The protagonist and eponymous character Arthur Less is the sole focus of the novel. The other characters only exist to make Arthur Less’s significance more obvious. Therefore, an understanding of the character Arthur Less is the crux of understanding the characterization of the novel.
Arthur Less is a novelist who has achieved moderate success in his writing career. He is a brilliant writer but does not realize this because he thinks very little of himself and his capabilities. He is socially awkward, shy, sensitive, prone to accidents, and often says the wrong thing at the wrong time. He is very skilled in being physically present but escaping somewhere else through his mind.
He is unassuming and maintains a childlike disposition to life even in situations where he should feel angry. He is very easy to read, people easily identify him as an American man wherever in the world he finds himself. He is a good-looking man whom many find attractive and lovable, although he does not realize it.
Something interesting about Less is that even though he has a rather harsh estimation of himself, he does not judge other people harshly and has an innocence about his person that makes him not hold grudges. For instance, when he discovers that all the father-son activities he shared with his father in childhood were not actually with the motive of bonding on his father’s part but mere tactics by his father to get him to act and behave more like a heterosexual male, it still does not destroy his perception of his childhood as a happy one.
Arthur Less is virtually the sole focus of the novel. His name is a comic use of pun by the author—a man called Less who thinks of himself as less. The major development of his character is in his acceptance of the idea that it is possible to be happy alone, without a romantic partner.
Freddy Pelu is a young gay man who does not want much from life except to live happily with a man he loves. Although from a family wealthy enough to fund any ambitious career of his choice, he simply chooses to become a high school English teacher to his father’s disappointment. He is fascinated with Arthur Less.
He believes he is level-headed and sensible in matters of the heart but it takes his marriage to another and a eureka moment for him to realize that he loves Less.
Robert Brownburn is a worldly man with a volatile disposition that comes with his creativity. He is a poet renowned for his genius.
However, he is very careless with his health, finances, and general lifestyle. He is spontaneous, can embark on a trip to another country on a whim, and drag Less with him without prior information. Arthur Less had to play mother and housewife to him in their time together.
Robert Brownburn’s sexual identity is an interesting one as he was once in a heterosexual marriage that was passionate at first but later failed before he openly started identifying as gay. It would have been quite interesting to dig deeper into this character in terms of his sexuality but unfortunately, the novel does not say much about him beyond his relationship with Less.
Marian is the estranged wife of Robert Brownburn. She is a graceful and forgiving woman. She is a believer that youth should be about carefree enjoyment. She was angry when Robert her husband refused that they would have kids and despaired when she discovered that her husband was gay. But she forgave him and remained friends with him. Always looking out for Robert despite the loss of their romantic love.
Carlos Pelu is a brawny man who used to bully Arthur Less as a kid, then grew up to antagonize Less in more subtle ways.
He likes to gloat about his achievements to Arthur. When he adopted a distant nephew as his son, he saw it as an opportunity to taunt Arthur for having one more achievement that the latter does not have. But he became quite upset when his son Freddy started dating Arthur.
He is a hardworking and ambitious man who turned a property left to him by a dead lover into a successful international real estate business.
The major development of his character happens when he admits to Arthur Less that he antagonized him out of envy and not out of a superiority complex.
Peter Hunt is Arthur Less’s literary agent. He is suave and charming but reveals very little about himself to Arthur Less in the course of their professional relationship. He is very efficient in handling Arthur Less’s literary business but very detached and mysterious to Arthur.
Howard is a professor who Arthur dated while he was with Freddy. He was caring, romantic, and in love with Arthur. But they did not have sexual chemistry, and for that, Arthur Less broke up with him after six months.
Howard considered Arthur a great love of his life and was so heartbroken when they separated that he continued to whine to his future lovers about Arthur Less.
Prof Harold Van Dervander
He is a man in his sixties and an organizer of one of the literary events Arthur Less decides to attend. Prof Harold is mischievous, insensitive, and talks without giving others a chance to speak. He is highhanded and condescendingly talks to others.
The locals comically call him Professor Banderbander.
A young gay man whom Arthur Less dates during his time in Germany. Bastian is a handsome young man in his thirties.
He is a sports enthusiast who does not care about art and literature but is unexpectedly attracted to Arthur the novelist.
Zohra is a woman who Arthur Less meets in Morocco. She is well traveled, beautiful and confident. She celebrates her fiftieth birthday a day before Arthur’s. She gets drunk and philosophical about love on her birthday due to the heartache of losing her lover to another woman.
She is brave and spirited and refuses to back down from getting to her destination even in the face of a sandstorm.
Another gay writer who is resentful of Arthur Less. He asserts that Arthur Less is a bad gay because Less does not paint gayness as a life of perfect happiness and flamboyance in his novels. In Finley Dwyer’s opinion, gays are supposed to showcase that gays have a beautiful life without worries.
Lewis Delacroix is one of Arthur Less’s friends who surprises Arthur with the announcement that he is amicably ending a happy marriage of twenty years and gives him a new perception of a successful marriage.
How old is Arthur Less?
Arthur Less is forty-nine years old at the beginning of the novel, then celebrates his fiftieth birthday in the progress of the story.
Who is Robert in the book Less?
Robert is an older man whom Arthur Less dated for many years. He is an award-winning poet who was once in a heterosexual marriage but left his wife to be with Arthur Less.
Who is Carlos in Less?
Carlos is a man of Arthur Less’s age range who likes to rival and bully Arthur. He is also the father of Freddy, who is Arthur Less’s young lover.