Author: Virginia Woolf
First published: 1937
Locale: London, England
Plot: Domestic realism
Colonel Abel Pargiter, a solid, middle-class, retired army officer, father of the family whose progress through the years is traced in fragmentary episodes from 1880 to 1937. Lonely and purposeless, he sits in his club, goes to the city, visits his mistress, Mira, and returns to his genteel but rather shabby home on Abercorn Terrace, where his wife lies ill of a lingering illness and his children are gathered for tea. Mrs. Pargiter dies that night. All his children but one leave for lives of their own. The exception is Eleanor, with whom the colonel lives in the same pattern until his death some thirty years later.
Eleanor Pargiter, Colonel Abel Pargiter's eldest daughter. Naturally cheerful, efficient, and given to social work, she is, at the age of twenty-two, the mainstay of the family during her mother's lingering illness. After her mother's death, she continues to live with her father as his housekeeper and companion, staying with him until he dies when she is fifty-five years old. She sells the house on Abercorn Terrace and goes to live alone between her travels abroad. When she is over seventy, she still finds life a continual discovery and enjoys the prospects of a bright new day.
Edward Pargiter, Abel's scholarly son. As a student at Oxford, he is in love with Kitty Malone, who refuses him. He later becomes a Greek scholar of considerable distinction.
Morris Pargiter, Abel's not-too-successful barrister son.
Delia Pargiter, Abel's daughter. Rebellious and resentful of the restrictions imposed by her mother's illness, she longs to escape the ties of home. She dreams of herself on the political platform with her hero, Charles Parnell. Later, under the illusion that he is a wild Irish rebel, she marries handsome, conventional Patrick.
Milly Pargiter, Abel's daughter. She marries Hugh Gibbs, with whom she lives on an estate in the country. Obese and unimaginative in their later years, they appear gross and tiresome to the younger generation.
Rose Pargiter, Abel's youngest daughter. Always a fire-brand with a love for causes, she joins the suffragette movement and is imprisoned for the cause. With the years, she grows stout and deaf but never loses her air of independence.
Martin Pargiter, Abel's youngest son. As a young man, he joins the army, which he detests. He retires as a captain and returns to London to live alone in a flat.
North Pargiter, Morris Pargiter's son. After service in World War I, he lives in lonely isolation on a sheep farm in Africa. He returns to the greater loneliness of crowded London and ponders what it is that so separates human beings from one another.
Peggy Pargiter, Morris Pargiter's daughter, who lives in loneliness as a doctor.
Sir Digby Pargiter, Colonel Abel Pargiter's brother, a public servant.
Maggie Pargiter, Sir Digby Pargiter's elder daughter, who becomes happily married to a Frenchman named René.
Sara Pargiter, Sir Digby Pargiter's sensitive, crippled younger daughter. After her sister Maggie's marriage, she lives alone in a shabby flat.
Kitty Malone, a cousin of the Pargiter family. As a young girl, she is loved by Edward Pargiter but marries her mother's choice, the wealthy, fashionable Lord Lasswade. As the years go by, she reflects on the changes they bring and wonders who is right and who is wrong in the choices people make. She finds a measure of peace when she escapes, alone, to the country, where time seems to stand still.
Crosby, the Pargiters' faithful servant at the house on Aber-corn Terrace.
Mira, Colonel Abel Pargiter's lower-class mistress.
Eugenie, Sir Digby Pargiter's handsome, frivolous wife.
Hugh Gibbs, Milly Pargiter's husband.
Lord Lasswade, Kitty Malone's husband.
Celia, Morris Pargiter's wife.
Patrick, Delia Pargiter's Irish husband.
René (Renny), Maggie Pargiter's French husband.
Nicholas Pomjalovsky, the Polish friend of Eleanor, Sara, and Maggie Pargiter.
Miss Craddock, Kitty Malone's eccentric history teacher.