Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448
Frederick Olliver, the protagonist, a writer of thoughtful essays about literary subjects who supplements his meager income by teaching and hack editorial work. Following seven years of work, he publishes a book on a medieval topic that wins him acclaim and relative fame. Up to this point, Frederick has been overshadowed by the success of the playwright Lyle Gaynor, his married mistress. His jealousy of Lyle’s comparative brilliance and her apparent treatment of him as a pathetic failure lead Frederick into a painful affair with the dumb, vivacious, and unfaithful Dodo Brennan. When he can meet Lyle as an equal, he begins reevaluating his love life and returns to her. Frederick is prepared for mature love not by literary success but by the pain and humiliation he experiences in being torn between two very different women.
Lyle Gaynor, the cowriter of popular Broadway plays with her husband, Allan. She does almost all the work. The lack of passion and understanding in her marriage drives Lyle to Frederick. His affair with Dodo infuriates her, and she finds comfort with Edwin Stalk before Allan’s departure throws her into even greater confusion. Lyle regards success in her career and romantic happiness as equals but does not understand why the latter is more difficult to achieve.
Dodo Brennan, a young woman from Baltimore who goes to Manhattan to seek romantic adventure. It is unclear why she is attracted to Frederick, though he helps her find work in the New York office of a movie studio. The coquettish Dodo infuriates Frederick by openly flirting with other men and by ridiculing him in public. Her temptation of Frederick ends when she is named in a divorce suit filed by the wife of her longtime friend, Larry Glay, an advertising man.
Murray Cahill, Frederick’s roommate of seven years. Murray is Frederick’s opposite, spending night after night lurching from bar to bar, yet he mirrors his friend’s romantic turmoil. Murray keeps fluctuating among Judy Dahl (his artist girlfriend), his estranged wife, and an endless assortment of other female admirers before deciding to settle down after Judy becomes pregnant.
Allan Gaynor, an actor who became a playwright after a crippling accident. The bitter yet flamboyant Allan convinces people that he collaborates with his wife on their plays, but his contributions consist primarily of complaining that Lyle is behind schedule on their work. He rarely leaves their apartment yet still manages to ensnare adoring young women. After he is stabbed by his building’s janitor, whose wife he seduced, Allan shocks Lyle by running off to Hollywood with his latest protégée.
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