The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Michel Alphendéry

Michel Alphendéry (mee-SHEHL ahl-fehn-day-REE), the technical economics expert at the Bertillon bank, considered by all who know him to be a brilliant man. He is a Marxist and is thought by the banking people to be an idealist and a utopian. Even more surprising to them, Alphendery is honest: He has a limited power of attorney for the bank, allowing him to buy and sell, sign checks, and make decisions, but he never steals or cheats. Although he dislikes the chicanery of the financiers, Alphendery continues working for Jules Bertillon out of loyalty, affection, and inertia, and because he needs money to support his mother and his estranged wife, Estelle, who is unfaithful to him. Alphendery’s father was a lawyer and a small banker, and the son has been in finance since he was a small boy. Alphendery would like to make his fortune and get out of banking, but his big chance, in a grain deal with Leon and Jules, is ruined when Jules tries to manage the deal his way and bungles it.

Jules Bertillon

Jules Bertillon (zhewlz behr-tee-YOH[N]), the real owner and policymaker of the Banque Mercure, a private bank in Paris. A fragile-looking, tall, elegantly dressed young man, Jules has the instincts of a gambler, and he makes fortunes for himself at Deauville (by betting on the horses) and on the stock exchange. Speculative and daring, Jules thinks that he can always make money. Jules is cynical, saying that a bank is a confidence trick. Alphendery says that Jules is a financial genius, bound to live and die rich. Most of the bank’s clients are rich because Jules does not want to bother with the small fry or listen to them cry about losses. In an atmosphere of world depression, Jules wants to make money, betting on disaster. At one point, Jules says that William, Alphendery, and he should take the clients’ 160 million francs and abscond, but Alphendery talks him out of the idea. Jules supports his wife, Claire-Josephe, his children, and most of his idle brothers.

William Bertillon

William Bertillon, Jules’s older brother, a tall, blond, plump, and staid man. He looks as if he is never troubled by a thought and he pretends to take no notice of the clients in the bank, but he listens to gather information. He nags Jules, but he has a single-minded affection for his brother. He will not hear a word against Jules from anyone else, and he will stand by his brother in the face of trouble. William has formed the Five Brothers Simla Company as a nest egg for the family, although it is a secret from Jules. When Jules is away, leading the life of the idle rich, William manages the banking routine. William holds Alphendery in true affection because of the employee’s loyalty to Jules.

Henri Leon

Henri Leon (ah[n]-REE lay-

(The entire section is 1217 words.)