Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371
George grows up on a rich estate as the son of the housekeeper, Mrs. Ponderevo. She dies after George leaves the estate and goes to live with other family members. He first lives with Nicodemus Frapp, who is a baker in the slums. The religious man sends George away when he finds that the boy isn't religious. George then goes to live with his uncle. He experiences a series of financial ups and downs, gets married and divorced, reconnects with his childhood love, but is never able to achieve the level of social status and wealth he would need in order to marry her. After his uncle's businesses fail, George decides to design destroyers.
When she and George meet, her Nannie tells her that she can talk to George but that she shouldn't talk too much. Her reasoning is that George is a servant boy. She doesn't take his part after George fights with her half brother, Archie Garvell, and George is sent away. As adults, an engaged Beatrice helps nurse an injured George and the two fall for each other again. However, she still refuses to marry him.
Marion is a shopgirl whom George marries. Like Beatrice, she's only interested in what he can provide her rather than who he is. Marion refuses to marry him until George makes a successful living. Once they're married, he comes to believe that Marion is unable to match his passion and desires. He cheats on her repeatedly, including taking a vacation with his secretary, Effie Rink. When they divorce, he lies and says he didn't hate the life they had together.
Edward is George's uncle. He's a chemist who loses all the money that he and George have when George goes to apprentice for him after being sent away from Nicodemus. He doesn't have many morals and is inclined to lie about the benefits and purposes of Tono-Bungay in order to make a profit. He also loses George's inheritance without his permission. However, Tono-Bungay does bring him commercial success for a long time. When it ends, he's devastated, falls into a decline, and dies in France. He's married to Susan, a kind and competent woman.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 971
George Ponderevo, an enterprising young scientist and the narrator. The son of the housekeeper at Bladesover House, a large country estate, he learns about class barriers at an early age. When he is twelve years old, he falls desperately in love with a pampered young aristocrat, the Honorable Beatrice Normandy, who is eight. Two years later, he is banished when he fights with her snobbish half brother, Archie Garvell, and Beatrice, turning against her admirer, blames him for attacking Archie. After an unhappy experience in the household of one uncle, he is apprenticed to another, Edward Ponderevo, a small-time pharmacist with big dreams. Later, he wins a scholarship at the Consolidated Technical Schools in London, but he begins to neglect his studies after he meets Marion Ramboat, whom he later marries. He finds work with his Uncle Edward, marries Marion, is divorced after she discovers his infidelity, and finds material success in the patent medicine boom his uncle has created by flamboyantly advertising a product called Tono-Bungay. He then takes up the study of aircraft design, and as the result of a crash he meets Beatrice again. When the Tono-Bungay financial empire collapses, he goes on an expedition to secure a cargo of quap, a mysterious ore containing elements needed for the manufacture of a better lamp filament. The expedition is unsuccessful, and George flies his ruined uncle to France. He and Beatrice share a twelve-day romance, but she refuses to marry him. Disillusioned with himself and the degenerating society of his time, he turns to the designing of destroyers for a future war.
Mrs. Ponderevo, George’s mother, the competent housekeeper at Bladesover House. Stern and unsympathetic, she shows her affection for her son only after he has been sent to live with Edward Ponderevo. She dies soon afterward, leaving her savings to George.
Edward (Teddy) Ponderevo
Edward (Teddy) Ponderevo, George Ponderevo’s flashy, unscrupulous, and ambitious but likable uncle. As a pharmacist, he squanders his nephew’s inheritance and goes into bankruptcy. Later, as the manufacturer of Tono-Bungay, a popular nostrum, and as the manager of a huge corporation called Domestic Utilities (familiarly known as Do-Ut), he acquires the wealth and power of which he has always dreamed, and he moves from one house to another, each more luxurious and impressive than the last, until his industrial empire suddenly collapses. He is forced to escape with George to France, where he dies of pneumonia.
Susan Ponderevo, Edward’s admirable, gentle, and patient wife. She takes her husband’s success calmly and handles matters with fortitude after his death. Kind and given to teasing, she shows more personal strength than any of George’s loves.
The Honorable Beatrice Normandy
The Honorable Beatrice Normandy, the girl with whom George Ponderevo carries on an innocent, childish love affair until she turns against him after he has beaten her half brother in a fight. As a grown woman, she nurses him after he has been injured while experimenting with a glider. She and George have a brief affair, but she refuses to marry him because of what she calls her spoiled character; she says that she is suited only to the life of a courtesan.
Archie Garvell, Beatrice Normandy’s snobbish half brother, to whom George Ponderevo administers a sound beating when the two boys fight. Later, he toadies to George.
Marion Ramboat, the pretty, brittle woman whom George Ponderevo marries. A commonplace shopgirl, she puts off the marriage until she is certain that he can provide a comfortable living, then she makes his life miserable through her stupidity and prudery. They decide on a divorce after she learns that he has spent a holiday with his secretary.
Effie Rink, George Ponderevo’s sensual, engagingly pretty secretary. Tired of his wife’s coldness and nagging, George looks to Effie for passion, and he continues the affair with her after he and Marion have been divorced.
Nicholas Frapp, Mrs. Ponderevo’s brother, the cloddish, bigoted baker to whom George Ponderevo is apprenticed after he has been sent away from Bladesover House. George incautiously shares with his two cousins the secret that he does not believe in religion; the boys tell their father, and at a church meeting, pious-minded Frapp accuses his nephew of blasphemy. Humiliated, George runs away and returns to his mother, who then sends him to live with Edward Ponderevo.
Cothope, George Ponderevo’s assistant in his experiments with airborne craft. He shows his loyalty by continuing the work on his own time and money after the Tono-Bungay enterprise has collapsed.
Bob Ewart, George Ponderevo’s school friend, later a clever, individualistic sculptor. When the two meet again in London, where George is continuing his scientific studies, Ewart has considerable influence in enlarging George’s intellectual and social horizons.
Gordon Nasmyth, the wealthy man who proposes the ill-fated expedition in search of quap, a mysterious radioactive mineral.
Pollack, an associate with whom George Ponderevo becomes friendly on the expedition to bring back a cargo of quap.
The Captain of the Maude Mary
The Captain of the Maude Mary, (Tono-Bungay)>a cantankerous boor who must be bribed to carry a cargo of quap. He loses his ship when the radioactive mineral causes the vessel to sink.
Mr. Moggs, the president of Domestic Utilities, the corporation with which Edward Ponderevo merges his business.
Mr. Mantell, the purchaser of Edward Ponderevo’s pharmacy. He employs George Ponderevo until the young man goes to London to study.
Mrs. Scrymgeour, a novelist with whom Edward Ponderevo carries on a brief, pseudo-Napoleonic affair.
Lady Drew, the mistress of Bladesover House.
Lady Osprey, the stepmother of Beatrice Normandy.
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