The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Horace Zagreus is no less an “ape” than the zoological exhibits that he arranges for Dan. In spite of his verbal brilliance, his flawed judgment is shown by his choice of cloddish Dan as “genius” and disciple. Even Pierpoint, who invisibly presides over all and whom many commentators see as the author’s voice, is suspect, for he has picked Zagreus as his ambassador. Lewis, the painter, sought cold, unemotional objectivity in the depiction of literary characters. His distrust of subjective emotion is reflected in the name “Zagreus,” one of the names of the Greek Dionysus, a god of unrestrained emotions. Although Zagreus is derided by his author for his unbridled enthusiasms (while using him as a vehicle to revile still other characters), it is precisely these qualities that make Zagreus the most interesting character in the book.

Much of the narrative is told from the viewpoint (but not in the voice) of Dan, who attends one zoological exhibit after another at the behest of his mentor. Although this has the advantage of a hilariously naive point of view, Dan is too dull to sustain the interest of the reader or to carry the narrative for long periods—as he is sometimes required to do. Lewis’ characters are not people but grotesques, representatives of human imperfections and folly. Dan is merely a foil to bring out their inanities, which are brilliantly showcased. Most of the characters are then dropped—often never to reappear.

Matthew Plunkett and Melanie Blackwell are good...

(The entire section is 620 words.)

The Apes of God Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Horace Zagreus

Horace Zagreus, born Horace Follett, a tall albino now between sixty and sixty-four years old. He is the favorite grandnephew of Lady Fredigonde Follett. He takes up young men as companions of “genius” and instructs them in the philosophy of Pierpoint. Famous as a practical joker, he is employed by Lord Osmund to provide entertainment at his Lenten Freak Party. In phallic costume, he gathers Daniel Boleyn, Julius Ratner, and Archie Margolin to present a magic show. After the disastrous failure of the Vanish, he leads his followers out onto Lord Osmund’s lawn, carrying a large door, where he plays a flute while his followers dance. He dismisses Dan as the cause of his troubles at the party and puts Margolin in place as his newest genius.

Daniel Boleyn

Daniel Boleyn, a dull-witted young Irishman of nineteen drifting about London. He is taken up as a “genius” by Horace Zagreus, who sends him to study the “apes of god.” He is self-consciously very tall, impoverished, and easily baffled. He blushes frequently and weeps easily when he thinks Horace slights him, and his nose bleeds at inopportune times. Dressed to perform as a yogi in Horace’s magic show at Lord Osmund’s party, his trousers catch fire, and he has to change into a woman’s frock. He gets drunk on champagne and ruins the Vanish act. After Horace dismisses him in favor of Archie Margolin, Dan wanders through the General Strike in London until he is retrieved by Michael for Melanie Blackwell in France.

Dick Whittingdon

Dick Whittingdon, a thirty-six-year-old educated at Winchester and Sandhurst. He is the six-foot, two-inch, suntanned grandnephew of Lady Fredigonde and Sir James Follett. He competes with Horace Zagreus for approval and money from the Folletts, though he is not liked by Lady Fredigonde. Separated from his wife, he keeps a house called Grotian Walk with ten studios for his painting. He is a famous collector of whips.


Pierpoint, a painter turned philosopher, from a prominent Welsh-Irish family. He never appears in the novel except by name but is the source of many persons’ ideas, especially Horace Zagreus, his contemporary in age. His analysis of relationships between society and art and artists provides the notion of “apes of god” as those wealthy persons who ape art and therefore trivialize its importance.

Julius Ratner

Julius Ratner, a special kind of “ape.” He is a Jewish author and publisher with an obsession of analyzing psychological complexes. He married an heiress before the war and settled in Chelsea, but she ran off with a lover, and he turned to publishing. He is a source of money for Horace, and he publishes for Pierpoint. He is costumed as a “Split Man” by Horace for the magic show at Lord Osmund’s party, to produce the illusion of cutting him in half. During the Vanish act, he is knocked from the stage by Blackshirt, who intensely dislikes Ratner. In consequence, he is hurt and threatens legal action, though he dances on the door to the tune of Horace’s flute.

Archibald (Archie) Margolin

Archibald (Archie) Margolin, a small, twenty-year-old Jewish youth from the slums of London’s East End. Taken on by Horace Zagreus as one of his young geniuses, he accompanies the magic show to the party of Lord Osmund, where he spends most of his time flipping matchsticks at party guests. He subsequently displaces Dan Boleyn as Horace’s genius.

Lady Fredigonde Follett

Lady Fredigonde Follett, the ninety-six-year-old great-aunt of Horace and Dick, and the wife of Sir James Follett. She is glad to move her head on a body otherwise rigid as plaster. She fantasizes about her collection of caps. When Sir James dies, she tells Horace that he can expect money from her and offers herself, in a scene of surrealistic madness, as his bride.

Matthew Plunkett

Matthew Plunkett, a small, middle-aged man with an obsessive interest in shells. He was psychoanalyzed in Zurich by Dr. Frumpfsusan, who advised him to choose his friends small and learn how to bully. He walks through Bloomsbury to a pub for his midday snack before his assignation with Betty Bligh at his flat. He is accosted by Dan Boleyn, the son of his Dublin cousin. Impatiently, Matthew allows Dan to rest in his apartment. He returns to meet Betty, fantasizes his sexual assault, and fails because Dan is lying in the bed to which he carries Betty.

Melanie Blackwell

Melanie Blackwell, a wealthy painter from St. Louis, the daughter of Irish immigrant parents. She married an Irish landowner and lived on his estate before he died. A thin woman, older than Dan, she lives with her dogs in London studios. She tries to lure Dan away from Horace by babying him, undressing him, and putting him to bed. After Dan is dumped by Horace at the end, she sends Michael to bring him to her in Azay-le-Promis.

The Lesbian-Ape

The Lesbian-Ape, the artist into whose studio Dan Boleyn accidentally stumbles. Dan is made to pose in the nude until he faints from shame; he is awakened by...

(The entire section is 2135 words.)