Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
The central character and voice of the fiction is the “Snooty Baronet,” a journalistic epithet used by Michael Kell-Imrie, a former serviceman who sustained an unbelievable number of wounds during the Great War, leaving him with a mechanical leg, which squeaks if it is not oiled often enough, and a plate in his head, which bothers him during weather changes. This opinionated and acerbic writer stumbled into his profession by trying to write a book in which he takes the side of Moby Dick against Ahab and the gang of louts who hunt him. His fish book, as Snooty calls it, received a publicity boost when on a fishing trip Snooty actually caught an unbelievably large game fish, a feat which attracted nationwide attention in the press. This publicity, along with his minor title, provides him with sufficient notoriety to be able to earn a living by his ideas. What he really wants to write about, however, is how people behave, but his conclusions are so radical that they disconcert his readers. Thus, his books on social behavior do not sell very well. The interesting relationship between works of fiction and unpopular philosophical or political volumes mirrors Lewis’ career during the 1930’s, when his political and social beliefs became quite objectionable.
Val and Lily represent two types of fictional heroines popular in the serious fiction of the interwar years. Val as an artist manque retains faint echos of Aldous Huxley’s characters in such works as Crome Yellow (1921) and Point Counter Point (1928). Lily, with her class connections, is also reminiscent of various characters from the works of D. H. Lawrence, an author elsewhere attacked in the pages of Snooty Baronet. It is interesting to note that Snooty prefers Lily to Val, who has designs on his title and on him. When he leaves her behind in Persia, he does so with little regret. Just as he is repelled by Val’s literary impulses, he is charmed by Lily’s disingenuous attempts to support herself through the male members of her extended “family.”
Humph is modeled on any number of literary figures from Lewis’ life. He is meant to suggest the venal side of art, with its disregard of quality and genuineness. Because Lewis was constantly being cautioned by his editors about the flagrant attacks on other writers which appeared in his works, one could suppose that Humph represents any conservative literary type then extant in the British literary scene.
Val, Lily, and Humph, however, represent types in this book, types which bear the brunt of Lewis’ attack on contemporary society. The characters in this novel, like the novel itself, provide cardboard targets for the barbs Snooty wishes to throw at them. It is one of the criticisms leveled at this novel, as indeed at all the fiction Lewis wrote, that he dismissed characters with such coldness and lack of remorse.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 824
Sir Michael Kell-Imrie
Sir Michael Kell-Imrie (known as Snooty or Snoots), the author-narrator, who is almost forty years old. Although he is poor, he is the seventeenth baronet of his Scottish family. He was wounded five times during World War I. His artificial leg is removed by his mistress before they have sex; afterward, he suffers illness resulting from head wounds. A writer of scientific books about behaviorism, he is celebrated most for his fictional skills. He developed his interest in animals after catching a huge fish and reading Moby Dick. Persuaded to pretend to be captured by a Persian bandit while researching Mithra religious cults, he reads D. H. Lawrence’s work on animal worship. Although he despises Persia, he cooperates with Humph, allowing Val to pay his passage and accompany him; finally, he shoots Humph to death for pleasure, abandons Val to smallpox, and finds solace in the arms of a Persian harem girl on the Bosphorus.
Captain Humphrey (Humph) Cooper Carter
Captain Humphrey (Humph) Cooper Carter, Snooty’s literary agent in London. He has a big head, a large chin, and short legs. He met Snooty in the Scots Guards during World War I. He held a desk job for most of the war, while Snooty was in the trenches. He concocts the scheme for Snooty to be kidnapped by a Persian bandit to extract ransom money and attract publicity. He is shot and killed by Snooty during the rendezvous with Mirza Aga’s bandits.
Mrs. Valerie (Val) Ritter
Mrs. Valerie (Val) Ritter, Snooty’s first girlfriend, whom he visits in Chelsea as soon as he returns to London from America. She is between thirty and forty years old and already has a double chin, thinning hair, and pocked skin. She has the annoying habit of giggling constantly, but she knows how to please Snooty in bed. She writes pornographic novels that are never published, and she pays for Snooty’s passage to Persia so that she can accompany him and Humph. Although she dislikes Humph, she is appalled when she sees Snooty shoot him, and she tries unsuccessfully to blackmail Snooty into marrying her. When she contracts smallpox while a guest of Mirza Aga, she is abandoned by Snooty. She recovers and sends him a telegram of indignation.
Lily Tayle, Snooty’s second girlfriend. She works at a tobacco kiosk at Victoria Station, London. She is two months past her twenty-fourth birthday. She does not know that Snooty is a baronet until she reads it in the gossip columns of newspapers while he is in America. She writes him letters while he is in Persia.
Rob McPhail, a poet and a close friend of Snooty. He has lived for four years with his wife and children on the French coast near Marseilles, at Faujas de Saint Riom, where he fishes and sometimes fights bulls. He was born in China, where his father was employed by the Chinese government. A tall man dressed in white, he drinks heavily. After he tells Snooty that he will go to Persia with him, Rob is killed by a bull during the prefight sticking ceremony.
Pat Bostock, a source of information about Persia. He causes Humph to think of the kidnapping caper.
Mirza Aga, the Persian bandit contracted to kidnap Snooty for ransom. He speaks perfect English with a Chicago accent. When he discovers that Snooty shot Humph, he thinks it was done so that Snooty would not have to share the ransom. He orders his men to kill all the muleteers and guides who accompanied Snooty, Humph, and Val. Acting as host to Snooty and Val, he waits in vain for the ransom but escorts Snooty back to civilization, while Val lingers with smallpox.
Ali Akbar, the leader of the Persian muleteers who carry Snooty, Humph, and Val to the point of the kidnapping. He is impressed with Snooty’s skill with a rifle and is indignant when he sees Snooty shoot Humph. He and his men are slaughtered by Mirza Aga’s bandits.
Mortimer, who pays rent for Val’s Chelsea rooms.
Mr. Willis, a forty-one-year-old tobacconist whom Lily introduces to Snooty as her uncle.
Vieuxchange (vyew-CHAHNZH), Rob McPhail’s brother-in-law and fishing partner. He is a big, leonine former marine who leaps with Rob into the bullfighting arena to stick the bulls.
Laura McPhail, Rob’s wife. She has black-violet eyes and talks to Snooty of her Communist brother in Leningrad.
Juanito, the Spanish manager/owner of the bullfight at Faujas de Saint Riom. He dresses as Charlie Chaplin for prefight entertainment.
Shushani (shew-SHAH-nee), Snooty’s Persian harem girl, who helps him hide from Humph and stays with him at the Bosphorus.
Kafi, a Persian harem girl. Her name means “enough.”
Hasan, a Persian muleteer who sneezes at Humph to frighten him.