Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 329
Evelyn Waugh’s characters may seem a collection of zanies to the reader but not to themselves, at least not within the context of the story. Waugh makes his characters all the more comic because they act their ridiculous roles with dignity, at times with high moral sentiment. They are amusing...
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- Critical Essays
Evelyn Waugh’s characters may seem a collection of zanies to the reader but not to themselves, at least not within the context of the story. Waugh makes his characters all the more comic because they act their ridiculous roles with dignity, at times with high moral sentiment. They are amusing (or to some readers, repulsive) precisely because they do not imagine themselves as objects of amusement (or of revulsion).
Like most of Waugh’s feckless heroes in other novels (Paul Pennyfeather, Tony Last, Gilbert Pinfold, Basil Seal), Dennis Barlow, the protagonist, is an innocent thrust into a world he cannot fully comprehend. A failure at nearly everything—poetry, screenwriting, his love life—he is, nevertheless, a sympathetic victim because he lacks malice. His romantic counterpart, Aimee Thanatogenos (her name, a grotesque mixture of words derived from French and Greek, may be roughly translated into English as “beloved of the race of death”), is a simpleton even more innocent, if that is possible, than Dennis. Waugh imagines her as a typical American woman: feeble in intellect, indecisive, sentimental, perpetually immature.
None of the other characters, whose activities revolve around those of the star-crossed lovers, are evil; they are, simply, bores, both the snobs and the vulgarians. Among the snobs are the Englishmen, especially Sir Ambrose Abercrombie (who may have been modeled, according to Waugh’s biographer Christopher Sykes, upon the dignified actor Sir C. Aubrey Smith) and Sir Francis Hinsley. In this group also is Mr. Joyboy, a Californian whose claim to be an artist rests mainly on his cosmetic ability to transform hideous corpses into smiling replicas of human beings. Mr. Joyboy complements Aimee, because he is similarly immature, a perpetual child under the domination of his mother.
Other characters are, in different degrees, crassly materialistic (Mr. Schultz and the tycoons at Megalo) or dissipated (Mr. Slump) or pretentious (Dr. Wilbur Kenworthy). Stripped of their comic masks, these vulgarians represent forces that hasten the decline of Western culture.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1355
Dennis Barlow, an English dilettante who has traveled to Southern California. His only book of poetry, written while he was in the British Air Force during World War II, received strong reviews and several awards, but the paper shortage took the book out of print. Curious, pragmatic, and a “man of sensibility rather than sentiment,” the twenty-eight-year-old Barlow goes to Hollywood to help write the life of Percy Shelley for films. Unable to write the sort of script required by Megalopolitan Studios, he is dismissed from his job, moves in with Sir Francis Hinsley, and begins work at The Happier Hunting Ground, a pet mortuary, where his new employer, Mr. Schultz, finds him congenial and reverent. Barlow, fascinated by the American way of death at The Happier Hunting Ground and at Whispering Glades, courts Aimee Thanatogenos, an employee at Whispering Glades, with poetry plagiarized from the Oxford Book of English Verse. Aimee, unlike Mr. Schultz, finds Dennis irreverent of things that should be sacred, such as citizenship and social conscience. After Aimee’s suicide, Mr. Joyboy prompts Barlow to cremate the corpse at The Happier Hunting Ground before Barlow returns to England. At the conclusion of the novel, Barlow is waiting for Aimee’s corpse to burn.
Aimee Thanatogenos (ay-MAY tha-na-TO-geh-nohs), the fiancée of both Barlow and Mr. Joyboy and assistant to Mr. Joyboy at Whispering Glades, a cemetery in the Hollywood Hills. Aimee, who was graduated from the university in 1943 with beauticraft as her first subject, has no family and few friends, lives alone, and loves her work at Whispering Glades, “her true home.” She has dark, straight hair and eyes that are “greenish and remote, with a rich glint of lunacy.” Considering herself an artist of sorts and a “handmaid to the morticians,” Aimee works “like a nun, intently, serenely, methodically.” She presents herself to the world dressed and scented in obedience to advertisements. When Aimee cannot resolve her dilemma of being engaged simultaneously to Barlow and Mr. Joyboy, she takes an elevator to the top story of Whispering Glades, goes to Mr. Joyboy’s workroom, injects herself with cyanide, and covers herself with a sheet, thus leading to Mr. Joyboy’s discovery of her corpse.
