The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

James Quinn, whose arrivals at the Centennial Club open and close the book, emerges as its central character. His perceptions and adventures provide the novel’s continuity. It is his change in attitude toward Stanton—from his reticence to see Stanton in the beginning to his sense of himself as Stanton’s moral bedfellow in the end—that enacts the only character transformation in the story. Given the explosive energies ignited in the destruction of the Centennial Club and its pretensions, this transition seems a meager outcome. Quinn, though content with his compromise, remains separate from Stanton and, more important, from Janey, in his cell-like existence.

Vernor Stanton changes little, if at all. He is as obnoxious at the end as he is at the beginning. His demeanor toward Janey and Quinn appears somewhat restrained in the final scene—after all, the mock duel hurts no one—but this civility is countered by his crude treatment of his servants. Stanton is probably best imaged in one of his youthful escapades, which Quinn describes for Janey—a brazen contest wherein Stanton lowered his pants in a restaurant and “contrived by an imperceptible movement of his feet to present a Full Moon,’ that is a 360-degree view.” Stanton’s value for Quinn, however, lies precisely in the man’s perverse idiosyncrasy.

Like Quinn, Janey is victimized by Stanton and at the same time finds his outrageous energies irresistible. She is his second...

(The entire section is 556 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

James Quinn

James Quinn, a young Michigan businessman who has recently assumed control of his father’s tool and die business. Quinn has retreated to the Centennial Club in the Michigan woods for rest and relaxation. To his dismay, he learns that his old friend and rival, Vernor Stanton, has also arrived. Reluctantly at first, but then with some of his old enthusiasm, Quinn joins Stanton in duels and in his attempts to bring chaos to the Club and its members, eventually participating in the Club’s abrupt demise. Throughout the novel, he is in a quandary between fighting Stanton’s influence or playing along wholeheartedly and between being the responsible businessman or a fomenter of discord.

Vernor Stanton

Vernor Stanton, a mad, extremely wealthy, and bored man who finds pleasure in disrupting his environment with practical jokes and outright cruelty. Using the Centennial Club as his stage, Stanton enlists the help of Quinn to disrupt and destroy the Club in less than a month. His “jokes” include such acts as dueling with antique pistols loaded with wax bullets in his cellar (a relatively harmless but very painful experience for Quinn), stealing a dignitaries’ bus from a bridge dedication ceremony, fomenting the move to fire the Club’s manager, and constantly irritating and antagonizing fellow Club members. He eventually goes officially insane, threatening and controlling the assembled Club members with a tripod-mounted machine gun. Some months later, he apparently partially recovers, buys the Club property, returns, and is watched over by Janey and “attendants” who carefully control his activities.


Janey, Stanton’s girlfriend, who sticks by him in spite of his cruelty and madness. A physically attractive, concerned, and mild-mannered woman, Janey unintentionally attracts Quinn, who wants to rescue her from Stanton. She is completely loyal to...

(The entire section is 798 words.)