Benny Profane, a former Navy man and self-styled “schlemiel” who wanders purposelessly the streets of New York, Norfolk, and Malta. His chief activity is “yo-yoing” up and down the East Coast between New York and Norfolk. He has no goals and no value system and is incapable of loving or receiving love. Society around him is decaying, and his wandering simply keeps him continuously in motion to minimize the possibility of reaching a point of equilibrium. His last name, Sfacimento, means destruction or decay in Italian.
Herbert Stencil, the son of Sidney Stencil, a British spy who mysteriously lost his life near Malta in 1919. Herbert spends his life obsessively pursuing the mysterious V. He attempts to make some meaningful structure of the facts he obtains about V. as if he were a nonemotional historian. After searching in the sewers of New York, reading his father’s diaries, and interviewing people about V., he avoids the possibility of actually succeeding in his quest, because to do so would end the search and leave him susceptible to the process of entropy.
V., a mysterious woman (and perhaps a place or even a fiction) who appears in various guises and in various places around the world, generally at a moment of crisis and upheaval. Some of her appearances are as Victoria Wren, Vera Meroving, Veronica, and the Bad Priest. She becomes increasingly mechanized and dehumanized, being a closed system subject to entropy with its resulting decay and disorder. She represents a dying society, personifying the forces that have sapped modern humankind’s vitality and have made the world’s people a “Sick Crew.” She also seems to represent Henry Adams’ theory of history as a mechanized twentieth century equivalent of Adams’ Virgin or Venus.
Victoria Wren, a manifestation of V. as an eighteen-year-old girl in Egypt in 1898. In this guise, her innocence is emphasized, so she is seen as calm and incapable of being aroused by any emotion, as if she embodies some female principle that complements explosive male energy.
Vera Meroving, a woman about forty years old, a manifestation of V. under siege in Africa in 1921. She has a glass eye containing a watch.
Veronica Manganese, a manifestation of V. in Malta in 1919, following the end of World War I. Seen wearing an evening cape and an elaborate bonnet, she has a reputation for being in the company of various revolutionary Italians and for being a wealthy troublemaker.
The Bad Priest
The Bad Priest, a manifestation of V. in Valletta, Malta, during World War II. Pinned under a falling timber during a bombing raid, she is slowly dismantled by some Maltese children. Because V. has become more and more artificial, the children are able to remove a white wig, false teeth, a glass eye, a star sapphire in her navel, and artificial feet.
Mildred Wren, the stocky, myopic sister of Victoria Wren. Although she is plain, she is good. The sisters symbolize the terrible opposition between beauty and humanity.
Fausto Maijstral (mizh-SHTRAHL), another character who parallels Henry Adams. Both felt themselves moving toward inanimateness, both wrote journals, both recognize the futility of achieving order, and both turn to art in an attempt to save themselves from chaos. He appears in four stages. Fausto Maijstral I, before 1938, is a young man vacillating between politics and the priesthood. Fausto II emerges when his daughter Paola is born. Fausto III was born on the Day of the 13 Raids of Malta during World War II. More than any other character, he approaches being nonhuman, like a stone. Fausto IV represents a level that reveals a slow return to humanity. An Irish Armenian Jew, he claims to be the laziest person in New York.
The Whole Sick Crew
The Whole Sick Crew, a group that includes such characters as Charisma, Fu, Melvin, Raoul, Winsome, Slab, and sometimes Paola. The “Crew” represents decadence, especially among the younger generation. Purposelessly, they wander from one aimless party to another, indulging in drink and promiscuous sexual relationships.
Hugh Godolphin, an explorer and discoverer of Vheissu, a mysterious polar underworld. Apparently a spy, he had engaged in a polar expedition that...
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