The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters define Antiterra, and they are all destructive. They might be roughly divided into victimizers and victims. Demon Veen, Van’s father, is a monstrous egotist and a rake. He seems to feed on live beauty with the same appetite with which he feeds on gourmet meals. Van takes after his father—he is a younger and more robust, more spontaneous and less jaded, copy. Ada has a devastating effect on the frail mortals with whom she comes in contact. From childhood on, Van’s and Ada’s appetites are as prodigious as their intellectual gifts—they do not have to work for their conquests, who succumb to them without the least resistance. Nor do the men work for money, or do any drudgery; they live in a world of Swiss bank accounts, of multiple villas on the most desirable spots of the globe with “staffs” of servants filling them. It would seem that there might be an element of wish-fulfilling fantasy here, of self-indulgence bordering on privatism. The “author” (technically, Van) insists that to all of his endeavors Van applies “athletic strength of will, ironization of excessive emotion, and contempt for weepy weaklings.” In this black-and-white world where extremes (incestuously) meet, the victims appear little different from their victimizers; they feel no resentment or rebellion, and no doubt victims would be victimizers if only they had the means.

These values, or antivalues, are reinforced by the narration’s tone. All events...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Ivan (Van) Veen

Ivan (Van) Veen (ih-VAHN), the fastidious, rakish scion of an aristocratic family. He matures from schoolboy to scholar of psychiatry to retired traveler. Although he has many sexual partners, his life is dominated by a love affair, lasting more than eighty years, with Ada, who is said to be his cousin but actually is his sister. Fourteen-year-old Van, who earns local fame for his unusual skill at walking on his hands, meets twelve-year-old Ada in the idyllic setting of her putative father’s country estate, Ardis. There they fall in love, but Van also attracts the lifelong, obsessive love of his and Ada’s half sister, Lucette. A second summer at Ardis, four years later, reaffirms Van’s love for Ada, but this time the idyll is shattered by Van’s discovery of Ada’s unfaithfulness. Van is wounded in a duel and recovers at the nurturing hands of a family friend, Cordula de Prey, in her Manhattan apartment. Eventually Van and Ada are reunited in the apartment (now Van’s), but a winter of love is interrupted by the abrupt entrance of their father, Demon, who demands that the lovers part. Van spends his adult life in the study and practice of psychiatry, with a special interest in time, space, and insanity. During a transatlantic ocean voyage, Van is surprised to learn that Lucette has contrived to become his fellow passenger. When Van, out of conscientious scruples, rebuffs her advances, she jumps overboard to her death. Van and Ada meet again, in their thirties, in Switzerland, and resume their affair, although Ada is now married. The illness of Ada’s husband forces another separation, but the lovers reunite again in their fifties and spend a happy and active old age together, traveling around the world from one fabulous home to another.

Adelaida (Ada) Veen

Adelaida (Ada) Veen (ah-deh-lah-EE-dah), a pale, dark-haired beauty who is a precocious twelve-year-old with interests in botany and entomology when she first meets and falls in love with Van. As she matures, her sensuality blossoms, and she has many male lovers, as well as, eventually, a bisexual intimacy with her troubled half sister, Lucette. Van is most angered by her brief romances with Lucette’s music teacher, Philip Rack, and with Cordula de Prey’s cousin, Percy. After both men die, Ada spends her young adult years in a tepid career as a film actress. In between her periodic romantic reunions with Van, Ada is married and spends much of her middle age on a ranch in Arizona with her husband. Eventually, she returns to Van and spends her old age traveling with him, photographing butterflies, and helping to edit the story of their life together.

Dementiy (Demon) Veen


(The entire section is 1145 words.)