(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Locusts Have No King consists primarily of the characters’ contrasting attitudes toward the relations between the sexes—views satirized by Powell. In many satirical novels, the supporting cast provides the targets while the protagonists hover above the ridicule. Powell’s main characters, however, are equal to the others as figures of fun. The thirty-seven-year-old Frederick, for example, is an incredibly naïve and foolish lover who is more comfortable researching and writing about the past than he is in dealing with the modern world. He is especially uncomfortable in Lyle’s social world, and he longs selfishly to have her all to himself. He is initially drawn to Dodo because, at a party amid Lyle’s friends, she seems as much an outsider as himself. Angered by what he considers “the bondage of his love” for Lyle, he lacks the will to break the chains, and Dodo ensnares him in a different type of trap. Frederick’s main weakness is his desire to be a spectator in life: “If possible he wanted a glass wall between him and other human beings and he was happy when Lyle joined him in the observation post, unhappy when she was on the other side of the glass.”

He is annoyed by the differences between him and Lyle but will not consider changing or compromising. He also holds Lyle to unnaturally high standards. When she becomes jealous of Dodo, Frederick is outraged “that she was acting like any ordinary woman,” especially since he blames her for his unfaithfulness: “It was primarily all Lyle’s fault. Not his. Not Dodo’s. He and Dodo were the wronged ones.” Intolerant of Lyle, he easily justifies Dodo’s promiscuity: “It showed he was not unique in surrendering to this particular temptation.” Irony underlies the ostensibly sympathetic tone of Powell’s narrative voice, especially when Frederick blames everyone else for his problems.

Dodo’s vulgarity is a burst of freedom after the restraints of his secretive relationship with Lyle. Even when the manipulative Dodo humiliates him for his inadequacies, Frederick plots to hold on to her, accepting invitations to the social occasions he hated attending before. Being dumped by the woman for whom he has left his true love would be an even greater humiliation.

When Frederick hears rumors that Lyle will divorce Allan to marry Edwin Stalk, the editor of Swan Quarterly, he believes that he has been...

(The entire section is 989 words.)