The English Patient

by

Michael Ondaatje

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Katharine Clifton Character Analysis

Geoffrey Clifton’s wife and the English patient’s lover. After Katharine and Geoffrey are married, she goes with him to Cairo when he is hired to be part of the English’s patient’s desert exploration team. Katharine falls in love with the desert and begins to “discover herself” there, which, the English patient says, is “painful to watch” because Geoffrey is completely oblivious to it. Without realizing it, Katharine falls in love with the English patient, whom she knows as the Hungarian explorer László Almásy, and they soon begin an affair. Katharine’s love and attraction for Almásy is closely related to violence in the novel, and it frequently manifests as physical abuse throughout their affair. Despite her deep love for Almásy, however, Katharine feels incredibly guilty and, fearing Geoffrey will “go mad” if he discovers her infidelity, breaks off her relationship with Almásy. Without Katharine, Almásy grows bitter and begins to treat her badly, which tips Geoffrey off to their affair after the fact. Katharine is seriously injured in Geoffrey’s murder-suicide attempt in the Gilf Kebir, and Almásy is unable to carry her out of the desert. Almásy leaves Katharine in the Cave of Swimmers and goes for help, but he is detained by the British military in El Taj, and Katharine dies waiting. Years later, Almásy finally makes it back to Katharine, and after having sex with her dead body, loads her corpse into Madox’s plane. However, the old, decrepit plane ignites in midair, and Almásy is forced to eject his flaming body, leaving Katharine to burn with the plane. The character of Katharine Clifton and her intense relationship with László Almásy underscore Ondaatje’s primary argument that love has the power to transcend anything, including marriage, distance, and even death.

Katharine Clifton Quotes in The English Patient

The The English Patient quotes below are all either spoken by Katharine Clifton or refer to Katharine Clifton. 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:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The English Patient published in 1993.
Chapter V Quotes

She picks up a cushion and places it onto her lap as a shield against him. “If you make love to me I won’t lie about it. If I make love to you I won’t lie about it.”

She moves the cushion against her heart, as if she would suffocate that part of herself which has broken free.

“What do you hate most?” he asks.

“A lie. And you?”

“Ownership,” he says. “When you leave me, forget me.”

Her fist swings towards him and hits hard into the bone just below his eye. She dresses and leaves.

Related Characters: The English Patient/László Almásy (speaker), Katharine Clifton (speaker), Geoffrey Clifton
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter IX Quotes

She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water. She returned to her husband.

Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography— to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books.

Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:
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Katharine Clifton Character Timeline in The English Patient

The timeline below shows where the character Katharine Clifton appears in The English Patient. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter III. Sometime a Fire
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...she reads some of the English patient’s personal writing. He writes about a woman named Katharine and her reading of a Stephen Crane poem. He also writes of “a love story”... (full context)
Chapter IV. South Cairo 1930-1938
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Geoffrey Clifton and his wife, Katharine, were still on their honeymoon, and the English patient had fallen in love with Katharine’s... (full context)
Chapter V. Katharine
Love Theme Icon
The first time Katharine dreamed of the English patient, she woke up screaming in the bed she shared with... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
One day, before Katharine and the English patient made love for the first time, he asked her what she... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
The English patient could not keep himself from Katharine, and when he was not in the desert, they were together. At night, he would... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Whenever Katharine had to leave the English patient and return to Geoffrey, the English patient was “insane.”... (full context)
Chapter VI. A Buried Plane
Love Theme Icon
...the desert, the English patient finally reached the Cave of Swimmers, where he had left Katharine years earlier. Her dead body was still there, wrapped in a parachute. Still very much... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
After the English patient’s affair with Katharine ended, he became angry and introverted, and grew suspicious that Katharine had taken a new... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
When the English patient took Katharine’s broken body from the plane, she asked him why he hated her so. Geoffrey began... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
...the English patient finally reached Madox’s plane buried in the desert in 1942, he loaded Katharine’s body into it and took off. The plane, however, was beginning to rot after being... (full context)
Chapter IX. The Cave of Swimmers
Love Theme Icon
Katharine became obsessed with the desert and began to read everything she could about it. The... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
One night, Geoffrey asked Katharine to read a poem out loud, but she wanted to read something else. The English... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
War and Nationality Theme Icon
When Katharine and Geoffrey were not in the desert, they were in Cairo doing work for the... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...was a short book, only 70 pages, and he had wanted to dedicate it to Katharine, even though he did not end up doing so. He grew cold and distant in... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...involved with the English government, and they knew all about the English patient’s affair with Katharine. The English patient had ignored all of Katharine’s remarks about Geoffrey’s relatives, but Madox had... (full context)
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Katharine loved words, the English patient says to Caravaggio. In words Katharine found “clarity,” “shape,” and... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
...the English patient finally talked him into going into a bar, and there they saw Katharine and Geoffrey Clifton. The English patient was drunk and invented a dance called “the Bosphorus... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
In the Cave of Swimmers, after Geoffrey had crashed his plane, the English patient placed Katharine, grimacing in pain, on a stretched out parachute. Katharine always wore makeup, so the English... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
...jeeps surrounded him immediately, and they refused to listen to his pleas to go get Katharine. (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...suspicious (they still do, Caravaggio says) and they had always known about Almásy’s affair with Katharine. British Intelligence had been waiting for Almásy in Cairo, but he never arrived and instead... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
War and Nationality Theme Icon
...and then tells Caravaggio that he only did it so he could get back to Katharine. (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...British Intelligence was convinced that Almásy had killed Geoffrey Clifton because of his affair with Katharine. Caravaggio says that Almásy became Britain’s enemy not when he agreed to help the Germans,... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
...patient, crashing into the sand nearby. The English patient ran to the plane and found Katharine in the passenger seat. Geoffrey was killed in the crash, and later that night, the... (full context)
War and Nationality Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Katharine was not killed in the crash, but she was badly injured. The English patient pulled... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
History, Words, and Storytelling Theme Icon
...English patient says. The night that Geoffrey Clifton crashed his plane, the English patient carried Katharine into the desert, into the “communal book of moonlight.”   (full context)