Thursday, 1 March 2007

List of Characters

Macauley’s House: Résumé and List of Characters

The Place: A rather picturesque small area between the Thames and Richmond Park, in the county of Surrey, England.

The Time: The present moment

The Characters in order of appearance

1 Macauley's house itself
2 Beatrice and Bill
3 Lady Macauley and her daughter Belle Macauley
4 Miss Frances Fanshawe
5 Mrs Rose Mountjoy
6 Mrs Baines and Roland
7 Mr David Porteous and his daughters, Imogen and Amy
8 Cousin Hortense
9 Jack Macauley the younger, and his wife Alice
10 Will Macauley, their son
11 Angelica Wilmot, and her mother Mrs Avril Wilmot

Macauley's House itself

I had always planned to call this story Macauley’s House - until I began to wonder if perhaps I oughtn’t to be calling it Marrying Mr Porteous instead? It’s true that events have lately moved in such a way as to make the latter perhaps the apter choice. But I shall suspend final judgement for the moment, leaving it to further developments ( if not to readers’ helpful suggestions), to decide which way the entitling hammer should finally fall.

I include the house in my list of characters. I put it first indeed, and give it the longest entry, because of the all-pervasive effect it’s intended to have on everything else. The model for it is an existing 17th century house, currently owned and administered by the National Trust. It is not the most beautiful, or appealing of historic houses – it is a rather bleak, dark, ghost-ridden one, if the truth be known. But it’s the one that I know most intimately, and over a period of forty years or so of visiting there, has come to occupy a special position in my heart. I had often wondered what its life might have been had it remained in private hands, instead of passing to the National Trust; and the story is my attempt to make up a little history for it . The house came first, therefore, and is a major player. All I had to do after that was dream-up Jack Macauley and his Theodora; and half a dozen others to circulate around them – and I was more or less away.

That old love affair haunts the story still. As does the old house, which was its outward expression. A number of people covet the house, but only one, or at the most two, can have it - and their jostling for possession makes up a good deal of the fun of the thing (and oh, I do so hope there will be fun!).

Here is the way I described the advent of the Macauleys:
……. It (the house) had a dynastic name at one time. It was Something’s or Somebody or Other’s House or Hall – a connection, the older villagers would tell you, with the district, or with the family who had owned it almost without interruption since its construction in the time of King James the First. But something happened to it just after the second world war which changed all that. The old family fell on hard times and were obliged to sell. The whole place, house and gardens and avenues and stables and gatehouses; the portraits by Lely and Van Dyck and the tapestries woven in France or at Mortlake; the armchairs which seemed to have been constructed for giants (though the people themselves were said to have been smaller in those days), and the four-poster beds hung with shrieking yellow or funereal purple which had been prepared for kings and queens who were always expected and hoped-for, but who never quite managed to come and stay........... all these things, and the cabinet of priceless miniatures to boot, went under the hammer at auction one day, and were snapped up in the first half hour for an almost legendary sum by a man named Jack Macauley, a retail and manufacturing millionaire from the North, who wanted it for his mistress….”

So it began, in about 1947…. But the story proper doesn’t begin until many years later, in March 2007; at which point Sir Jack Macauley has been dead for twenty five years, and the house has just been re-inhabited after a long absence abroad, by his widow Theodora (now an old lady of 84, and known as Lady Macauley), and her middle-aged daughter Isabella, known as Belle…

The house has fallen into neglect again, by this time. Jack Macauley’s splendid restoration work has languished; the ghosts have come out again (for those who can see them); and Lady Macauley and Belle cling on in rather uneasy occupation of just one small section of it.

2 Beatrice and Bill

Beatrice is a widow of sixty, and the narrator of events as they happen – which is to say in seemingly random sequence (making a brief résumé pretty well impossible!). Bill is her brother, who is a year older, and divorced. They had moved to the village a month earlier, to live together, yet separately, in a pair of twin gatehouses that stand on either side of a little public footpath. Each gatehouse is quite compact and inhabitable in itself, but is joined to the other at the top by a large ornamental superstructure that conceals the common attic and straddles the little road….

