At the beginning of Birdsong, the Azaires are first introduced on the first page, followed by Stephen, who happens to be another important, if not the main character in the whole of the story. As a reader, we would assume that the Azaire family and Stephen and some connection, either already, or as we read later into the novel. Within the opening pages of the novel, it becomes apparent that Stephen as a clear view of what is right and what is wrong. Faulks, by including this so early on the novel, makes us wonder whether Stephen may be faced with a decision of right and wrong, and if so, would he recognise it as either.
In the first chapter, we learn that Stephen is a young English man, the age of Twenty and has come to France to learn more about manufacturing process at Monsieur Azaires factory. As a reader, this portrays Stephen as an intelligent young man, who is willing to learn more, no matter how far he has to travel. We also learn that Stephen a hugely wealthy man, but neither is he much poorer than other people in the village; ‘Stephen Wray fords metal trunk had been sent ahead and was waiting t at the foot of the bed.
If Stephen was of a higher class, he would have had his trunk emptied and clothes hung for him, yet he hasn’t, so we assume that he is of a middle class standard. He also isn’t a man of huge class and much effort put into his clothing; ‘.. and hung his spare suit in the giant carved wardrobe. ‘ The description of the wardrobe in this sentence shows that Stephen isn’t used to such luxury nor a lot of space for himself. The room in which Stephen is given in the novel, portrays what kind of man Stephen is, as I feel was included purposely by Faulks; ‘The room was simple, but had been decorated with some care.
This makes us as a reader, think that Stephen may spend a lot of time in his room, as that may be where he feels most comfortable. The sound of birds is also very prominent in the novel, and the first mention is when Stephen has gotten’ settled into his room. I feel that the bird mentioning’s may be apparent when something quite important happens in the novel. Faulks presents Stephen as a character who is more practical in his appearance, rather than pride of it.
Stephen washed perfunctorily’ backs up this observation of Stephen. When empting his pockets before leaving his room he takes out a knife, as described by Faulks as; ‘a knife with a scrupulously sharpened blade. ‘ The description of the blade, as a reader makes me wonder in the ‘sharpened blade’ was sharpened already, as protection on his journey or whether something serious may happen in his stay at the Azaires. This gives some sense of anticipation as to what may happen, and how serious it may be.
As we continue the novel, Stephen gets lost around the house, searched for the dining room and stumbles across the kitchen. Here we learn that although Stephen as a higher role than the maids in the Azaires house, he is also only a visitor and his brushed aside by them, making the following quote, an oxymoron. ‘”This way, Monsieur. Dinner is served. ” Said the maid, squeezing past him in the doorway. When Stephen finally reaches the dining room, he is welcomed by Madam Azaire by her presence of standing up to show him his seat.
It appears strange to a reader, that the lady of the family would welcome Stephen and Monsieur Azaire himself, but we take this as a simple welcoming, one of which a character like Stephen is probably used to. It becomes quickly apparent that he has an interest in Madam Azaire, when he doesn’t here Monsieur Azaire fully; ‘Azaire mutted an introduction of which Stephen heard only the words, ‘my wife’. ‘ We also see that he has a lot of respect for her straight away, by his movement of bowing his head towards her.
We also find out that he doesn’t reveal much about himself unless encouraged to do so. We find this out when Gri?? goire questions how old Stephen is. Stephen also doesn’t feel himself extremely intelligent towards Monsieur Azaire when asked about his knowledge about textiles. When he replies, he says ‘A little’, causing us to wonder whether he actually knows a lot more than we think, but doesn’t wish to boast about it. After dinner, Stephen heads back up to his room, where we learn that the notebook he had previously taken out of his pocket was indeed a small diary of events in his life.
As he is opening the notebook, he hears an owl in the gardens, making the reader assume that the events that have just happened, will affect the future in some-way or another. As he opens his notebook, we find out that the book is already ‘half full with inky writing. ‘ By this, Faulks makes the reader think that a lot has happened in Stephens’s life already that may be important in the rest of the novel. We also learn that Stephen isn’t a tidy, structured man as in his notebook, he can go days, even weeks between logged something in it, as the dates in it are very scattered.
