Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The artist is the narrator of the story. To support himself, he makes refined portraits. Additionally, he is an illustrator—this is the lower brow portion of his work that he is more private about. He is incredulous when an obviously refined couple applies to become models in his studio. The artist imagines that Major and Mrs. Monarch would be far more successful if they worked in advertising. Yet he feels compelled to help them since they are down on their luck.
In the end, the artist discovers that the Major and his wife are ill-suited for the work of modeling. Because of their aristocratic background and habits, the couple finds it difficult to pose without inhibition. The artist is not inspired by their efforts or their appearances. He cannot, for the life of him, depict the Monarchs in the way he wishes to. The artist feels much more comfortable working with Miss Churm and Oronte, his regular models.
Major Monarch and Mrs. Monarch
The Major is described as a man of fifty. He is authoritative, tall, and sturdy. In the story, we learn that he has recently lost his position in the Army. As a result, the Major and his wife are destitute and must find a way to make a living. Mrs. Monarch is the Major's wife. She is slim, distinguished, and ten years younger than her husband. Mrs. Monarch's melancholy pervades her demeanor, but she is determined to succeed as an artist's model.
For all intents and purposes, Mrs. and Major Monarch are “the real thing,” as the title suggests. They come from a wealthy background and are theoretically the ideal models for characters of high status. The artist, however, finds them to be stiff and inflexible. He describes them as only ever looking like themselves—they are not multifaceted in the way that the other models are. They lack the ability to tell visual stories other than their own, something the artist is endlessly frustrated by.
Miss Churm is a talented artist's model. She is a natural and can pose as any character the artist desires. Her improvisational skills keep her in demand as a model. She is a working-class woman who is described as “plain,” and proves to be much more adaptable than the Monarchs.
Oronte is an Italian vagabond. In the story, he works as one of the narrator's models. Oronte is as capable as Miss Churm in portraying various personalities before the artist's easel. He does not speak English, yet gestures and communicates profoundly without it.
Jack is a friend of the narrator. In the story, he is the artist's trusted adviser. It is Jack who cautions the artist against retaining Major Monarch and Mrs. Monarch as models. He warns the artist that his career will be ruined, perhaps beyond repair, if he continues to work with the Monarchs. As the story comes to a close, Jack even tells his friend that his art has been changed for the worse after the encounter with the unusual Monarchs.