Author: May Sinclair
First published: 1914
Locale: Garth, a remote village on the northern moors of England
Plot: Psychological realism
Time: The early 1900's
Gwendolyn Cartaret, the defiant and perceptive second daughter of James Cartaret, twenty-five years old when the novel opens. Keenly sensitive to nature, she assumes responsibility for visiting outlying parishioners in the lonely Yorkshire moors and thrives on strenuous hikes in the evenings. Slender, with translucent skin and expressive hands, she is a nervous beauty whose inner strength impresses other characters forcibly. She sees through her father's hypocrisy and maintains an intellectual's reverence for truth yet is susceptible to pointless self-sacrifice. She leaves Steven Rowcliffe, who loves her, in the hope that he will marry Alice. Later, when she returns to Garth to nurse her father after his stroke, she is forced to endure his mistaken choice of Mary.
James Cartaret, the vicar of Garth. His egotism and sensuality oppress his daughters. His fear of public opinion has led him to move to the isolated community of Garth when the novel begins. He is cold, domineering, and unsuited for both his profession and the celibate life that he is forced, by his wife's desertion, to lead. He bullies his daughters endlessly, afraid only of Gwendolyn, who opposes him. His control of his daughters' lives relaxes after a stroke, which renders him a gentle, pathetic old man relying on Gwendolyn for daily care.
Mary Cartaret, the oldest daughter of the vicar, at twenty-seven years of age when the novel opens, responsible for teaching Sunday school. Proud of her own goodness, Mary is a placid, deceptive beauty who encourages Gwendolyn to leave Garth only to woo Steven Rowcliffe herself. After her marriage, her self-deception turns to hypocrisy as she increasingly cultivates acquaintance with “good” society. She becomes a neglectful mother of three children and torments Gwendolyn with evidence of her satisfying marriage to Steven.
Alice Cartaret, the youngest daughter of the vicar, responsible for directing the church choir and playing the organ for church services. At the age of twenty-three, with little outlet for her passionate nature, she is subject to hysteria and responds to her father's bullying by starving herself into serious anemia. Believing that she is in love with the doctor, she blossoms into youthful beauty. Her graceful manner and golden hair and skin attract Jim Greatorex. She forgets the doctor in her quest to reform Jim and matures during the course of their love affair. Her pregnancy by and subsequent marriage to this farmer from a significantly lower social class precipitate the vicar's stroke. Motherhood turns her into a plump, cheerful matron, completely absorbed in her children.
Steven Rowcliffe, the village doctor, who has left a successful practice in Leeds to minister to the needs of country patients. At thirty years of age, he is stimulated by the rough people and countryside and finds that the outdoor demands of his job appeal to his romantic nature. Handsome, somewhat vain, and embracing strenuous activity, he is drawn to Gwendolyn, although he is envious of her capacity to lose herself in the natural beauty of the moors. His egotism is appeased by Mary's attention after Gwendolyn rejects his proposal of marriage and goes to London. Only after Gwendolyn's return does he realize that Mary bores him and has captured him by appealing to his latent laziness. Sensual and passionate, he urges Gwendolyn to have an affair with him; after she refuses, his love for her gradually wanes over the years.
Jim Greatorex, a young farmer who marries Alice after she becomes pregnant with his child. He begins the novel dominated by his physical needs, but his drunkenness and his affairs with village serving girls cease when he falls in love with Alice. Despite his brutishness, he is capable of great gentleness and inarticulate appreciation of natural beauty. Frustrated by a lack of faith, he finds purpose in protecting Alice, and his sensitivity appeals to Gwendolyn, who discovers that he shares her passion for nature.
Essy Gale, a young servant at the vicarage. She is forced to leave her position when the vicar discovers that she is pregnant with Jim Greatorex's child. Despite social ostracism, Essy maintains her dignity by refusing to marry Jim because she knows that he does not love her. She finds solace in the fact that Gwendolyn is genuinely kind to her and later returns to work for the vicar after his stroke has erased the memory of her past mistakes.