Is Peter a Favourite Character Because of His Role?

A thought in essay-form for the fading threads of your day.

I was reading back through my old notes, in general, and I came across a plan for an old blog post about Peter’s Jungian role in WTCB. Now, since last year, I’ve not had the chance to study Jung and his archetypes in any further depth. As such, I’ve not set about ‘assigning’ archetypes to any of my other characters, though they may be reflected through their own personalities and the way they have been portrayed.

Why Peter, though? Peter is a likeable character and, surprisingly, a hit with CPs. I mean, he tries to do the best for everyone, but he also has his own desires, so I can see why my under-20 readers have come to relate strongest to the twenty-year-old anxious lover-boy. Conversely, I am coming around to the theory that Peter’s depth comes not from his backstory or his character development through the story, but from his extranarrative role, where, in short, I posited his position as the subversion of the Old Man archetype.

Peter is the only character with such an visible expanded archetypal position in WTCB. Certainly, the family Costello, as the only Continental family we visit in the constant timeline/universe (as her certainty is in flux, I don’t count Zara’s family), have a massive extranarrative role to show the experiences of the upper-class in a time when they were beginning to lose popularity and coin…and, in part, the favour of the their offspring. In the same way, each Costello brother in Phillip’s generation has a role by necessity, even Stuart with his place as noble eldest brother (though one can tell he would rather strive away from this).

Of course, Peter’s being a Supporting Character gives him an advantage of using an archetype; he’s allowed to sneak between the lines, and he doesn’t automatically draw attention to himself, something which characters being obviously a pointer towards a role or the theme pulls readers out of the story and makes them uncomfortable. Instead, Peter’s role is one towards Phillip, not towards the actual reader.

This shows another point of favouritism in reading and writing – ‘creative license’ apply more to the reader than the writer. Often – or regardless of – a writer’s hints or passages of theme and role-typing characters, readers are the ones to create their own assumptions and derivations of what the writer has given. In the end, a writer, despite what it may seem, has little say over how the character ‘acts’, in terms of reception. Sometimes even villains are born out of lefthanded remarks. Certainly, that’s why I did not discover how deeply Peter affected my readers until after I had received critique and notes.

So, whilst we mustn’t shoehorn characters into stereotypes without better reason, a lot of great books or plays or films (etc) use a template from which to expand and change a character’s depth. Much modern fiction, might suggest that we cannot use roles in fiction any longer, but modern writers like JK Rowling have shown this is not true. Whilst Dickensian [self-]referentials and prefaces are out of favour with readers, the subtlety of character roles subverted or twisted still stands as a way of deepening a character and their world.

Other WTCB characters with possible roles:

Aphrodisya Vallente – this vindictive socialite has it out for Aidelle before and at the beginning of WTCB, and she could well fit into the idea of the scorned lover, though she also portrays a side of the upper-class which is less considered: that of those who are moneyed but still face unfortunate times. Whilst her family is possibly better off and as known as the Costello family, she still has failed to win the marriage of the best bachelor around. I hope to one day write the short about her great niece’s experiences at the dawn of the Iuanian/Dieselpunk era.

Octavia Costello – she has a tender side to her, due to issues she had during her pregnancies, but the Costello matriarch also reflects the Mrs. Bennett character that falls through literature sometimes: that of a deranged mother who aims for what she thinks the best is for her children.

Tia Carnassus – although in WTCB, her role is a minor one and one of sacrifice that must be made, it is important to note her position in the world, both metaphysically and literally. Like many of the downstairs characters in Downton Abbey, Tia plays to the role of the young servant who thinks s/he knows better than the life into which she’s born. As the final book in the trilogy reveals, though, she also takes the form of another archetypal literary role.

Essay-style questions to think about:

Does it make sense to talk of Peter as an archetype?

How is Peter’s role as a secondary or ‘supporting’ character affected by his archetype as the Old Man subversion?

Are Peter’s actions defined by his role? Or is his role a feature that moves with his actions to shape him?

Does the existence of universal or acknowledgeable character roles bring depth to literature? Or a stilted paradigm to which one has to read and write?


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