Study Guide

Timothy Cavendish in Cloud Atlas

By David Mitchell

Timothy Cavendish

Senior Portrait

If Luisa Rey is a reincarnation of Robert Frobisher, then Timothy Cavendish might just be the cosmically rearranged atoms of Vyvyan Ayrs. Cavendish is both creatively and physically impotent. His ex-wife, like Jocasta, cheated on him. And not until his Ghastly Affair does he write anything for himself. Until that point he, like Ayrs, capitalizes off the success of the others. He profits from Duster Hoggins's murder of literary critic Felix Finch, and he only hires employees "part-time, of course, I wasn't getting clobbered for National Insurance" (4.1.49). Ugh.

Unlike Ayrs, however, Cavendish gets punished for his actions. Running from the Hoggins brothers, who are determined to get the money Cavendish owes them, Cavendish gets a taste of the Frobisher life, constantly on the run from debtors. Another echo of Frobisher comes from Cavendish's tendency to call his own parents "Mater and Pater" (4.1.156). He also name-drops composers like Rachmaninov.

Another similarity to Frobisher: Cavendish never quite grasps that fate is playing one big cruel trick on him. On the train, he grouses, "In our age crimes are not committed by criminals conveniently at hand but by executive pens far beyond the mob's reach" (4.1.154). The irony, of course, is that Cavendish is one of those criminal executives, too.

The Road to Hull is Paved with Bad Intentions

Cavendish's journey is one big karmic trip full of spiritual payback. He's kind of a bigot, and now people start discriminating against him because he's old. He's always profited from the work of others, and now he's being chased down for money. And probably not last, but definitely not least—he's kind of a control freak, and now he finds himself in Aurora House, where things are totally out of his control.

However, watching Cavendish get what he deserves isn't exactly easy. Maybe it's the humiliating treatment he receives at the hands of the cruel Nurse Noakes. Maybe it's because we're conditioned to see Cavendish as a harmless old man. Or maybe, despite the fact that he's a total jerkwad, we kind of like the guy. Are you glad to see Cavendish's grand escape from Aurora House, or are you dismayed that this wrinkly old tool gets to swindle again another day?