 (Spring, 1995): 86-95. Explores the two major causes of Godwin’s exclusion from the canon: her feminism and the fact that her novels are bestsellers. Godwin’s novels are saturated with autobiographical elements, and her portraits of women ensnared in unhappy marriages are derived from her own life experiences.Yardley, Jonathan. “Gail Godwin: A Novelist at the Height of Her Powers.” Washington Post Book World 11 (December 13, 1981): 3. Sees the major theme of the novel as “the joy of living.” Like Faulkner, Godwin uses her characters to represent all humanity. There is a “quality of compassion” in A Mother and Two Daughters which has not previously been evident in Godwin’s novels.Xie, Lihong. The Evolving Self in the Novels of Gail Godwin. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1995. A critical appraisal of many of Godwin’s novels, including a chapter devoted to A Mother and Two Daughters. A bibliography and index round out this outstanding resource.
Categories: Characters