At first, Neville might seem to be a rather clichéd portrait of a homosexual aesthete: he is physically weak, overly refined, obsessed with male beauty, and somewhat promiscuous. But Neville is also a great artist—the most successful artist in the novel. Unlike Louis and Bernard, who also harbor literary ambitions, Neville centers his life on his relationship to his art, to the exclusion of most other relationships. This intense purity of focus seems to make the difference in his success as a poet. From the start, Neville is disturbed by mess and disorder, continually noticing Bernard’s sloppiness of dress. But Neville’s desire for order goes beyond the material realm. For Neville, life itself is a chaotic mess, and only in art and literature is perfection attainable. Neville understands this fact clearly after the death of Percival, whom Neville loves and idealizes. Once Percival is gone, Neville looks to a series of lovers for a temporary replacement for the intense feelings he once got from merely watching Percival. In each case, Neville uses his concentrated if fleeting devotion to the new lover as a source of energy for writing his poetry. In the end, Neville sees that he has spent an entire lifetime devoted to the study of love itself.
If Bernard’s problem with language is that it is not large enough to contain reality, Neville’s problem is that it is not focused enough to serve his particular needs. Neville’s life is one of concentration and exclusion. He shuts the world out from his book-lined room, awaiting only the approach of his latest “one.” Neville’s need for a focused, polished language to express his meaning is part of the reason for his disdain for Dr. Crane and for conventional religion. For Neville, the headmaster is a pompous fool, mouthing empty phrases, and most religion is little more than a collection of such insincere words. Beyond the platitudes of the sermons he hears, Neville also sees Christianity as a sad, death-obsessed religion and prefers the pagan Greeks and Romans for what he sees as their love of life and pleasure in this world.