On one level, Jo Stoyte is simply another of the many satiric portraits of the self-made American businessman that appear frequently in British and American fiction of the 1920’s and 1930’s. He eagerly pursues money and relishes a lavish, tasteless display of the material things that money can buy, from the swimming pool on the terrace of his castle to the painting by Jan Vermeer in his elevator. He is grossly sensual in his desire for Virginia but is also gratified by her regarding him as a paternal benefactor. He sees no inconsistency in exploiting migrant workers by paying them the lowest wages possible, while at the same time sentimentally supporting a children’s hospital and donating large sums of money to Tarzana College for buildings that will bear his name. Yet Stoyte is not entirely a one-dimensional figure. His drive to achieve financial success stems from his experience of poverty as a child and his being ridiculed as a fat boy in school, and his love for Virginia, although limited in depth, is tender and genuine. In spite of the fact that Stoyte is a satiric figure, he invites some degree of compassion.
Virginia Maunciple and Peter Boone are less complex, although they, like Jo Stoyte, are treated with both satire and compassion. Virginia combines ingenuousness with sensuality, and though unintelligent, her sense of guilt over her affair with Obispo is intense. Peter is almost equally naive in his idealistic love of Virginia and in his...
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