A-level English/Wise Children/Character Profiles
Serious but charismatic, Melchior Hazard is the most eminent Shakespearean actor in Britain. Like his father, Melchior has a "gift of gravitas". Melchior personifies legitimate, Shakespearean theatre. He idolises Shakespeare and pays homage to him by traversing the globe, spreading the word of Shakespeare. he also idolises his father and this is another reason for his love of shakespeare.To him, Shakespeare is a God-like figure. Melchior is seduced into Hollywood, showing the merging of high and lowbrow culture. He is a loveless and ambitious character with a cold heart, preferring his paper crown to his family. Melchior was also one of the wise men in the Bible. Both men follow a star: In Bible it leads Melchior to baby jesus, in Wise Children it symbolises Melchior following in his father Ranulph's footsteps trying to reach the same 'stardom'.
A carnival character with bright red hair, Peregrine is full of laughter and life. A man with a low boredom threshold Peregrine does not have the patience to pursue an interest for long. He performs magic tricks, spends time in the secret service and collects butterflies in his later life. Peregrine means Roving or wandering and the name is derived from the word pilgrim. This this is exactly what Peregrine does moving from interest to interest. Although Peregrine is not Dora and Nora's father he passes for their father as he acknowledges the girls when Melchior repudiates them.
Dora and Nora
Dora and Nora are described as being "like as two peas", the only way in which the girls could be distinguished from each other was the perfumes they used. Unlike their father and his brother Dora and Nora are similar. As Dora describes: "identical we may be, but symmetrical -- never. For the body itself isn't symmetrical. One of your feet is bound to be bigger than the other, one ear will leak more wax. Nora is fluxy; me, constipated"
However there are some differences between the girls. While Nora is impulsive and emotive Dora is cautious, thoughtful and reserved: "She said: 'Yes!' to life and I said, 'Maybe...' ". Nora is described as throwing her heart away like a used bus ticket" whereas Dora states that "The more I saw of love the less I liked the look of it"
Saskia and Imogen
“Being unique amongst mammals, a cold blooded cow” “So rich, so connected, so legitimate”
These twins could be seen to be the opposite of the lucky Chances, if Dora and Nora grew up on the illegitimate wrong side of the tracks then Saskia and Imogen are the legitimate "darling buds of may". Their mother Lady Atalanta Hazard is a lady herself.
Throughout the novel Dora shows contempt for Saskia. She says that Saskia made “a career out of piggery” when commenting her cookery programme. Their dislike of Saskia and Imogen is also evident when they are taken to a show in which Dora and Nora star. Nora is unwilling to walk about, when she does Saskia “howls like a banshee” clearly enjoying mocking Dora and Nora’s performance.
Saskia and Imogen storm out of their twenty-first birthday party after receiving gifts they dislike from Peregrine and hearing that Melchior is marrying ‘Lady Margarine’. Saskia’s best friend. It is suggested that Saskia makes Lady A sign her house away and that she is responsible for Lady A’s fall down the stairs.
Although Peregrine is their father Saskia especially adopts many of the characteristics of Melchior. It is evident that Dora is jealous if the legitimacy that Saskia enjoys - “So rich, so connected, so legitimate”. Even the red hair that Saskia and Tristram have only when the legitimate side of the family.
Tristram and Gareth Hazard
"Both, in their different ways, carrying on the great tradition of the Hazard family -- the willing suspension of disbelief. Both of them promise you a free gift if you play the game"
Tristram and Gareth are children from Melchior's third marriage to 'My Lady Margarine'. These brothers appear complete opposites. Tristram is the host of game show called 'Lashings of Lolly' whereas Gareth becomes a missionary. Tristram is expelled from Beadles for smoking pot. He is a much more radical character than Gareth. Dora says that he discovered sex at the same time that Gareth discovered God. However, Tristram is not quite the man his father was; although he continues the Hazard tradition of celebrity on his game show he is a flashy character and the low-brow game show is in contrast to Melchior’s high-brow Shakespeare. However both Tristram and Melchior share their inability or unwillingness to father their own children. Tristram states, “I’m not ready to be a father”, a remark which could be described as typical for a Hazard male. Although Tristram shows concern for the well being of Tiffany after it is believed that she is dead. This is coupled with the news that she is pregnant because of Tristram and that he is having an incestuous affair with Saskia. In this part of the novel Dora and Nora’s contempt for Tristram matches that of Saskia.
