The central character of The Ship of Stars is Taffy Raymond, the Q figure. In the construction of Taffy Q is clearly drawing from his own experiences at Bodmin and Oxford. The people surrounding Taffy and the scenes he witnessed give the partial impression of being symbols, either constructive or destructive, around which Q’s creative imagination played. It is not difficult to see the Polperro revivalism of John Couch in the nightmare episodes relating to the Bible Christians, while Lizzie Pezzack is a public schoolboy’s image of the village temptress. The religion of Samuel Raymond is Bodmin Anglicanism, the secular hedonism of the Vyells the dominant philosophy of many of Q’s Oxford fellows and Taffy’s prophetic dreams an echo of the Quillers. The storm chapters represent the power and indifference of nature, with the drowned mariners as man’s essential helplessness, while the scenes of rural idyll capture the earthly paradise of childhood, from which we are driven by adult culpability. The success or failure of the novel is the degree to which Q has been able to resolve the dramatic tensions surrounding these symbols.
The reader is introduced to Taffy in the first paragraph of the novel. He is an innocent yet questioning child, reared in a devout and cultured environment. In the town square he has an encounter with Honoria Callastair, the girl who claims in the final chapter to possess his soul. Moyle has been arranging for Samuel Raymond to take the inauspicious living of Nannizabuloe. Taffy accepts the move with unquestioning obedience, encountering the journey with wonder rather than with fear. The first paragraph of Chapter IV reveals Taffy awakening in the parish rectory. There follows a description of the boy’s exploration of the sea-shore. Q is at his best in capturing the movement of the sand across the towans, showing more attention to detail than is found in similar scenes from Ia. In part this is because he is conveying the experience of a child, with all its transparency, one of Q’s attributes as a writer. Yet paradise for Taffy quickly turns to purgatory as the wheel of fortune spins. Moyle suddenly appears with his hounds, the gore of a dead fox is smeared over Taffy’s face, while Honoria looks on with apparent indifference. Both in the town scene and at the cock-fight, where Sir Harry and George Vyell are introduced, the vulnerable innocence of childhood is set against the menace of corrupted adulthood. The evocations of a threatened paradise, whether related to Taffy, Honoria or George, Q uses as a yardstick by which adult actions are judged. In this he reverses the usual practice. In The Ship of Stars only Taffy retains the integrity of childhood, accepting the betrayal and anguish resulting, thus fulfilling the philosophy later to be outlined in the essay ‘Shelley III’.
Taffy’s apparent sense of invincible integrity, however, is a weakness as well as a strength. Both Honoria Callastair and the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, Lizzie Pezzack, make sexual advances. Lizzie confronts him at the forge one lonely evening, with a clumsy embarrassment as his only response. Honoria’s approach is more mature. She desires marriage, calling at the rectory before Taffy’s removal to Oxford and again at his dwelling at the conclusion of the novel; but on each occasion he is unable to respond romantically. Taffy exhibits only two emotional attachments. Firstly to his all adoring mother, the one who sees Honoria off on both times when she calls. Secondly to George Vyell, for whom he has ‘half-crazy adoration’. Taffy’s passionate feelings for George, described at the close of Chapter VII, contrasts markedly with his coolness towards Honoria and Lizzie. This makes the hysterical outburst of Honoria at the close of the novel, ‘He is lost, but I possess him’, somewhat unconvincing. Humility Raymond is the real possessor of Taffy’s soul.
Taffy’s relationship with Honoria contrasts with Ia Rosemundy’s with Paul Heathcote in Ia. Paul is sexually immature, but is awakened by Ia. This makes Ia’s outburst of possession at the conclusion of the novel quite convincing. With Honoria, Q appears to be lifting a previous ending for the sake of convenience but without psychological justification. It is not until The Mayor of Troy, in the courtship of Miss Marty and Dr. Handsomebody, that Q escapes from his puritanical straightjacket into sensitive romance.
The progress of the novel reveals Taffy’s loss of religious faith. With many men rising sexuality either confirms or erodes belief. In Taffy’s case this is irrelevant. The opening chapters of the novel show Taffy’s unquestioning acceptance of his parents’ Anglicanism. In Chapter XII Honoria and Taffy are prepared for confirmation into the Church of England by the Rev. Raymond. Taffy is enthused yet suffers from the fear of an angry God. This probably reflects Q’s experience when staying with his grandparents at Newton Abbot. Q had more reason for the neurosis than does Taffy. The turning point in Taffy’s religious thought comes when Sir Harry Vyell takes George and Taffy to the pantomime in Plymouth, where a secular world of colour and vitality is opened up. The idea of secular happiness overcomes that of religious duty. Yet a residue remains, constraining him to purchase The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, a classic of Catholic spirituality, of which John Wesley made a personal edition. On returning to Nannizabuloe the volume is symbolically dropped on the chancel steps. The desecration of his father’s church by Squire Moyle is the final nail in any belief in a benevolent deity.
With his scholarship to Oxford Taffy’s doubts are confirmed, as is revealed in letter number five to Honoria. His eventual confirmation by the bishop back at Nannizabuloe only temporarily returns him to the ‘still waters of faith’. Chapter XXII sees Taffy again at Oxford where he has a vision, while standing on the roof of Magdalen Tower with the bell pealing in the evening sun, of all men as brothers praising the creator in a celebration of ‘pagan’ joy. Nowhere is Q’s radical pacifism more clearly expressed than in this passage – written but 15 years before the opening of the First World War. Yet the transitoriness of human hope and happiness is also contained within the novel. The death of Samuel Raymond and the revelation of Honoria’s financial help bring his university days to a close. The final bleak chapters reveal Taffy dedicating his life to the service of mariners, as at the close of Castle Dor Johnny and Mary Bosanko dedicate theirs to the healing of the sick. Taffy’s eventual philosophy is stoicism.