The Children of Men


P. D. James

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Woolcombe Symbol Icon

Xan Lyppiatt’s ancestral home and the place where Theo Faron spent his summer holidays as a child, Woolcombe represents the lifelong imbalance of power between cousins Theo and Xan, and the resulting tensions that haunt their past and present alike. Theo, in the present—having served and resigned from his post as an adviser to Xan, who is now the dictatorial Warden of England—writes in his diary that he believes Xan enjoyed having Theo at Woolcombe over the summer because Theo was “wished on him.” Xan, isolated from his family and mostly friendless, wanted the “burden of parental concern” lifted, and Theo provided him with that out. Theo describes the both of them as having always been “obsessive[ly] self-sufficient,” and this trait has become both a blessing and a curse in the new, futureless world they live in. Xan has consolidated power for himself and surrounded himself with sycophants who have never and will never truly know him. Theo has isolated himself in his large home in Oxford, alone with his thoughts and with the futility of his chosen profession.

Additionally, in the present of the novel, Woolcombe has been converted into “a nursing home for the nominees of the Council”—a place for the once-powerful to live out the end of their days. The symbolism of Woolcombe as a kind of hospice represents the ways in which, despite their futility and irrelevance, some members of society still cling to the systems and institutions of the past. Though the estate has fallen into some disrepair and no longer represents the aristocracy who once occupied it, it is still a place for the upper echelons of society—for those who once sat on the Council which now governs England. Old ways die hard, and even in the frightening, dystopic world of the novel, the institutions that have historically provided shelter and privacy for the upper classes continue to do so.

Woolcombe Quotes in The Children of Men

The The Children of Men quotes below all refer to the symbol of Woolcombe. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Children of Men published in 2006.
Chapter 2 Quotes

I know now, of course, why [Xan] liked having me at Woolcombe. I think I guessed almost from the beginning. He had absolutely no commitment to me, no responsibility for me, not even the commitment of friendship or the responsibility of personal choice. He hadn’t chosen me. I was his cousin, I was wished on him, I was there. I lifted from him, an only child, the burden of parental concern. From his boyhood he couldn’t tolerate questions, curiosity, interference in his life. I sympathized with that; I was very much the same.

Related Characters: Theodore “Theo” Faron (speaker), Xan Lyppiatt
Related Symbols: Woolcombe
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
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Woolcombe Symbol Timeline in The Children of Men

The timeline below shows where the symbol Woolcombe appears in The Children of Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...unsurprising, as the two did spend every single summer together at Xan’s family’s massive estate, Woolcombe. (full context)
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Woolcombe is now a nursing home for former nominees and members of the Council that governs... (full context)
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Xan, Theo observes, never had any friends come to Woolcombe over the summer, and anytime Theo asked Xan about school he deflected, other than admitting... (full context)
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Theo’s days at Woolcombe were marked by sleeping late, breakfasting late, and playing or shooting pistols with blanks. As... (full context)
Chapter 3
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Theo reflects on his first-ever holiday at Woolcombe. Theo was afraid that he’d be staying in the “servants’ quarters,” but instead Xan led... (full context)
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Flashing back to that first day in his room at Woolcombe, Theo recalls how Xan tried to put him at ease by belittling the size and... (full context)
Chapter 13
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...pornography centers, but Xan deflects Theo’s requests. Theo then asks if Xan ever returns to Woolcombe. Xan tells Theo that he now thinks of it as a “living mausoleum.” He has... (full context)
Chapter 33
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Xan implores Theo to remember their happy times at Woolcombe, and tells Theo that he has no desire to kill him. Theo tells Xan he... (full context)