Tristram and Gareth may seem opposites but as Dora reflects on them: "Both of them in show business”, "Both, in their different ways, carrying on the great tradition of the Hazard family -- the willing suspension of disbelief. Both of them promise you a free gift if you play the game". Tristram refers to Dora and Nora as his aunties although they are half-sisters. This is because Peregrine allowed everyone to believe that Dora and Nora were his illegitimate children rather than Melchiors.
Both Tristram and Gareth father illegitimate children. However the mother of Gareth’s child is never described as Dora refuses to give this information to the reader. As a Catholic missionary Gareth shouldn’t have been having sex let alone fathering an illegitimate child. Dora says “put it down to liberation theology”, she also admits that Gareth fathering a child sounds somewhat farfetched in the line “hard to swallow, huh?”
“The boarding house clung to respectability by the skin of its teeth…you could have said the same of her”
Grandma Chance is an eccentric character. Despite her eccentricities she gives Dora and Nora stability after the death of their mother Pretty Kitty. Grandma Chance’s love is the constant and everyday whereas Peregrine, although showing care for the girls financially, does have a tendency to come and go throughout Dora and Nora’s childhood. Grandma Chance has extreme views and she is extremely loving.
Grandma Chance’s views include:
- A belief that war is caused by old men who want to rid the world of all the young men.
- A belief that plants scream when they are cut
- A strong belief in animal rights well before this was a mainstream movement
- Nudism – she is responsible for Dora and Nora’s nudity as children
Grandma Chance raised Dora and Nora “out of pure love”, however her origins are a mystery, this is another one of her eccentricities, and she refuses to talk about her past to Dora and Nora. As Dora says: “we never found who put her up at Bard Road”.
Dora and Nora show their appreciation to Grandma in the line “we owe her everything”. To Dora and Nora she was their mother figure as well - “She was our air raid shelter; she was our entertainment; she was our breast”. Of course Grandma Chance was the name she used of respect of the dead Kitty. She was not biologically related to the girls. However Dora states “Grandma invented the family through sheer force of personality”. This is shown in the way that she takes in ‘Our Cyn’ when she turns up at the house in Bard Road. This further shows her capacity to love.
It is Grandma Chance who is responsible in part for Dora and Nora’s love of the theatre. She decides to take them to a theatre show on their seventh birthday called ‘Lady Be Good’. This is where the theatre captivates Dora and Nora, it is also where Grandma Chance announces, “that man is you father”, she is responsible for the girls longing for their father Melchior Hazard.
Throughout ‘Wise Children Peregrine and Grandma Chance get on well together. Both are larger than life characters. Later in the novel there is tension between the girls and Grandma. Dora laughs at her nudity and Grandma disapproves of a fur coat Dora is given. However, she continues to show her capacity to love by keeping a scrapbook of the girl’s theatre performances right from their first performance in ‘Babes in the Wood’ to the day that she dies.
Grandma Chance comes to Hollywood when Dora and Nora are to marry. Her greeting “Who the fuck are you” is in stark contrast to the artifice of the Hollywood episode.
Grandma Chance died during World War II buying alcohol; she is defiant against Hitler interfering with her drinking habits in the same way that her beliefs are defiant against the rest of society. Later when her funeral is described in greater detail Dora admits that Grandma Chance’s death meant a link with the past was lost. Throughout chapter four of the novel the girls feel lonely without Grandma Chance living with them. However, her ghost returns to tell Dora and Nora that “memory lane is a dead end”. This section is one of the novel’s many manifestations of magical realism.
Lady Atalanta Hazard nee Lynde
“I live mainly in the past, these days. I find it’s better”
Lady Atalanta Hazard is the first Hazard wife of three. Even after the end of their relationship Lady still loves Melchior, this is evident as a large portrait of Melchior hangs in her Sussex home. Even in old age Lady A or Wheelchair is obsessed with Melchior. This is shown in the way that she takes an interest in Melchior’s appearance on the game show ‘Lashings of Lolly’- “She perked right up”.
