The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

On one level, Roy Vandervane seems nothing more than a melodramatic comic embodiment of the male in middle-age crisis. His taking a girl one-third his age without regard for reputation and decorum is a contemporary redaction of the great Romantic artist-cad who took what he wanted because the world had to pay that price for his art. As his name suggests, Roy Vandervane is a vain, regally uncaring man who pursues his own needs, indifferent to moral values or societal obligations.

Yet Vandervane’s sexual wanderings, comic as they often are, reveal a desperation, a frenzy that comes close to tragedy. Sex for him, as he tells the narrator, is not simply a renewal of a jaded appetite, but a kind of freedom from the mediocre as well. Vandervane knows that he is growing old, knows that his relationship with Sylvia is scandalously obscene, but his own spirit of respectability, which forces him to use comic euphemisms such as “Christian gentleman” for vulgar expletives, seeks release from his wife, family, and second-rate artistic pretensions. What Roy realizes more cogently than anything else is that his art is as conventional as his life. His attentions to Youth are attempts to begin life afresh, to be recognized, even adulated.

As for Kitty, she is the true melodramatic heroine, the comic study of the injured wife. She shows what Yandell calls her “paraded bravery” when she implores the narrator to help Vandervane, and she attempts to maintain an aggrieved dignity when she confronts Sylvia, only to get herself entangled in an undignified brawl. Kitty is, in sum,...

(The entire section is 652 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Douglas Yandell

Douglas Yandell, the narrator and coprotagonist. He is a bachelor and a classical music critic for a London newspaper, occupations to which he devotes himself equally. Thus, he has divided loyalties—or rather, divided antagonisms—toward London society. He stands out, by comparison, as a committed antiquarian. About him he sees indolence and habits of taste that are not simply bad but perversely opposed to human enjoyment. His habit of analysis comes with his critic’s vocation, and his bachelor’s avocation makes him appreciate laxness. The events of the novel make him doubt himself and his conviction that he is a holdout and a dissenter. The time seems ripe for him to form an alliance with Penny; these two lost souls, in their aimlessness, might help each other find direction. Penny, however, has found another, more desperate, solution. Douglas, newly aware that he is sick, ends the novel with no prospects of recovery.

Sir Roy Vandervane

Sir Roy Vandervane, the other protagonist, a fiftyish symphony conductor. Successful and well respected, he constantly struggles to keep up with the times and to increase his already considerable celebrity. There is nothing serious about him, besides his talent for music, but his energy, affability, and undisguised enthusiasm for low pursuits give him charm. Roy is dissatisfied with the respectability of married life and takes up with a seventeen-year-old mistress, despite her not-to-be-ignored, thoroughgoing faults. He feels that the taboos involved are a boon to his vigor. When his sincere attempt to betray classical...

(The entire section is 666 words.)