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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 148

The narrator of the story is Violet Clay. After leaving her husband, Violet moves to New York City to pursue a career in painting. Throughout the story, Violet struggles to come to terms with the loss of her parents and her uncle's suicide.

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Lewis Lanier is Violet's husband.

Liza Lee was Violet's mother, who committed suicide due to postpartum depression and the loss of her husband.

Ambrose was Violet's uncle. His alcoholism and his failures as a novelist led to his suicide.

Samantha De Vere is Ambrose's neighbor who helps Violet grieve.

Georgette is Violet's grandmother and a former concert pianist. She gave up her career to have a family.

Violet Pardee is Georgette's best friend, also known as "The Big V."

Ivor and Jake are two lovers Violet takes after her divorce. Ivor is an art instructor, and Jake is a musician.

Milo is Violet's best friend.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

Violet Clay

Violet Clay, the protagonist and narrator. Nine years ago, Violet left her husband and moved to New York City to make her mark as a painter. Since then, however, she has instead illustrated gothic romances. Violet is haunted by her tragic past—her mother committed suicide shortly after her father’s death in World War II—and by her own apparent failure to realize her gifts. As a young artist, she particularly modeled herself on her uncle Ambrose, a writer. During the course of the novel, Violet comes to terms with Ambrose’s suicide and his ambiguous legacy.

Ambrose Clay

Ambrose Clay, Violet’s uncle. As a young man, Ambrose spun a successful novel out of his infatuation with Violet’s mother. For years after that early triumph, he made a series of halfhearted attempts at a second novel, first in New York and then in Mexico. Meanwhile, he supported himself with part-time jobs and money from his mother and the women who fell for his Southern charm. Ambrose finally retreated to Plommet Falls, where he made a last-ditch assault on his novel and then killed himself. Ambrose is a very complex character: An alcoholic, a Don Juan, and a manipulator, he is nevertheless an artist of integrity. Violet’s ambivalent responses to his life shape her own artistic development.

Samantha De Vere

Samantha De Vere, a poor unwed mother and Ambrose’s neighbor in Plommet Falls. Proud, plainspoken, and fiercely independent, Sam is the opposite of the charming, romantic, aristocratic Clays. Despite her own tragic history, she has taught herself carpentry, plumbing, and other constructive skills. Sam is a mysterious figure until the novel’s end, when she teaches Violet not to wallow in the past but to look to the future.

Georgette “Granny” Clay

Georgette “Granny” Clay, who gave up a promising career as a concert pianist to marry Violet’s grandfather. Even as Granny warns Violet not to repeat this mistake, she arranges a similar marriage for her.

Violet Pardee

Violet Pardee, Georgette’s best friend, called “the Big V.” to distinguish her from Violet Clay, her namesake.

Liza Lee Clay

Liza Lee Clay, Violet’s mother. A nineteen-year-old war widow, she committed suicide shortly after Violet’s birth.

Lewis Lanier

Lewis Lanier, the Big V.’s nephew and Violet’s husband. Their marriage, orchestrated by the two old friends, does not last.

Ivor Sedge

Ivor Sedge, an embittered Hungarian refugee and conceptual artist. He is Violet’s art teacher in New York and eventually her lover. She refuses his marriage proposal.


Jake, a musician and Violet’s most recent lover, who leaves her after a bitter quarrel.

Milo Hamilton

Milo Hamilton, Violet’s best friend. The author of successful pulp romances under the name Arabella Stone, he is now composing a feminist gothic novel.

Sheila Benton

Sheila Benton, an editor at Vogue and Ambrose’s lover. Sheila offers Violet a job, but Violet’s career at Vogue ends when Ambrose marries Carol and Sheila suffers a nervous breakdown.

Carol Gruber

Carol Gruber, a tycoon whom Ambrose meets and marries in Italy. She loves both Ambrose and Violet but grows impatient with their romantic dreams. The marriage does not last.

Doris Kolb

Doris Kolb, the art director at Harrow House Publishers. Her firing of Violet, on the day of Ambrose’s suicide, sets the plot in motion.

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