The footpath was once one of the three approach avenues to the Macauley house, and the house itself still stands in splendid isolation at the end of it - so that Beatrice and Bill feel they live to a certain extent in its shadow. From having arrived knowing no-one, they have gradually built up a circle of acquaintances, and are now fairly closely involved in village society. (well, Beatrice is, anyway: Bill stands somewhat aloof at this stage.)

Beatrice has been nothing in particular in life (nothing, that is, save wife, mother, widow and carer for aging parents!). But Bill is rather famous: having been until only very recently a foreign correspondent with one of the major broadcasting companies. People feel they know him, from having seen him stand tall against turbulent backgrounds on the television, shouting his reports from war zones. Bill is a big man, who has a way of filling any space he enters. He has a big heart, and a vast guffaw of a laugh. But he also has a sharply ironic spirit – which often disconcerts. He has recently suffered open heart surgery, but is recovered now. He strides about the towpath and the common with his old dog Monty – and his major preoccupations in life are: a) to avoid what he calls the ‘dowager element’ of the village; and b) not under any circumstances to be drawn in conversation about Iraq!

3 Lady Macauley (Theodora) and her daughter Belle (Isabella)

Presently the sole inhabitants of the old Macauley House - apart from an elderly couple who keep house for them, and have an apartment on the second floor. Lady Macauley was once a celebrated beauty, and the subject of a very public scandal associated with the very much older (and married) Sir Jack Macauley, whom she married anyway, and adored for life. Now 85, and long widowed, she is beautiful still - rather in the way that the Mitford sisters were, in old age. She is vain, imperious, spoilt; entertaining when she chooses - and suffers neither fools nor bores. She is also very exclusive in the matter of whom she elects to know and whom she most emphatically does not. Which causes considerable envy and heart-ache in local bosoms. She has lately taken a fancy to Bill, and is intent upon drawing him into her circle. (Fortunately, he finds her rather entertaining, too.)

Belle is 59; much put-upon, and virtually the unpaid servant of her mother. She inherited very little of her mother’s legendary beauty, but in looks, resembles her father instead. And since Jack Macauley was a big, rangy Yorkshireman…. what people called rugged, rather than handsome – which was an excellent thing in a rich and powerful man of course, but rather less effective in a young girl or a woman ….. Belle’s role in life, as the rather plain daughter of an exquisite mother, has not been an easy one. She likes to walk her dogs, and work in the garden when she can – and it is her constant fear that Mummy will produce some eminently eligible man, and try to marry her off to him … She is especially nervous of the idea of Mr Porteous – but so far (mercifully), he hasn’t drifted into her mother’s circle.

4 Miss Frances Fanshawe

‘Poor little Frances’, is the phrase most commonly heard in connection with Miss Fanshawe. Which is rather surprising, given that she owns the largest house in the village after the Macauley House, and commands the sort of income that most people can only dream about. She is however the quintessential unworldly English maiden lady, and the more or less helpless victim of any predator who chooses to come and call. She has led a strange, secluded, motherless, solitary life, in a large house that contained more books than anything else. It is Bill’s account of her, perhaps, which can best be used to sum her up. Bill has developed a ‘tender regard’ for her, and describes her thus: .”She grew up as a lonely child in a big house filled with books; in the care of a father whose mind was on higher things than little girls (he was some kind of ecclesiastical scholar), and a grandmother whose mind was on higher things too; only in her case they were stern, external things, like duty, and decorum, and having an eye at all times upon maintaining one’s position in society. So that a day-dreaming little girl had never quite been able to measure up to either. Ignored among the books - between the scholastic father and the severe and worldly grandmother - the little girl Frances had somehow managed to tumble up….

Frances is at present involved in a relationship with Mr Porteous, which she hopes will lead to a betrothal, at least. She has always longed to have a lover, but her former lovers were always drawn from books. Now, she has a real one at last - but since it is Mr Porteous, the future seems shrouded in uncertainty at best.

