The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A modern-day Diana, Maggie, the Marchesa Tullio-Friole, is a goddess possessing both great beauty and wealth. A woman “so much in the long, long habit of making heads swim when she came into view that she still did so,” Maggie is “somewhere in her late forties,” yet her look is “imperious’ and “flood-lit.”

Maggie’s supplicants include Hubert Mallindaine, a good-looking Englishman in his forties; Coco de Renault, Emilio Bernardini’s friend from the Argentine; Berto, Maggie’s current husband; and Lauro, Mary Radcliffe’s houseboy. Unlike those of the goddess Diana, however, Maggie’s admirers wield the power. Maggie says of Hubert Mallindaine that “he kind of took over my life; even when I was away I felt dependent, I felt trapped,” and within a year of meeting him, she turns over “the bulk of her fortune” to Coco de Renault. Even when certain that Hubert has sold her furnishings, Maggie sends him a letter of inquiry “just to satisfy Berto,” and it is Lauro to whom she turns for advice.

As in her other novels, Muriel Spark maintains a distance from her characters. Maggie’s fabulous beauty and wealth, Hubert Mallindaine’s belief in his own fraudulent ancestry, Mary’s stock good looks (“she was a young long-haired blonde girl from California”), and Pauline Thin’s unthinking devotion all serve to caricature rather than characterize the inhabitants of The Takeover. Such distancing is necessary to Spark’s satiric purpose: In order to see her characters as comic, Spark’s readers cannot be sympathetic to them. Minor characters such as Pietro Bernardini, “with his Bulgari steel watch, his Gucci shoes and belt, his expensive haircut,” and the Bernardinis’ “big fal whiney parlor maid, Clara” are rendered in a very few strokes, while major characters such as Hubert are sketchily described, as if the details are not particularly important: “His features were separately nothing much, but his face and the way his head was set on his body were effective.”

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Maggie Radcliffe

Maggie Radcliffe, the Marchesa Tullio-Friole (TEW-lee-oh-free-OH-lay), a wealthy American in her forties. Charming and egocentric, Maggie draws to her a dissolute circle who find her great wealth and her prodigality equally attractive. Exhibiting a frivolous, fickle, and careless temperament, she seems to those around her to be easy prey to various criminal schemes. She is, however, relentless in pursuit of those who attempt to bilk her of her fortune and ruthless in meting out what she sees as justice against them. Having been deceived into believing that she is the owner of the sacred wood and sanctuary of Diana of Nemi, she subsequently finds herself dispossessed by a former companion who, having been lent the use of the house, now lays claim to it as a gift. The expulsion of her unwelcome tenant and the pursuit of her unscrupulous business manager, Coco de Renault, who has absconded with her fortune, send her into protracted litigation, and through the financial centers of Europe hunting the elusive confidence man. She plans and has executed a wild kidnapping and ransom scheme to restore all of her money and her rights. Like her ancient predecessor, the goddess of fertility and the hunt, Maggie shows both aspects of Diana in modern society as she seeks to claim what is hers.


Berto, Maggie’s devoted and elderly husband. As a descendant of an ancient Italian family, he has vast wealth that encourages a predisposition to security. He, consequently, spends much of his time installing electronic alarms, hiring and maintaining guards, and providing impregnable defenses for his various properties. Although somewhat dismayed by his wife’s unpredictability, he nevertheless indulges and supports her unflinchingly.


(The entire section is 765 words.)