A Wreath of Roses Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1949

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Character study

Time of work: A summer in the mid-1940’s

Locale: Abingford, England

Characters DiscussedCamilla Hill

Camilla Wreath of Roses, AHill, 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 depend on the others.

Elizabeth (Liz) Nicholson

Elizabeth (Liz) Nicholson, who is girlish in appearance in her thirties. She is restless and insecure as a married woman and mother. Absorbed in the care of her baby, Harry, she is nevertheless acutely aware of Frances’ testiness, Camilla’s jealousy, and the impulses that compel Camilla to pursue Richard Elton, whom Liz instinctively loathes. During the holiday, Liz reconciles herself to the compromises demanded in marriage and relaxes somewhat into motherhood, gaining maturity and becoming less self-absorbed.

Richard Elton

Richard Elton, who is probably in his mid-thirties, movie-star handsome but perceptibly weak in character. Richard is able to overcome Camilla’s initial indifference to him, first when they are drawn together by their mutual witnessing of a suicide at the train station, then later with the image he creates of himself out of stories of wartime heroics, literary aspirations, and a brutal childhood–all false. He benefits from Camilla’s loneliness and yearning for a romantic relationship. In reality a sadist who has recently murdered a young woman, Richard desperately tries to hold self-knowledge and horror at bay, reaching out to Camilla as a woman too strong to harm. Having lost Camilla and increasingly unnerved by Morland Beddoes’ scornful scrutiny, Richard finally commits suicide, leaping into the path of an approaching train as he and Camilla had seen the stranger do.

Morland Beddoes

Morland Beddoes, in his fifties, rumpled and plump, a well-established film director with a distinguished wartime military career. Captivated as a younger man by a painting of Liz by Frances, Morland has subsequently built a collection of Frances’ work and has corresponded with her for years. Now he comes at last to meet Frances and stays to admire, to sympathize with, and to encourage her. Concerned for the happiness of all three women, Morland is especially disturbed by Camilla’s reckless pursuit of Richard, whom he instantly recognizes as a man with something to hide. There is hope that Morland’s own attraction to Camilla may bring an end to the isolation they have both felt to varying degrees.

The Reverend Arthur Nicholson

The Reverend Arthur Nicholson, Liz’s husband and Harry’s father. Both the aura of his clerical authority and his overbearing masculinity have hemmed Liz in, provoking her petulance with him. He learns to accept her growth as an individual, no longer girlish and submissive as she was when he first knew and loved her.

BibliographyAusten, Richard. “The Novels of Elizabeth Taylor,” in Commonweal. LXII (June 10, 1955), pp. 258-259.Barr, Donald. “Texture of Experience,” in The New York Times Book Review. March 13, 1949, p. 4.Leclercq, Florence. Elizabeth Taylor, 1985.Liddell, Robert. “The Novels of Elizabeth Taylor,” in A Review of English Literature. I (April, 1960), pp. 54-61.
Categories: Characters