Although she has long ceased to have the wealth of aristocracy she still retains the manner of a lady. This can be seen in the way that she informs Brenda of Tiffany’s ‘death’.
Lady A is most unlike the two daughters Saskia and Imogen. When she took her girls to see a theatre show which Dora and Nora happened to be appearing in, Lady A sends the girls forget-me-nots whereas Saskia howls like a banshee and Imogen falls asleep. Lady A is also mortified by Saskia’s sarcasm in quoting the line from ‘A Winter’s Tale’ “Which some call nature’s bastards”. Lady A even manages to maintain calm after the news that Daisy Duck, Melchior’s second wife is pregnant, although this news later turns out to be false.
Lady A descends from great wealth to poverty. She at one time lives like aristocracy but after being abandoned she ends up living in the basement of the house in Bard Road. Lady A refuses to talk about the accident that left her in a wheelchair. “Did she fall or was she pushed?” is the question that Dora asks herself. However it is implied that the accident was the fault of Saskia and Imogen who also make Lady A sign her house away leaving her poor in Brixton.
At the end of the novel Lady A gives a dramatic speech in which she accuses Melchior of leaving her “womb empty” because he was too busy perusing his acting career to concentrate on family life. As Dora puts it “she got it all of her chest in one go”. However she still manages not to lose self-control during this outburst.
Delia Delaney nee Daisy Duck
“The classic thirties blonde”
Daisy is unlike Lady A in that she gains wealth by marrying Melchior. Although she has a somewhat extreme character, typical of Hollywood she still retains some moral standards. She unwilling to tell Genghis Khan that the baby she is carrying is his as she knows that it is Melchiors. However it is later revealed that she is not pregnant.
She is unsympathetic to the unnamed first wife of Genghis Khan telling her to “drop dead" when she calls. Peregrine is much more sympathetic uttering “poor cow” when he picks up her call. However she is a somewhat brash character.
In fact the role of ‘The Dream’ is that it is a vehicle to showcase Daisy’s talents. Despite playing Titania it is evident she is not appropriate for playing Shakespeare. She lacks class. The first pages of her descriptions informs the reader than she has heart-shaped pubic hair. Her first line in the novel is “When does the orgy begin?”
In the Dream episode full of artifice, money is the only reality. Daisy asks Genghis Khan for $1,000,000 dollars. Genghis gives this money but takes it back the next day. This cruel trick is what causes Daisy to gain revenge in a relationship with Melchior.
Daisy falls in love with Melchior. They are described as together as skin wrapped around sausage – they are that close. However the marriage is short lived and they divorce after only a few days of marriage.
Daisy later appears at Melchior’s 100th birthday party. She is described as looking like “$1,000,000, dollars. Even if in well used notes”. This is the second time this figure of money and Daisy have been mentioned together.
Her entrance to Melchior’s party in which guests stand on chairs shows that she still has something of the Hollywood glamour in her, even in old age. At the party she manages to reconcile with Melchior who she had last seen at the filming of ‘The Dream’.
My Lady Margarine
“I’m going to marry my Cordelia”
Comparatively little is said about ‘My Lady Margarine’ in comparison with the other Hazard wives. She takes her name from advertisements that she appears in advertising margarine. Dora mocks this in the line “To butter or not to butter”.
She is first mentioned when Melchior announces that he is to marry “my Cordelia”, as Lady Margarine played Cordelia to his Lear. This parallels Ranulph and Estella hazard earlier in the novel. Saskia and Imogen react badly to this news as it effectively disinherits them from their father’s wealth. Saskia is also angry, as ‘Lady Margarine’ was her best friend before this news.
Her only other mentions are at Melchior’s 100th birthday party where she is described as wearing “a smile so fixed”. She isn’t happy throughout this chapter as she is looking for her son Tristram – the party occurs on the day the Tiffany is reported dead but Tristram still attends the party.
At the end of the novel Lady Margarine donates a pram to Dora and Nora so they can look after Gareth’s babies.