None of Stead’s characters, with the possible exception of Michel, invites the reader’s sympathy; they are not intended to do so. While Jules seems to charm everyone and even wins the grudging respect of his enemies, he manages this only by withholding a complete and genuine representation of himself from any one individual. The narrator grants a complete view of Jules’s numerous weaknesses, mistakes, and character flaws from the reader’s perspective only. The reader sees Jules, and the other characters, from a privileged position, comprehending their foolishness and errors in ways which they cannot. Hence, William’s unquestioning trust for his brother be comes a confidence based not on filial love but on his sense of inadequacy, compared with Jules’s glittering self-confidence. William not only defers to Jules’s superior business sense; he shirks his own responsibilities. Claire-Josephe’s vocal concern for her children’s future is a convenient guise for expressing a genuine fear originating in self-interest, and not the parental conscience which she employs as its vehicle. Jules’s family circle is composed of characters whose veneer is only slightly more superficial than his own. Moreover, he never claims that the bank’s practices are ethical; he simply never discourages the clients from assuming that they are. Jules deceives perfectly within his circle, exposed through the narrator’s unrelentingly critical and ironic examination.
(The entire section is 556 words.)