The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Despite the attention duly paid to the customs of the rich and the politics of power, The Embezzler is arguably less a novel of manners than a novel of character, the sociopsychological chronicle of three strong characters in perpetually sublimated conflict. Thanks to the author’s skillful use of multiple viewpoints, most of the questions remain open and unanswered, suggesting the ultimate human fallibility even of those whose actions and decisions will become binding upon humanity in general: Whatever the reason for Guy Prime’s actions and their subsequent results, implies Auchincloss, the repercussions are still to be felt.

Whatever the reasons for his gradual lapse into crime and his eventual disgrace, Guy Prime remains one of Louis Auchincloss’s most engaging and plausible characters, considerably more so than most of John P. Marquand’s tycoons or John O’Hara’s would-be politicians. Born to marginal privilege, the only male offspring of a mismatched late marriage, Guy grows up determined to “set things right,” using his position and connections to intervene even in matters well outside his proper sphere; thus does he infelicitously play matchmaker between Rex Geer and his rich cousin Alix Prime, a disturbed young woman whom he suspects of frigidity but whose real problem, Angelica will later explain, turned out to be quite the opposite. Indeed, Guy’s gravest flaw appears not to be greed, but rather a chronic and perhaps...

(The entire section is 578 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Guy Prime

Guy Prime, the embezzler of the title. He tells the first version of this story. He sets down a memoir just before his death in 1960, hoping his daughter will read it and show it to his three grandchildren, who have never known him. Born in the 1880’s to socially pretentious but shallow parents in New York City, Guy combines fine looks and a gregarious personality. A popular member of the Harvard class of 1907, he befriends the impoverished Rex Geer and saves Rex’s college career at a critical moment simply by learning (by honest, if unusual, means) that Rex is about to win an important prize. Later, Guy introduces Rex to his family and friends, as well as to the rich banker Marcellus de Grasse, who hires both young men. Their friendship is shaken when Rex proves to be the better banker but fails to win Guy’s cousin Alix Prime, even though Guy tries to help in that endeavor. Guy quits his banking job with de Grasse, then meets and marries Angelica Hyde in Europe. They have a daughter, Evadne, and a son, Percy. Guy sets himself up as a Wall Street broker. Success follows success until, in the Great Depression, Guy fails adequately to retrench. He begins borrowing from funds held in trust to shore up failing projects, thus becoming an embezzler. Exposed, convicted, investigated by New Deal reformers, and imprisoned in 1936, he expatriates himself to Panama in 1941. He lives out his days as a gregarious merchant with a young Panamanian wife and children.

Reginald (Rex) Geer

Reginald (Rex) Geer, the second narrator of the story. If children and grandchildren must see Guy’s memoirs, he will add his version. The son of a Vermont parson, Rex is a brilliant but isolated student until Guy befriends him. After graduation, he shares Guy’s apartment in New York until his rejection by Alix Prime. Rex then concentrates on work, rising rapidly in the world of investment banking. He marries Lucy, a perfect wife in...

(The entire section is 804 words.)