Author: Iris Murdoch
First published: 1978
Locale: Shruff End, England; London, England
Charles Arrowby, a famous British actor, playwright, and ladies' man in his sixties. He is a selfish and arrogant man who sees himself as the central victim of other people's drama. Over the years, he has grown weary of the theater, so he retires and moves to a peaceful estate called Shruff End, on the coast of England. He plans to live simply and let go of his womanizing habits while he writes his memoirs. His friends from London make it difficult for Charles to adjust to his new life, as they frequently drop in and write him letters. He runs into Mary Hartley Smith—now Mary Fitch—his childhood love. He then becomes obsessed with rejuvenating their relationship. This mania drives him to lock Hartley in his home against her will. Eventually, Charles lets her go, and days later he is pushed into the sea, though he is rescued. Charles inherits his cousin James's estate, sells it, and leaves Shruff End, moving back to London.
James Arrowby, Charles's younger cousin. He is an intelligent man who studied history at Oxford University before becoming a professional soldier. After serving in the British army for several years, he became a Buddhist. In his youth, James was considered by some in the family to be Charles's rival. As adults, James speaks to Charles in a patronizing manner. He visits Charles at Shruff End and winds up saving him when he is pushed into the sea. James is unable to save Titus from drowning, however, which makes him feel deeply ashamed.
Mary Hartley Smith Fitch, Charles's childhood sweetheart. Hartley and Charles were in love as youths, but when Charles left for London at eighteen, she broke off their relationship and disappeared. He kept idolizing her, however, as his one true love, and considers his other relationships facades. She is married to Ben Fitch, and they have an adopted son, Titus. She lives near Shruff End, and when Charles learns this, he tries to rekindle their love by imprisoning her at his home. After he lets her go, Hartley refuses to leave Ben, and they eventually move to Australia.
Titus Fitch, Ben and Hartley's adopted eighteen-year-old son. He runs away from home and school, but he later returns. He is secretive about where he was during this time. Charles locks up Titus along with Hartley in an attempt to break up her marriage to Ben. Titus grows accustomed to being confined to Charles's house and even becomes friendly with Gilbert Opian, Charles's friend-servant. Later, Titus is struck in the head and pushed into the ocean, where he drowns. The plot does not reveal whether his drowning was an accident or murder.
Ben Fitch, Hartley's husband of many years. According to Charles, Ben is a tyrannical, abusive man who forcibly keeps Hartley in their failed marriage. When he and Hartley tried and failed to have a child, she adopted Titus. Not knowing where Titus came from, Ben believes he is Charles's natural son. Ben is physically abusive toward Titus. Charles believes Ben pushed him into the ocean and murdered Titus. In the end, Ben and Hartley move to Sydney, Australia.
Lizzie Scherer, actress and Charles's former lover from London. She writes Charles a letter after he moves to Shruff End, informing him that she is finally letting go of her love for him. Her letter also states that Charles is a womanizer. She begs him not to impose himself on her, though she cannot leave him completely alone. Lizzie still wishes to remain friends.
Peregrine Arbelow, an actor friend of Charles who comes to visit Shruff End. He is Rosina's former husband. Charles stole Rosina away from him, but the two men remained friends. Peregrine has a large face and is considered an “Irish drunk” by Charles. He was raised Catholic but left the church to join the theater. His philosophy is that every marriage is based on fear. He stays at Shruff End throughout the ordeal between Hartley and Charles.
Gilbert Opian, a friend of Charles who comes to stay with him at Shruff End. He winds up becoming somewhat of a serf for Charles. When Charles locks Hartley and Titus in his house, Gilbert is anxious to help make them comfortable.
Rosina Vamburgh, a former lover of Charles who comes to visit Shruff End. She is a beautiful, strong-willed woman who was formerly married to Peregrine, but left him to be with Charles. After Charles left her, she did not go back to Peregrine. She unexpectedly visits Shruff End and taunts Charles about his treatment of Lizzie.