We learn that Stephen is very intelligent whilst learning about what his notebook is about, when we are told that Stephen writes in code in his notebook, derived from his knowledge of Greek and Latin in his Grammar School. ‘He laughed softly to himself as he wrote. ‘ makes the reader assume that he enjoys a sense of secrecy in his life, and in his notebook, allowing us to think whether he will use his ‘spy’ like qualities and secrecy later on the novel in a more, hands on and practical situation.
We also learn he has an openness and problems with anger, which thanks to his notebook, has kept this hidden from anyone he may know. We may see both these qualities that Stephen processes later on the novel, which leads the reader to want to read more of it, a technique perfected by Faulks in order to enthral and attract the reader’s attention to read on.
He also has a slight problem, as Faulks refers to it as, ‘not to trust his responses and wait and watchful. This would also make a reader want to learn more about Stephen and see how Faulks develops him throughout the novel, as we want to see whether if in any circumstance, he could ‘not to trust’ himself and do what was right, rather than what he wants, which we later find out, is not the case.
Throughout the novel, the reader entices the reader with snippets of Stephen live in England and he is constantly complimented on how well he understands French and the work at the factory. ‘I was brought up by my grandparents. He also doesn’t seem to mind not talking about it, as when addressed to end the topic, he does so, making the reader think that maybe he either has something to hide, or he is just extremely secretive. Knowing so little about Stephen in the first couple of pages of the novel entices the reader to read on and also invokes sympathy towards the character.
Stephen is an ambiguous character and doesn’t reveal great aspects of his life; he rarely mentions England at all whilst staying with Azaires and only touches upon small details of his childhood, but there also becomes apparent that there is another side to Stephen that the reader doesn’t know yet. When there’s an outbreak of violence in the factory, he lashes out and punches a man for insulting Isabelle, Madam Azaire, who it also becomes apparent, he has strong feelings for. It becomes clear that Stephen doesn’t know his own strength and why he usually tries to keep that side of him, under wraps for anyone to observe.
We also know that, later on in the novel, Stephen gets blackmailed by Lisette, as she wants him to ‘do things’ to her, like he does to Madam Azaire, as I will talk about in a moment or two. She tries to force him to make her ‘happy’ and when forcing his hand around her body, Stephen ‘felt a reflex feeling of desire. ‘ This paints an almost perverted picture of Stephen, which I feel Faulks did on purpose, to make any empathy that we feel for Stephens’s character, fade a little, making us feel uncomfortable about whether what we know about Stephen currently, to be true.
His relationship with Isabelle, Madam Azaire is also one that shows another side to Stephens’s character, a side of love and trust, excitement and fear. Stephen, one day, talks to Isabelle alone in the garden, when she is pruning some unchecked roses, to which she greets him with ‘Monsieur. ‘
This in itself shows she has great respect for Stephen and see’s him as one of their class and not someone, who is of course, of a lower class than themselves. Their conversation, at first, consisting of; ‘Allow me. and ‘Let me. ‘ shows their relationship blossoming already, with the idea that not one person is on control all the time; they share responsibility, which may become important later on in the novel. As the novel progresses through this scene, Stephen takes great pleasure in noticing the small details in Isabelle’s appearance, almost coming across to the reader as slightly creepy, if not frightening, but the character sees this as a normal, observational thing that he does.
He compliments her on her age and beauty, respected in return by Isabelle, who appears, none affected by his effort to brighten her mood. After a, what a reader may call, an awkward moment between Stephen and Isabelle, when he tries to talk about the sounds he heard from her room, it appears that Isabelle has some feelings towards Stephen in return in the following quote; ‘Madam Azaire watched his tall figure retreat across the grass to the house. She turned back to her roses, shaking her head as though in defiance of some unwanted feeling.
From this moment, the pair embark on a sexual affair, taking place in the ‘red room’, a room in the Azaires household that appears to not be used often. By doing this, Stephen goes against everything he tries to deny himself of. He loses control of his feelings, his reactions he is unable to control and in doing so, he falls in love with Isabelle, who the reader is constantly reminded of during meaningful and loving scenes between the two, is married to the owner of the house, Monsieur Azaire.
There are many sides to the character of Stephen, many of them the reader probably doesn’t feel they know yet. The novel, so far enlightens the reader to know about some of his past, some of his present and drops subtle, war related clues to possibly indicate something about his future. The mention of birds is a constant reminder of something important and we also find out that Stephen is afraid of birds and is therefore a subtle reminder that everything he does when the birds are mentioned, is an act of terrible consequences, in the Azaires household, so far.