Character Analysis Alethea Pontifex


Ernest's aunt and godmother is one of the few idealized characters in the novel. Much speculation has centered on who among the author's relatives and friends served as the model for Alethea. The most probable explanation is that she is a composite of the author's mother, favorite aunt, and Miss Eliza Savage, the friend who encouraged Butler to continue writing this novel. As delightful a person as she is, and one who clearly represents the most endearing Pontifex traits, Alethea is a chiefly functional character who is presented almost exclusively through indirect narration. Unlike Ernest, she undergoes no development, but she does remain a constant in her relationship with him. She plays a crucial role for she not only tenders Ernest much needed affection and guidance, but she also arranges for him to be the chief beneficiary of her estate. Alethea's faith in Ernest's eventual worthiness is an early sign that Ernest will triumph over the obstacles that will bestrew his path. Alethea's stature is enhanced by the respect which she commands from others, including gifted artists and writers, and the love which Overton declares for her. Alethea's having rejected Overton's proposals of marriage perhaps foreshadows Ernest's later decision to decide that he is not a fit parent for his own children.

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