Bedster appears in this story as an example of the flexibility of the English class system: at one time the butler to the Earl of Tankerville, Bedster is described as having been able to rise in society to become a publican, or tavern manager, in Chelsea.
Dobson is the second under-gardener at Sir Hamilton Lindsay’s estate. He is not a very good gardener, but Sir Hamilton hired him away from his previous employer because he is a good cricket player. When he travels with Sir Hamilton to Dover in August 1789 to participate in the match against the team of French nobles, he is required to ride outside the coach in the rain. Sir Hamilton’s reasoning is that Dobson can survive the extreme weather better than the wooden cricket bats. In the later years of Sir Hamilton’s life, when Hamilton is mentally unstable and being held by the French government, Dobson is brought from England to live with him. The doctor caring for the nobleman thought “it might be advisable to send for the man Dobson, to whom the General made such frequent allusion that the doctor had at first taken him to be the patient’s son.” It is clear that Sir Hamilton places great importance on Dobson’s participation in the game, which illustrates the way that cricket can be used to bridge class distinctions.
In the story, John Sackville, the third Duke of Dorset, was appointed the ambassador from Great Britain to France in 1783. He is rumored to have been romantically involved with Marie Antoinette, the French queen, referred to here as Mrs. Bourbon after the family name of King Louis XVI. The way Dorset runs his home in Paris scandalizes several proper British matrons. Being an avid cricket enthusiast, he returns each year to England for the cricket season. In 1789, the intensifying French Revolution makes it difficult for him to travel, so Dorset devises a new plan: in response to some slanderous remarks made against England by some French nobles, he arranges a cricket match between British and French teams to be played in Paris. The players for the British team are on their way to Dover, the port from which they will sail to France, when they run into Dorset and his party, who have been put off their Parisian estate on August 8, 1789, in the midst of the French Revolution. Despite his brush with death and race to get out of the country, Dorset is still cheerful, ready to try to arrange the same match in England with French nobles who, like him, have been driven from the country. A few years after his return to England, Dorset is thrown into depression when he hears that the French royalty have been arrested. There are rumors that he gave his cricket bat to Mrs. Bourbon and that she kept it hidden in her closet until the palace was ransacked by revolutionaries. He locks himself in his room and never ventures outside again.
General du Rauzan
Du Rauzan is a French general who was captured by Sir John Stuart at Maida. He is being held by the English army, and so the French army is holding Sir Hamilton Lindsay as a bargaining piece for an exchange. The exchange, however, is on hold indefinitely. The problem seems to be that du Rauzan is not held in much favor by Napoleon, so there is no urgency to get him back.
In the first section of the story, Mr. Hawkins is tutor and companion to the young Hamilton Lindsay, on his trip through Europe. Hawkins is presented as a stern, unpleasant man, though that characterization might just be the perspective of a boy in his care. Later, when the revolution is underway in France, Sir Hamilton invites Hawkins to join him in traveling to that country for a cricket match, but Hawkins says that he would rather remember France as the peaceful place it had been fifteen years earlier.
Mrs. Jack Heythrop
Mrs. Heythrop defends the traditional class structure. She disapproves of the way that Dorset has lived in Paris during his six years as ambassador to France, with gamblers and prostitutes coming and going freely from his house. She is also a source for the argument against letting commoners play on the same cricket teams as aristocrats, supporting racing as a good sport instead because all of the participants—owners, trainers, jockeys, and grooms—know their social place and stay separated.
Lady Evelina Lindsay
The first part of the story is presented as a letter from young Hamilton Lindsay to his cousin Evelina. She is explained as being the reason that he travels to France in the first place, as she is living in Nice and has encouraged him to see the country. He refers to her as a cultivated woman whom he greatly admires and wants to impress, feeling that she will tease him for his awkwardness as a letter writer. Evelina does not appear in the second section of the story either, but she is mentioned. By this time, Hamilton Lindsay and she have been married for ten years. Sir Hamilton believes that she does not approve of his passion for cricket. When he leaves for France, which coincides with the start of social upheaval, she is crying and whispering instructions to Dobson, who is making the trip with her husband. Although he feels badly about her crying, particularly because she has never cried before when he has gone off to play cricket, he does not realize that she understands the perilous situation in France better than he does. Lady Evelina is an important presence in the third section of the story. She and her husband are living in a French village under the guard of one of Napoleon’s soldiers. Sir Hamilton’s mind wavers between past and present events. Still, Lady Evelina has come to France to be with him and take care of him. She speaks to him as rationally as she can but also tries to pull his mind away from melancholia and toward more pleasant thoughts.
Sir Hamilton Lindsay
This story follows Sir Hamilton through three phases of his life, focusing on his relationship with France as a measure of his maturity. In the first section, Hamilton Lindsay is a young man, traveling with his tutor and relating his impressions of the country to his cousin Evelina in a letter. Because he is young, he reports on issues, such as the suppression of religion, that are important causes of the coming French Revolution without recognizing their significance. Because he has only known a life of privilege, he does recognize the class distinctions between the aristocracy and the common people, but his observations about these distinctions lack depth. For instance, he tells the story of a coachman who whipped his horse and then was in turn whipped by his master, a story that ends with the coachman hugging the horse; Hamilton Lindsay admits in his letter, “I draw no lesson from this.” In the second section of the story, Sir Hamilton is a jaded, callous aristocrat. He is married to Evelina, but his real passion is cricket.
He treats his cricket bats better than he does his servants, although he is well aware that other aristocrats feel that he treats his servants too well because he treats Dobson, an assistant gardener, as an equal on the cricket field. Sir Hamilton is aware that there is political strife in France, but he does not take it seriously. He still believes in the class system and cannot even conceive of the idea that lower-class people might want to harm the aristocracy. He is so wound up in his passion for cricket that he and his friends are in the process of traveling to France for a cricket game when they find out that the some French aristocrats are just barely escaping the country with their lives and others have not been so lucky. In the third section, Sir Hamilton is a broken man with a damaged mind. He has been a general in the war against France, and the war has ruined him. He is held as a prisoner of the new French government, though they do not think him much of a threat and have him watched by a guard as a token gesture. A doctor has advised that his wife and valet should be allowed to come from England to be with him, to soothe his troubled mind. Much of the time, he does not make sense when he talks, blurring the past and the present, sometimes talking about people who have died as if they are still around and at other times showing himself to be well aware of his and his friends’ situation. In between his periods of inchoate verbal wandering, he is still fixated on the cricket game that was called off by the revolution, feeling that if it had occurred, all of the social turmoil of the country might have been avoided.
Dorset Stevens, a gardener for the Earl of Tankerville, is a common man who has earned Sir Hamilton Lindsay’s respect with his cricket prowess: once he won a bet for the earl by hitting a feather on the ground with a cricket ball one in four times. Later in his life, when his mind is snapped by the ravages of war, Sir Hamilton often refers to Stevens’s feat, especially when he is considering the damage done to the Catholic Church by revolutionaries who have used it for target practice, musing that Stevens’s aim was much, much better than theirs.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Julian Barnes, Published by Gale Group, 2006