5 Mrs Rose Mountjoy

Two things best sum-up the widow of Curtis Mountjoy of the Foreign Office, who had the misfortune to die only months before he was due to receive his knighthood. The first is that she has had three husbands to date – and the second that she is the chosen intimate of the Macauleys. The friendship dates back to Rose’s schooldays, when as pretty, feisty little Rosemary Betts from the council house on the other side of the road from the Macauley house ….. she had the good fortune (or the acumen) to be in a position to rescue the larger, plainer Belle Macauley from bullies in the school playground. From there it was but a short step to being invited to tea at the big house, and becoming adopted, in the shortest possible space of time, as Sir Jack Macauley’s ‘pretty little Rosie’, and general family pet.

The friendship has survived to the present day – though you wouldn’t always know it, from hearing what Rose sometimes has to say about Lady Macauley. Rose was at one time in love with the younger Jack Macauley, but the little love affair was nipped sharply in the bud by his mother – since Rose could be family favourite, and Sir Jack Macauley’s ‘pretty, feisty little Rosie’ as much as she would – but when it came to marrying the son and heir, she just wasn’t the right sort.

Rose is a small, trim, thoroughly well-dressed and well-made-up woman, who totters a little, on heels too high; and who lives in a little green house on the High street, with a green gate in the garden wall at the back that gives her direct access to the Macauley gardens and house. Macauley associations aside, she likes to think of herself as occupying a position of some social pre-eminence in the village – and is always very ready with her views on any subject. She hasn’t yet made direct acquaintance with Mr Porteous - though her house is only three doors from his, and she knows everything there is to know about him. She takes a rather dim view of his present association with ‘poor little Frances Fanshawe’, and is not inclined at present to introduce him to Lady Macauley.

6 Mrs Baines and Roland

Mrs Baines’s name is Pamela, and she is a large and stately lady who lives with her husband Roland in a pretty cottage overlooking the willow-fringed pond on the common. From here, she was accustomed to direct the social affairs of the village until, with the return of the Macauleys, and then of Mrs Mountjoy, she had the unhappiness of seeing her position a good deal eroded. She has never quite managed to penetrate Lady Macauley’s exclusive inner circle, though she lives in hopes of one day doing so.

Roland Baines is a small man, with hair neatly brushed, and seldom seen without jacket and tie. His wife, in conversation, attributes all the wisdom of the world to him – but those who have met him will attest to the fact that he seldom opens his mouth in public at all (least of all in presence of his wife); and that on those rare occasions when he does, it is never to say one profoundly dreary thing, when three would serve him better.

Mrs Baines was the first to extend the hand of welcome to Mr Porteous. She quite took him in, and he was her ‘dear David’ for at least a fortnight. She has been much perturbed lately however, by his taking up with Frances Fanshawe. She thinks it shows a want of proper decorum on the part of a newly-retired clergyman. And so does Roland.

7 David Porteous and his daughters

Came a clergyman, smooth as velvet…. That is the consensus view of David Porteous, newly retired, and long-since divorced clergyman of the Church of England. Little is known of the former Mrs Porteous –though it is rumoured that she didn’t care for the role of clergyman’s wife, and ran off to Australia with a man who looked like a Surfer, but in fact owns vast quantities of land in Queensland. Mr Porteous is said to have born his loss with dignity, and to have lived a celibate life; until, having unexpectedly inherited a house in the village from his aunt, he was released to take early retirement, and to devote his life to writing – in particular to his book ‘comparing the three great Abrahamic faiths’, which he trusts will make its contribution to restoring peace to a troubled world.

Mr Porteous is always described as being quite the most urbane and charming of ex-priests and men. Or was, at least, until he took up with Frances Fanshawe. Now, people are not quite so sure about the best way to describe him….

Imogen, his elder daughter is 28; dark-eyed, spirited, and inclined to be confrontational in her relations with her father; while her 25-year-old sister Amy, by contrast, is fair-haired, sweet-natured and very much more compliant. Both girls have lately taken degrees, Imogen in various branches of Art from one of the London art schools, and Amy in English, from Bristol. They are at present renting a third-floor flat above a shop in London's Baker St, and hope to take out a lease on the shop too, and open it as an art and handicrafts shop. Their father dislikes this idea intensely.

At the moment of compiling this list, there are several characters who have not yet appeared in the story. Their profiles will be updated as soon as they appear.