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, 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, 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, a Communist, a surgical nurse, the unfaithful wife of Harry, and Jerome’s mistress. She dies, leaving a daughter whom Harry rears.
Arthur Lazenby, formerly a Communist and now a successful official who smooths Jerome’s return. He owes his start to Jerome.
Giles Martell, an elderly, saintly Anglican clergyman. He and his wife, Josephine, reared Jerome.
Dr. Rodgers, the head surgeon at Beamis Memorial Hospital. He is the medical establishment personified.