Charles Lamb's narratorial persona is named Elia, after a coworker at the South Sea House. While Lamb and Elia are effectively the "same" person, as the former writes about his own life and musings through the latter, the persona's voice and style vary greatly across all of Lamb's essays. Sometimes Elia's attitude and voice are whimsical; other times they are irreverent, or polemical, or quite sad. The Elia persona evolves from essay to essay.
Whenever Lamb writes of Cousin Bridget, he is alluding to his sister, Mary. Although she doesn't always figure prominently in his essays, Lamb often attributes a story or thought to her. In real life, Mary was the closest person to Charles, and she played a prominent role in his writing career even if she wasn't a fixture in those writings.
Mentioned as Elia's older brother in "Dream-Children; A Reverie," John L. is portrayed as a heroic older brother who gave the young Elia support that Elia never reciprocated. Elia mourns his death, and bemoans his owns shortcomings. In real life, Charles's brother John could not have been dead at the time of this essay's writing, but he was estranged from Charles because of family disputes.
Elia's unrequited love interest is a woman named Alice, who we see mentioned a few times throughout his essays. She appears as the fantasy mother of Elia's fantasy children in "Dream-Children; A Reverie," and appears in Lamb's "A Chapter on Ears" as well. The character Alice is based on a girl named Ann Simmons, who also figured in several of his sonnets.
Bo-bo is the child in "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig" who accidentally burns down his family's cottage and eats the pig that burned in it, discovering that cooked meat is delicious. He's a fanciful character devised by Lamb to illustrate the absurdity of the thought that, at some point, somewhere along the way, humans learned how to cook meat. Bo-bo is therefore one of the many characters Lamb crafts in his essays who comically represents some abstract idea.
Lamb wrote two essays in prison about his friend Elliston, a beloved stage actor whose humor and presence infatuated Lamb. He is illustrated as a larger-than-life character who was always entertaining people, whether on stage or off. In "Ellistoniana," Lamb keenly illustrates how the man's profound talents were both a blessing and a curse, giving him an unforgettable life but making him feel pigeonholed in the role for which he was known.
April Fool's Day
The protagonist in the fantastical and delightful "Rejoicings Upon a New Year's Coming of Age," April Fool's Day is the master of ceremonies of a New Year's party where all of the days have the year have come to mingle. Lamb has April Fool's Day pepper mischief throughout the proceedings, showing how that day's chaotic spirit ultimately guides all of the other days of the year. It's clever conceit, and exemplary of Lamb's own playful nature as a writer and, in turn, the real master of ceremonies at this party.
The Widower Schoolmaster
Lamb concludes his essay "The Old and the New Schoolmaster" with a letter written to him by his friend, a schoolmaster whose wife passed away. This is the first character in the essay (Elia included) who isn't included for some eccentricity or to demonstrate some near-absurd embodiment of a pedagogical style. Instead, the widower adds a complex human component to an otherwise cartoonish diatribe, with this character's letter ending the essay on a humanistic note.
Elia's grandmother in "Dream-Children; A Reverie," Field is described as a major influence on the young writer and one of his favorite figures from childhood. But she also embodies several good qualities which the narrator clearly believes he lacks, such as good faith in God, magnanimity, and casual fearlessness. Through the characterization of Field, we learn of our narrator's own supposed shortcomings.
Elia's friend from "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers" is the kind of person Elia typically admires. He is generally magnanimous and helps the underprivileged live with pride and dignity. He throws a yearly feast for children chimney sweepers, lavishing them with food, ale, and good company.
Charles Lamb: Essays Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Charles Lamb: Essays is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.