The Spanish-American War is over. Politicians with mustaches say that America is now ready to lead the world. Mac McCreary is a printer for a fly-by-night publisher in Chicago. Later he works his way to the West Coast, where he gets work as a printer in Sacramento and marries Maisie Spencer, who can never understand his radical views. They quarrel, and he leaves for Mexico to work in the revolutionary movement there.
Janey Williams, who has grown up in Washington, D.C., becomes a stenographer. She is always ashamed when her sailor brother, Joe, appears in her life, and she is even more ashamed of him after she becomes secretary to J. Ward Moorehouse. Of all Moorehouse’s female acquaintances, she is the only one who never becomes his mistress. Moorehouse’s boyish manner and blue eyes are the secrets of his success. They attract Annabelle Strang, a wealthy nymphomaniac whom he marries and later divorces. Gertrude Staple, his second wife, helps to make him a prominent public relations expert. His shrewdness makes him an ideal man for government service in France during World War I. After the war, he becomes one of the leading advertising executives in the United States.
Eleanor Stoddard hates the sordid environment of her childhood, and her delicate, arty tastes lead her naturally into partnership with Eveline Hutchins in the decorating business and eventually to New York and acquaintanceship with J. Ward Moorehouse. In Europe with the Red Cross during the war, she lives with Moorehouse. Back in New York in the 1920’s she uses her connections in fashion and becomes engaged to a member of the Russian nobility.
Charley Anderson, who had been an aviator in the war, becomes a wealthy airplane manufacturer thanks to a successful invention and astute opportunism. He marries a woman who has little sympathy for his interest in mechanics. In Florida, after a plane crash, he meets Margo Dowling, a young woman actor. Anderson’s series of drunken escapades ends in a grade-crossing accident.
Joe Williams, a sailor, meets Della in Norfolk, and she urges him to give up seafaring and settle down. Unable to hold a job, he ships out again and almost loses his life when the ship he is on is sunk by a German submarine. When Joe gets his third mate’s license, he and Della are married. Over the course of time he suffers illness in the East Indies, is arrested in New York for not carrying a draft card, and is torpedoed once more off the coast of Spain. Della is unfaithful to him. Treated coldly the few times he looks up his sister Janey, he ships for Europe once more. One night in St. Nazaire he attacks a huge Senegalese who is dancing with a girl he knows. His skull is crushed when he is hit over the head with a bottle.
Teachers encourage Dick Savage in his literary talents. During his teens, he works at a summer hotel, and there he sleeps with a minister’s wife who shares his taste in poetry. A government official pays Dick’s way through Harvard, where Dick cultivates his aestheticism and mild snobbery before he joins the Norton-Harjes ambulance service and goes to Europe. There some of his letters about the war come to the attention of censorship officials, and he is shipped back to the United States. His former sponsor gets him an officer’s commission, and he returns to France. In Italy, he meets a relief worker named Anne Elizabeth Trent, who is his mistress for a time. When he returns to the United States, he becomes an idea man for Moorehouse’s advertising agency.
Eveline Hutchins, who has a small artistic talent, becomes Eleanor Stoddard’s partner in a decorating establishment in New York. All her life she has tried to escape from boredom through sensation. Beginning with the Mexican artist who was her first lover, she has had a succession of affairs. In France, where she is Eleanor’s assistant in the Red Cross, she marries a shy young soldier named Paul Johnson. Later she has a brief affair with Charley Anderson. Dissatisfied,...
(The entire section is 1,918 words.)