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.”