Mr. Joyboy, the chief cosmetician and embalmer at Whispering Glades. An expert on facial expressions on corpses, Mr. Joyboy enjoys great popularity at Whispering Glades and in the funeral industry. He is unmarried and is regarded by every female employee at Whispering Glades as debonnaire and as a figure of romance. In addition to being a Rotarian and a Knight of Pythias, Mr. Joyboy is a regular contributor to The Casket, a mortuary publication. He is an intimate of Dr. Kenworthy. By the standards of motion-picture studios, Mr. Joyboy is not handsome. Tall but unathletic, he has scant eyebrows and invisible eyelashes. His hair, though neat, is sparse, and his hands are fleshy. His best feature is his teeth, and even they are not perfect: They seem too large for his mouth. Mr. Joyboy lives with his mother in a shabby home. He is saving his money for a house and children, and he believes “anything spent inconspicuously, anything spent on Mom” is “money down the drain.” Mr. Joyboy’s jealousy leads him to expose to Aimee two facts about Barlow that she cannot tolerate: that he is employed at The Happier Hunting Ground and that he plagiarized the poems he gave her. After these revelations, Aimee consents to marry Mr. Joyboy. To save his reputation after Aimee’s suicide, Mr. Joyboy gets Barlow to cremate Aimee’s corpse and pays for Barlow’s first-class travel to England.
Sir Ambrose Abercrombie
Sir Ambrose Abercrombie, the leader of the English expatriate colony in Hollywood. Sir Ambrose, the guardian of the British image in Hollywood, is not quite sixty years old, dresses in conservative British attire complete with monocle, and heads the Cricket Club. At the beginning of the novel, he pays Sir Francis a visit concerning Barlow’s disgraceful job at The Happier Hunting Ground. Later, Sir Ambrose supervises Barlow’s arrangements at Whispering Glades for Sir Francis’ funeral. Finally, it is Sir Ambrose who gives Barlow a check from the Cricket Club to return to England (tourist class) so that Barlow will not disgrace them by becoming a nonsectarian minister.
Sir Francis Hinsley
Sir Francis Hinsley, a screenwriter at Megalopolitan Studios and former president of the Cricket Club. Sir Francis, who has worked for Megalopolitan Studios for twenty-five years, has a “weak, sensitive, intelligent face, blurred somewhat by soft living and long boredom.” He follows the conservative dress of Sir Ambrose, complete with monocle, and refrains from reading Barlow’s poetry because, as he says of himself, he has never been “much good at anything new.” When Barlow loses his job at Megalopolitan Studios, Sir Francis takes him in, regarding Barlow as “a young man of genius, the hope of English poetry.” Stigmatized by Barlow’s new job at The Happier Hunting Ground and no longer of legitimate service to Megalopolitan Studios, Sir Francis is fired, after which he commits suicide, hanging himself from the rafters in his home with his suspenders. Barlow meets Aimee while he is making funeral arrangements for Sir Francis.
Guru Brahmin, actually three contributors to an advice-to-the-lovelorn column for a newspaper, the chief correspondent being Mr. Slump. The column, formerly called “Aunt Lydia’s Post Bag,” is now called “The Wisdom of the Guru Brahmin.” Mr. Slump, a gloomy man given to drinking whiskey and smoking, deals with the letters to Guru Brahmin that require private answers. It is he, therefore, who answers the numerous letters from Aimee Thanatogenos regarding her dilemma with Barlow and Mr. Joyboy. In the course of the novel, Mr. Slump’s condition deteriorates until he appears at work ill-shaven and scarcely sober. The night after he is fired, Aimee traces him by telephone to Mooney’s Saloon to get advice. Mr. Slump suggests that she jump from a top-floor window.
Dr. Wilbur Kenworthy
Dr. Wilbur Kenworthy, called The Dreamer, the founder of the commercialized Whispering Glades Memorial Park, a racially segregated cemetery. Fear of disgracing Whispering Glades and Mr. Kenworthy and, thereby, ruining his own reputation drives Mr. Joyboy to seek Barlow’s help in covering up the death of Aimee Thanatogenos.
Mr. Schultz, the owner of The Happier Hunting Ground, a pet cemetery in Southern California. He is a pragmatic realist, concerned with profits and resentful that people will spend more money burying relatives they hate than burying pets they love. Because he finds Barlow congenial and reverent, he encourages Barlow to stay on at The Happier Hunting Ground.
Mrs. Joyboy, Mr. Joyboy’s mother. She has small angry eyes, frizzy hair, and a shapeless body; she wears pince-nez on a very thick nose and wears positively insulting clothes. Resentful of being moved away from the East to Hollywood, where everything is too expensive, Mrs. Joyboy dotes on her aged, almost naked parrot Sambo and watches political commentaries on television. Sambo’s death gives Mr. Joyboy the opportunity to arrange the parrot’s open-casket funeral at The Happier Hunting Ground and to invite Aimee to the ceremony, where she sees Barlow presiding. Mr. Joyboy cannot leave his mother to be with Aimee on the night of her suicide because his mother’s new bird has just arrived.
Juanita del Pablo
Juanita del Pablo, a star at Megalopolitan Studios. Sir Francis Hinsley has the job of re-creating her image because the Catholic League of Decency has put pressure on Megalopolitan Studios to clean up its films. Sir Francis’ failure with this task contributes, in part, to his dismissal from Megalopolitan Studios. Sir Ambrose arranges to have her sing at Sir Francis’ funeral.
