Author: A. N. Wilson
First published: 1982
Locale: London, Cambridge, and Wiltshire
Time: The early 1980's
Giles Fox, a blind scholar and librarian, forty-eight years old. His life already is dictated by habit: Every day he wears a gray suit, white shirt, and silk blue tie, and each dinner is a variation of cold meat, noodles, olives, and fresh fruit. He is obsessed by A Tretis of Loue Heuenliche, a medieval tract on virginity, and labors to produce the definitive edition of the text. Ironically, the content of the discourse concerns spiritual love, but by focusing solely on philology and linguistics, Giles fails to acknowledge the work's applicability to his own life.
Tibba Fox, Giles's daughter. An attractive, clever teenager with searching green eyes, Tibba leads two lives: At home, she assumes adult responsibilities by managing the house and caring for her blind father; at school, she is a popular but elusive coquette. Her favorite authors are Harold Pinter and Virginia Woolf, but she reads to Giles every evening from Sir Walter Scott and Anthony Trollope. To her, time is divided into b.c.e., before Mary's death, and c.e., All Desolation. Giles remarries when Tibba is thirteen years old. Carol, his second wife, is perceived by Tibba as a rival. Tibba puts a curse on her stepmother, asking God to kill her; within twenty-four hours, Carol is run over by a taxicab. Tibba is both shocked and pleased by this apparent power, but she never attempts to exercise it again.
Mary Hargreaves Fox, Giles's late first wife and Tibba's mother. Already deceased when the novel opens, Mary is remembered by Tibba as having hazel eyes, an oval face, and Vidal Sassoon hair. Her relationship with Giles is based primarily on physical attraction, and when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock, they feel forced into marriage. Resentment quickly arises on both sides, and Mary seeks, through numerous affairs, the attention and love she needs. After eight painful years of marriage, she and Giles develop a deeper love for each other, only to face Mary's death in childbirth.
Carol Fox, Giles's late second wife and nurse. Although described simply as beautiful, her Liverpudlian accent reveals her lower-class origins and explains why she marries Giles after knowing him only for a few weeks. A strong rivalry develops between Carol and Tibba for Giles's affection, but the tension is short-lived: Carol is hit and killed by a taxicab less than a year after being married to Giles.
Louise Agar, Giles's research assistant. Described as lump-ish, with unshapely and columnar legs and a poor complexion, she has soft, thick hands and abundant long hair. In her mid-twenties, she still lives with her mother, her teddy bear, and her Winnie the Pooh poster. Although her research in diphthongs failed to produce a doctorate, she is one of the few individuals familiar enough with Giles's linguistic research to be of any use to him. Tibba hires her to serve as Giles's professional assistant. Eventually, Louise and Giles fall in love.
Meg Gore, Giles's older sister, with a rosy complexion and bright blue eyes. She tends to face her problems with determination and optimism. A bit of a busybody, she serves as a good support for Monty Gore, her husband, but tends to annoy Giles and Tibba by mothering them.
Monty “Ruddy G.” Gore, Meg's husband and a house-master of Pangham. A stereotypical teacher, Monty has short hair, glasses, and a caricatured Roman nose. Although in his fifties, he lusts for teenage girls, especially his niece Tibba. Until Piers Peverill, an unruly student, challenges his authority, he views life as an amusing joke.
Piers Peverill, Tibba's boyfriend and one of Monty's students. Charming, arrogant, and handsome, Piers is spoiled by his rich, divorced parents. He deliberately breaks Pangham's school rules, and Monty attempts to have him expelled on numerous occasions. Piers's parents make sizable contributions to the proper people, and he is promptly reinstated.
Captain de Courcy, Tibba's fraudulent speech therapist. Having been court-martialed in the army and failing in theater work, he falsely proclaims to have a degree from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art so that he can give voice lessons. Although Tibba's stammer does not improve, she spends numerous hours fantasizing about a life with de Courcy.