Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 631
Mr. Escot, a philosopher of the “deteriorationist” school. Heavily influenced by the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he believes that the condition of humankind has been corrupted by civilization and luxury and is physically degenerate in comparison with conditions of prehistoric ancestors. As with all of his fellow guests at Headlong Hall, however, he does not allow his doom-laden judgments to detract from his enjoyment of the weekend’s entertainments. Nor does his pessimism inhibit his ardent courtship of the lovely Cephalis Cranium, during the course of which he must exercise courage and cunning to outshine his rival, the erudite Mr. Panscope.
Mr. Foster, a philosopher of the “perfectibilian” school. As a fervent believer in progress, arguing that the inexorable advancement of technology coupled with the refinement of morals will lead eventually to the perfection of human society, he is diametrically opposed to Mr. Escot on every issue. In matters of everyday conduct, however, he and Mr. Escot are very much alike. His simultaneous marriage to Caprioletta Headlong—Cephalis Cranium’s dearest friend—ensures that their lives will continue to mirror each another.
Mr. Cranium, a determinist who believes that the characteristics of individual people can be read in the bumps on their skulls (the author does not use the term “phrenology”). When Mr. Escot saves him from drowning, he is inclined to withhold credit on the grounds that his rescuer was simply following his innate tendencies, but he gladly gives consent for his daughter’s marriage when Mr. Escot presents him with an unusually interesting skull to add to his collection.
Squire Headlong, the landowner who is host to the house party attended by the miscellaneous amateur philosophers, artists, and men of letters. He is the provider who spares no expense in laying on good food, good wine, and all manner of scientific and artistic apparatus. His sole concern is to ensure that everything goes well. When he decides that the party needs a fourfold wedding to round it off, he immediately assents to his sister’s marriage to Mr. Foster, then allocates one of the two daughters of the violinist Cornelius Chromatic to the painter Patrick O’Prism while proposing to the other himself.
Marmaduke Milestone, a landscape gardener who chooses to substitute lawns and flower beds, suitably embellished by pagodas, Chinese bridges, and artificial fountains, for the wilderness that surrounds Headlong Hall. His demonstration of the use of gunpowder in clearing difficult ground causes the accident in which Mr. Cranium nearly drowns.
Mr. Panscope, an expert in all the sciences who determines his beliefs by taking census of the gross weight of intellectual authority, from the Greek philosophers to contemporary scientists. He is, however, willing to descend to mere flattery in order to persuade Mr. Cranium to promise his daughter’s hand in marriage, without bothering to consult the young lady regarding her wishes.
Mr. Nightshade and
Mr. MacLaurel, poets who dabble in literary criticism to the extent of being leaders of an entire critical coterie. They are accompanied at Headlong Hall by two further members of the coterie, Timothy Treacle and Geoffrey Gall. Apart from enjoying the food and wine, none of these four takes any active part in the weekend’s events, all of them being perfectly content to stand on the sidelines and pass comment on the conduct of others.
The Reverend Doctor Gaster
The Reverend Doctor Gaster, a religious fundamentalist who attempts (ineffectually) to arbitrate the disputes of Mr. Escot and Mr. Foster by continual reference to the Scriptures.
Mr. Jenkinson, an intellectual liberal who attempts (absurdly) to arbitrate the disputes of Mr. Escot and Mr. Foster by continually arguing that there is merit on both sides.