The Reverend Errol Bartholomew
The Reverend Errol Bartholomew, a nonsectarian bishop. After he reads the service for the Alsatian’s funeral service at The Happier Hunting Ground, Barlow talks to him and decides to become a nonsectarian minister so that his class will be at least as high as a mortician’s.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 841
Sir Ambrose Abercrombie
Sir Ambrose once acted in a "famous series of fatiguing roles" for Megalopolitan Pictures and is an old friend of Sir Francis Hinsley. Though the two knights share a "chivalric bond," Sir Ambrose takes care to distance himself from the unfortunate Sir Francis in social circles. He is the self-appointed leader of the English expatriates in Hollywood and believes each of them has a responsibility to keep up appearances.
Dennis is a young Englishman who lives in Sir Francis Hinsley's house. Dennis once enjoyed modest success as a poet and came to Hollywood to work as a scriptwriter for Megalopolitan Pictures. After losing his job at the studio, Dennis takes a low-status but personally satisfying job as a pet undertaker for The Happier Hunting Ground. Dennis is the hero (or, perhaps, the anti-hero) of the novel; he views the artifice of both Hollywood and Whispering Glades with a satirical eye.
The Reverend Errol Bartholomew
Reverend Bartholomew is a "non-sectarian clergyman" who performs a dog's funeral service at The Happier Hunting Ground.
Mr. Baumbein is Sir Francis's superior at Megalopolitan Pictures. He claims he is too busy to meet with Sir Francis after the Englishman is fired from the studio.
The Guru Brahmin
The Guru Brahmin is a local newspaper advice columnist that is, in reality, composed of two "gloomy men and a bright young secretary." Aimee Thanatogenos reads the column and writes to the Guru Brahmin for relationship advice.
Juanita del Pablo
Miss del Pablo is a starlet at Megalopolitan Pictures and a special protegee of Sir Francis. To placate the "Catholic League of Decency," Juanita is being forced to change her sultry Spanish persona and adopt the image of a wholesome "Irish colleen." Miss del Pablo symbolizes all that is artificial about Hollywood and the film business, since her real name is unknown and she was not even Spanish to begin with.
Mr. Erikson is Mr. Baumbein's "immediate superior" at Megalopolitan; he informs Sir Francis in "blunt Nordic terms" that he has been fired from the studio.
Sir Francis Hinsley
Sir Francis is an Englishman who was once chief scriptwriter for Megalopolitan Pictures and President of the Cricket Club in Hollywood. By the novel's opening, Sir Francis has been demoted to the studio's publicity department and is just one of several Vice-Presidents of the Cricket Club. His status continues to descend both at work and within his social circle.
Mr. Jebb is the manager of the beauty parlor at the Beverly-Waldorf hotel. She asks Aimee Thanatogenos to fix Mrs. Komstock's hair after Mrs. Komstock dies.
Mr. Joyboy is the Senior Mortician at the Whispering Glades funeral home. He performs his job with "the perfection of high professional manners." He is held in high esteem at work, especially by the women, but at home he is resented by his mother.
Mrs. Joyboy is Mr. Joyboy's mother. She is a bitter woman and complains about her inability to keep house on the small amount of money her son gives her.
Mr. Kaiser is the inventor of "Kaiser's Stoneless Peaches," which are advertised on the radio in Hollywood as "perfect" specimens of "succulent peach flesh and nothing else." Mr. Kaiser's product has been extremely successful, allowing him to buy an expensive family plot in Whispering Glades. Like Hollywood's representations of life and Whispering Glades' representations of the dead, Kaiser's peaches are a sanitized version of the real thing.
Dr. Wilbur Kenworthy
Otherwise known as The Dreamer, Dr. Kenworthy is the founder and owner of Whispering Glades Memorial Park. His desire to sanitize death informs many of the strange practices of the funeral home.
Colonel Komstock is Mrs. Komstock's son.
Mrs. Komstock is a beauty parlor patron of Aimee Thanatogenos. Aimee fixes her hair after her death and in the process becomes interested in mortuary cosmetology.
Lorenzo Medici is the "stranger" who moves into Sir Francis Hinsley's office at Megalopolitan Pictures.
Mrs. Theodora Heinkel and Mr. Walter Heinkel
The Heinkels are the owners of "Arthur," a Sealyham terrier who dies and is brought to The Happier Hunting Ground for cremation.
Miss Myra Poski
Miss Poski is Dennis Barlow's colleague at The Happier Hunting Ground pet cemetary.
Mr. Schultz in the owner of The Happier Hunting Ground and Dennis Barlow's boss. He is a realist and a shrewd businessman.
Mr. Slump is one-half of the writing duo behind the "Guru Brahmin" advice column. Mr. Slump handles the letters that require private replies. He corresponds with Aimee Thanatogenos about her relationships with Mr. Joyboy and Dennis Barlow.
Aimee is a funeral cosmetician for Whispering Glades who sees her work as art. She has a romantic view of death and is courted by both Dennis Barlow and Mr. Joyboy.
Mr. Van Gluck
Mr. Van Gluck is the Transportation Captain for Megalopolitan Studios who refuses to send a car to pick up Sir Francis and bring him to work.