Charles Citrine, a successful and acclaimed American author in his mid-fifties, living in Chicago. He has won the Pulitzer Prize and has been awarded the Legion of Honor, yet his career has become stale and he is reassessing his potential and his human relationships, past and present. He combines a subtle intellect and a strong sense of comic incongruity with a tolerant, mellow personality. Basically good-humored, he is attracted to eccentric and flashy characters, some of whom exist only in his capacious memory. Highly cultured and interested in metaphysics, he explores the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner.
Denise Citrine, Citrine’s former wife, the daughter of a federal judge and a graduate of Vassar. She is attractive, upper class, socially ambitious, and at times overbearing. She keeps Citrine’s life in turmoil through endless litigation but really desires to have him back because of his fame and culture.
Von Humboldt Fleisher
Von Humboldt Fleisher, a deceased avant-garde American poet whose career peaked in the 1930’s. He was handsome, large of build, fair, and learned. A fascinating conversationalist, he attracted followers and became Citrine’s mentor. A self-diagnosed manic depressive, he became subject to alcoholism and mental illness in his later years and died in poverty and obscurity. He left Citrine an unpublished manuscript.
Kathleen Fleisher Tigler
Kathleen Fleisher Tigler, Humboldt’s former wife. She is large, fair-skinned, and attractive. A person of warmth and mature understanding, she helps Citrine secure Humboldt’s legacy. Her favorite pastime, reading, indicates her pliant and essentially passive nature.
Rinaldo Cantabile, a minor Chicago mobster who is addicted to marijuana and flamboyant in his lifestyle. He batters Citrine’s Mercedes after a disagreement over a gambling debt but afterward assists him in protecting the copyright of his play.
Renata Koffritz, Citrine’s mistress, a calm Earth Mother type, large of build, with ample breasts. She possesses a warm personality and a practical nature, contrasting with Citrine’s idealism.
Pierre Thaxter, a middle-aged, eccentric editor and intellectual. Outlandishly dressed, he has green eyes and a catlike face. He travels the world pursuing ambitious schemes and exhibits complete incompetence regarding finances. While Citrine awaits publication of an article in Thaxter’s projected journal The Ark, Thaxter undertakes a new and ambitious project, a series of biographies of demented Third World dictators.
Menasha Klinger, a former punch press operator and electrician, now in his seventies. He knew Citrine as a child and remembers him as the best kid in his part of town in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Despite a broken nose that ruined his voice, he has cherished a lifelong dream of becoming an operatic tenor.
Waldemar Wald, Humboldt’s uncle, an aged man living in a nursing home. He recalls with pleasure his life as a racetrack gambler, though his memory is no longer reliable. When Citrine visits him in the nursing home, Waldemar hands over Humboldt’s legacy.
Julius “Ulick” Citrine
Julius “Ulick” Citrine, Citrine’s overweight elder brother, aged sixty-five. An aggressive businessman, he lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, with his second wife, Hortense. A wealthy man who lives in luxury, he has a long straight nose, slightly bulging eyes, and a well-trimmed mustache. Despite imminent open-heart surgery, he helps Citrine with his finances.
Anna Dempster “Demmie” Vonghel
Anna Dempster “Demmie” Vonghel, Citrine’s friend and former mistress, a teacher of Latin at the Washington Irving School in New York City. She died in a South American plane crash. She was highly attractive, with blue eyes, an upturned nose, and shapely legs. Despite her fundamentalist background, she had a record of illegal activities, including petty theft, and was addicted to pills.
(The entire section is 3,630 words.)