The Watch That Ends the Night Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1959

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social morality

Time of work: The 1950’s, with flashbacks to earlier in the twentieth century

Locale: Canada, Spain, Leningrad, Germany, and China

Characters DiscussedGeorge Stewart

George Watch That Ends the Night, TheStewart, the self-effacing narrator, a part-time university lecturer and radio journalist, Catherine’s husband and Sally’s stepfather. George has known and loved the delicate Catherine since they were children together. Separated from Catherine by his aunt’s ambitions and then his father’s bankruptcy, he does not meet her again until, having put himself through college in Toronto, he returns to Montreal, only to find that she has married Jerome Martell. The unemployed George meets Nora, a Communist nurse. Disillusioned as he is with the politics and economics that produced the “dirty thirties,” he attends Communist rallies. Still loving Catherine, and admiring Jerome, he watches the marriage suffer from Jerome’s increasing involvement in politics, his affair with Nora, and his departure for Spain. After Jerome’s death is reported, George and Catherine marry and are happy until Jerome’s reappearance triggers George’s memories (which constitute much of the book) and a third embolism that nearly kills Catherine. The autumnal beauty of George and Catherine’s life after this is recognized as preparatory to their final separation. George’s faithful love for Catherine, his affection (obviously reciprocated) for Sally, and his admiration for and understanding of Jerome indicate that he is both generous and just. His political acumen is evident in his work and in the analysis of his own and the younger generation; it can be seen also in his description of the 1930’s and the mores of postwar Canada.

Jerome Martell

Jerome Martell, a brilliant surgeon, Catherine’s first husband and a friend of George. Born the son of a cook in a lumber camp, Jerome escaped at the age of ten from his mother’s murderer and was adopted by the Martells, an elderly clerical couple. As a teenager in World War I, he bayonetted eleven men, lost his religious faith, and flung himself into medicine. Knowing that Catherine had a damaged heart, he encouraged her to marry him and have a child, assured that his vitality would enable her to survive. Jerome’s differences with the Montreal medical establishment are exacerbated by his appearance at a Communist rally with his mistress. He resigns to join the Spanish loyalists; later, fighting with the maquis, he is captured and tortured by the Nazis and is reported dead. He actually is incarcerated in a concentration camp. Released by the Russians, he works in Siberia and China, then returns to Canada after seventeen years to find his daughter grown and his wife remarried. After healing wounds inflicted seventeen years before and helping Catherine recover, he leaves for a remote medical practice. His vitality, his single-mindedness, his courage, and his finally successful search for meaning in life make him a force in the lives of others. His names suggest both saint and warrior, and he is a powerful influence for good.

Catherine Stewart

Catherine Stewart, later Martell, née Carey, the wife of Jerome and then George. She has suffered all of her life from a rheumatic heart, her mother’s resentment, and her own inability to lead a normal life. Resenting Jerome’s concentration on politics, she is reconciled with him before he leaves and supports herself and her daughter Sally until she remarries. She then becomes a painter, trying to express an enjoyment of living intensified by her acceptance of death.

Sally Martell

Sally Martell, Catherine and Jerome’s daughter, a university student. She resents her father’s defection and is in love with a fellow student, Alan Rowe. Both represent the younger generation.

Nora Blackwell

Nora Blackwell, a Communist, a surgical nurse, the unfaithful wife of Harry, and Jerome’s mistress. She dies, leaving a daughter whom Harry rears.

Arthur Lazenby

Arthur Lazenby, formerly a Communist and now a successful official who smooths Jerome’s return. He owes his start to Jerome.

Giles Martell

Giles Martell, an elderly, saintly Anglican clergyman. He and his wife, Josephine, reared Jerome.

Dr. Rodgers

Dr. Rodgers, the head surgeon at Beamis Memorial Hospital. He is the medical establishment personified.

BibliographyBuitenhuis, Peter. Hugh MacLennan, 1969.Cameron, Elspeth. Hugh MacLennan: A Writer’s Life, 1981.Cockburn, Robert H. The Novels of Hugh MacLennan, 1969.Goetsch, Paul, ed. Hugh MacLennan, 1973.Woodcock, George. Hugh MacLennan, 1969.
Categories: Characters