Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2088
Mr. Baldwin is a small, mysterious man who, with his servant, joins William on his flight to Paris. He also turns up on the train to Marseilles. Later in the novel, he parachutes in to Jacksonburg and explains to William the political maneuverings going on in the country. It appears that Baldwin, which is simply the name he prefers to be known by, is a wellconnected international businessman who is out to profit personally from the turbulent situation in Ishmaelia, whilst also preserving British economic interests. He owns the mineral rights in Ishmaelia, rights that the Russian and German governments are scheming to acquire. Eventually, it is Mr. Baldwin who writes the text of the final news story that William sends to the Beast. In that story, Baldwin refers to himself as a “mystery financier” and compares himself favorably to two of the great Englishmen of the past, Lawrence of Arabia and Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Baldwin also arranges the counterrevolution that topples the day-old Soviet state in Ishmaelia.
Jack Bannister is a senior official in the British Legation in Ishmaelia. He is an old school friend of William Boot and passes on to him vital information about the country’s political situation.
Doctor Benito is a rather sinister figure who is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Propaganda in Ishmaelia. The journalist Pigge regards him as “creepy.” Small and neatly dressed, suave and selfpossessed, Benito allies himself with the Russianbacked Young Ishmaelite party and, when President Jackson is overthrown, he emerges as the new dictator. But his hold on power lasts only one day; he is toppled by the counterrevolution arranged by Mr. Baldwin.
Uncle Bernard, one of William’s uncles, spends his life conducting scholarly research on the family pedigree. Had he had more money, he would have made a claim to the vacant barony of de Butte.
Nanny Bloggs is William’s old nanny at Boot Magna Hall.
John Courteney Boot
John Courteney Boot is a successful writer. He has written eight books, including novels, as well as travel and history books, and he is a well-known and respected name in intellectual circles. He accepts Mrs. Stitch’s recommendation to become a war correspondent for the Daily Beast because he is desperate to get away from his American girlfriend. But there is a mix-up, and his remote cousin, William Boot, gets the coveted job. At the end of the novel, yet another bureaucratic mix-up ensures that a knighthood intended for William goes instead to John Courteney. Finally, still trying to evade his girlfriend, John Courteney Boot goes off to Antarctica as a reporter for the Beast.
Priscilla Boot is William’s sister. It is she who, as a joke, inserts all the references in William’s article to the fictitious “great crested grebe.”
William Boot lives in the country at Boot Magna Hall, from where he writes a twice-weekly nature column for the Daily Beast called Lush Places. When a misunderstanding occurs, William is sent to Ishmaelia as a war correspondent, but he is a countryman and has little knowledge of the wider world. Even on the train journey to London, he makes a fool of himself, first in the dining-car, ordering whiskey when all they are serving is tea, and then in the carriage when he pays for a drink with an old sovereign, mistaking it for another coin, a shilling. Everyone stares at him.
William is an honest, good-natured man, but he is also very naïve and passive. He has no idea of how to do the job that has been assigned to him. Corker has to teach him the elements of journalism, but even then he shows himself to be an unpromising student, failing to understand the urgency with which he is required to gather news at any cost. Then he foolishly falls in love with the German woman Kätchen and allows her to exploit him for money. It is only through a series of fortuitous events that William gets the scoops that make him famous. When he returns to London, he is unprepared for the glory and renown that now accompanies him, and he turns down all manner of offers from the literary and journalistic world that would have made him rich and even more famous. All he wants is to return home to the peaceful, unchanging world in the country that he knows and loves, and it is his good fortune that another misunderstanding involving the name Boot allows him to do just that.
Lord Copper is the proprietor of the Megalopolitan Newspaper Corporation. He relishes his position of power and the trappings that go along with it, and he also possesses a grandiose sense of his own importance. This is suggested by the larger-than-life statue of him that stands in the entrance lobby of the Megalopolitan building in London’s Fleet Street. Lord Copper claims that he allows his journalists to hold their own opinions, but, in truth, he has very pronounced ideas about the stories he is prepared to print. He is a powerful and ruthless man who likes to have his own way and usually succeeds in getting it. He dominates his staff, none of whom dares to contradict him, which means that Lord Copper is never made aware of the ignorance he displays on many topics. Nor does he realize that he is regarded as a bore, a fact that can be seen by the attitude of his guests at the banquet. The only person who enjoys Lord Copper’s regular banquets is Lord Copper himself, largely because they give him the chance to give a long, uninterrupted after-dinner speech.
Corker is an English journalist whom William first encounters on the train to Marseilles. Gregarious, irreverent, and worldly wise, Corker is the opposite of William. Observing William’s ignorance, he takes him under his wing, trying to teach him the basics of journalism. When Corker is pressed by Universal News, his news agency, to send a story, he concocts one based on the flimsiest research.
