The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

As is the case with all of Vidal’s historical novels, characters are vividly described and balanced carefully against one another. The women exhibit considerable wit and shrewdness. Emma is every bit as sly as any of the politicians in the book, withholding information from her father when she believes that it will hurt him and treating her fiance, John Apgar, tactfully even when it is clear that she is receiving this unimaginative man’s attentions for the sake of relieving Schuyler’s anxiety over her security. Similarly, Denise Sanford becomes Schuyler’s dear friend and confederate and Emma’s closest companion, for Denise has a subtle feel for the politics of human relationships that surpasses the rather dull or comic conventionality of most of the Americans Schuyler meets. Complicating the friendship of Denise, Emma, and Charles is the presence of William Sanford, an opportunist and intriguer whom Schuyler despises and yet must tolerate when it becomes clear that Emma’s happiness depends on the favors of Denise’s husband. Once again, the compromises of private life and politics are skillfully intertwined in Vidal’s fiction.

The historical figures, particularly James Garfield, stimulate Schuyler’s perplexity over American politics. On one hand, Garfield is well educated in the classics, argues from the standpoint of clearly articulated principles, and seems able to balance private and public interests. On the other hand, he is a part of...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler

Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, the narrator, a journalist and historian who returns to the United States with his daughter, Emma. His fortune having been destroyed recently, he is forced to take journalistic assignments to support himself and his daughter. His ultimate goal is to secure the presidency for Samuel Tilden and, consequently, to earn a diplomatic post in France for himself. Although he finds enough energy to visit several houses of prostitution, his advancing age causes him much illness. He seems to respect deeply his daughter’s intellect, and he frequently relates her observations of people and events as well as his own. He dies at the end of the novel. His death is recorded by the character William Cullen Bryant in a special dispatch to The New York Evening Post.

Emma Schuyler

Emma Schuyler, the thirty-five-year-old daughter of Charles Schuyler. Having been reared in France and later married to a French prince, she is widowed when the novel begins. Creditors and her mother-in-law’s demand for money leave Emma almost penniless after her husband’s death. What money she has left, she must use to support her two children, who remain in France. Although engaged to John Day Apgar for a large part of the novel, she eventually marries William Sanford three months after his wife’s death during childbirth.

John Day Apgar

John Day Apgar,...

(The entire section is 561 words.)