Frau Dressler is a German woman who runs a hotel, the Pension Dressler, which acts as center for the Germans in Jacksonburg. Frau Dressler has lived in Africa all her life. She is a large woman with a lot of energy who drives a hard bargain with the local peasants when they sell her their wares.
Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock
Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock is a famous English journalist who travels to Ishmaelia. He hides out by himself and, because of his reputation, all the other journalists are afraid that he is working on a big story somewhere that they have missed. Hitchcock eventually concocts a fake interview with the leader of the fascists, which supposedly took place in a town called Laku, a place that does not in fact exist. This piece of disinformation sends all the other journalists off on a wild goose chase to Laku, while Sir Jocelyn returns to Europe to work on his next assignment.
Wenlock Jakes is the highest paid journalist in the United States; his work is syndicated all over America. However, according to Corker, Jakes’s methods leave a lot to be desired, since he tends to make his stories up. He even won a Nobel Peace Prize for his courageous reporting of a revolution in the Balkans but, according to Corker, that revolution only began because Jakes’s story created such an unstable situation that within a week a revolution actually did occur. Jakes spends his time in Jacksonburg writing a book called Under the Ermine, a trashy exposé of English political and social life, for which has been paid a large advance by the publisher.
Kätchen is a young German woman who is temporarily separated from her husband and is staying at the Pension Dressler. Under her helpless exterior, Kätchen is amiably cunning, and she easily gets William, who falls in love with her, to fork over money to her from his expense account. She gets into trouble with the authorities in Ishmaelia because her immigration papers are not in order. As a result, she is briefly imprisoned. Kätchen is naïve in political matters and believes that a solution to her difficulties is to marry William. She thinks this will automatically make her a British citizen, safe from detention. Eventually, she and her returning husband escape down a river in William’s canoe.
Erik Olafsen is the resident Jacksonburg correspondent of a syndicate of Scandinavian newspapers. He plays many roles: he is also Swedish vice-consul, a surgeon at the hospital, and the proprietor of the Tea, Bible and Chemist shop. Olafsen is a large man with an eccentric character. He claims that he came to Ishmaelia as a refugee after he killed his grandmother in Sweden. It is Olafsen whom Mr. Baldwin chooses to put the counterrevolution into operation. The drunken Swede singlehandedly routs the young Ishmaelite delegates as they listen to Doctor Benito.
Mr. Pappenhacker is the reporter for the communist newspaper The Twopence. He is more educated than the other journalists and tends to keep himself apart from them. He also makes a habit of being rude to waiters, since he thinks this will make them dissatisfied with the capitalist system and so hasten the communist revolution.
Pigge is one of the English journalists in Ishmaelia.
Uncle Roderick is the least eccentric of William’s three uncles. He manages the financial affairs of the family estate and household.
Mr. Salter is the foreign editor at the Daily Beast. He does not like his hectic job, which he calls a “dog’s life,” and he knows little about foreign affairs. Nor did he like his previous job as editor of the women’s page, which was much too difficult and stressful compared to the only job he really loved—the one at which he was able to choose the jokes in Clean Fun, one of Lord Copper’s comic weeklies. However, Salter never expresses his discontent to Lord Copper. On the contrary, he is obsequious to his boss and never ventures to correct any of Lord Copper’s errors or misstatements.
Mr. Salter lives an ordered, conventional life in London and regards the countryside as hostile territory. His visit to Boot Magna Hall confirms his worst impressions. He is forced to trek six miles across fields in his business suit to get there, and when he finds himself in the strange company of the Boot family, he is completely out of his depth. At the end of the novel, however, he has more luck. Lord Copper makes him become art editor for home knitting, a job he is sure to like.
Shumble is one of the English journalists in Ishmaelia. He invents a story that there is a Russian spy in the country disguised as a railway official. At first the story is treated as a scoop, and Shumble is smug and self-satisfied at his success— but then the other journalists unite to kill the story by publicizing vehement official denials.
Algernon Stitch is the husband of Julia Stitch. He is a minister in the British cabinet.
Mrs. Julia Stitch
Mrs. Julia Stitch, wife of Algernon Stitch, is a beautiful, well-connected, society lady. She is always busy with many things, and she specializes in solving the problems of people in her circle. It is Mrs. Stitch who persuades Lord Copper to hire John Courteney Boot as war correspondent. Mrs. Stitch has one notable eccentricity: she owns a small black car and has a habit of driving it on the sidewalk in order to beat the London traffic.
Uncle Theodore is William Boot’s eccentric, old-fashioned uncle who makes frequent, disastrous visits to London. When Mr. Salter visits Boot Magna, Theodore regales him with stories that he hopes are suitable for publication in the Beast, although Mr. Salter falls asleep and hears none of them. When Salter wakes, he makes the mistake of telling Theodore to contact the features editor of the Beast, which gives Theodore another excuse to make a trip to London. Theodore is taken on by the Daily Beast and, in the absence of William Boot, is passed off as the famous journalist Boot at the banquet organized by Lord Copper to honor him.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support