The Sporting Club Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1969

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Regional

Time of work: The 1960’s

Locale: Michigan

Characters DiscussedJames Quinn

James Sporting Club, TheQuinn, a young Michigan businessman who has recently assumed control of his father’s tool and die business. Quinn has retreated to the Centennial Club in the Michigan woods for rest and relaxation. To his dismay, he learns that his old friend and rival, Vernor Stanton, has also arrived. Reluctantly at first, but then with some of his old enthusiasm, Quinn joins Stanton in duels and in his attempts to bring chaos to the Club and its members, eventually participating in the Club’s abrupt demise. Throughout the novel, he is in a quandary between fighting Stanton’s influence or playing along wholeheartedly and between being the responsible businessman or a fomenter of discord.

Vernor Stanton

Vernor Stanton, a mad, extremely wealthy, and bored man who finds pleasure in disrupting his environment with practical jokes and outright cruelty. Using the Centennial Club as his stage, Stanton enlists the help of Quinn to disrupt and destroy the Club in less than a month. His “jokes” include such acts as dueling with antique pistols loaded with wax bullets in his cellar (a relatively harmless but very painful experience for Quinn), stealing a dignitaries’ bus from a bridge dedication ceremony, fomenting the move to fire the Club’s manager, and constantly irritating and antagonizing fellow Club members. He eventually goes officially insane, threatening and controlling the assembled Club members with a tripod-mounted machine gun. Some months later, he apparently partially recovers, buys the Club property, returns, and is watched over by Janey and “attendants” who carefully control his activities.


Janey, Stanton’s girlfriend, who sticks by him in spite of his cruelty and madness. A physically attractive, concerned, and mild-mannered woman, Janey unintentionally attracts Quinn, who wants to rescue her from Stanton. She is completely loyal to Stanton, however, dismayed by many of his antics but at the same time fascinated by the charm and strength of the man. Her presence forces Quinn to see a side of Stanton that he would rather ignore, and this knowledge forces him to remain concerned and interested in what Stanton does.

Jack Olson

Jack Olson, the Club’s manager and an accomplished outdoorsman. He is a member of one of the families dispossessed when the Club acquired its extensive acreage, and he has spent a lifetime poaching on and managing Club property. He is so adept at hunting and fishing that he embarrasses the wealthy Club members who associate hunting and fishing with masculinity. He becomes a target for their ire as they plot with Stanton to get rid of him, even though they know that he is irreplaceable as a manager. When he realizes their plans, he hires Earl Olive as his replacement and disappears.

Earl Olive

Earl Olive, an uneducated crook and purveyor of live bait. He is hired by Olson as the Club’s manager, a move designed by Olson to avenge himself for the treatment he has received. Olive, who has no respect for the Club’s “reputation,” brings in his crowd of rowdy friends, who party and fornicate openly. Painfully beaten and embarrassed by Stanton in a duel, he dynamites the dam, which drains the lake, and in the resulting chaos he dynamites the main lodge, the lifeguard’s platform, and the flagpole. Finally captured by angry Club members, he is freed by Stanton, wielding a machine gun.


Fortescue, an old-time Club member and collector of military miniatures. While the Club is “at war” with Earl Olive and his crowd, Fortescue assumes command as its members attempt to handle Olive without the intervention of the law. He becomes a little despot as he attempts to live out his military fantasies, even to the point of outfitting his “army” at his own expense. As inept as he is enthusiastic, he is ultimately caught and tarred and feathered by Earl Olive and his gang.


Spengler, the Club chronicler. As a means of celebrating the first hundred years of the Club’s existence, he has written a history of the Club and the surrounding area, focusing on the illustrious founding fathers and claiming to base all of this on what he calls “solid research.” Eventually disillusioned by the antics of the present members, he burns his chronicle before the centennial celebration, which includes the unearthing of the capsule buried by the Club’s founders. This capsule contains information that destroys any notion that the founders were illustrious.


Scott, an old-time Club member and obsequious professor. He is basically a non-person, often present and speaking but always ignored.

Charles Murray

Charles Murray, an old-time Club member. He is a homosexual, alternately chasing the heavyset daughter of Fortescue, Quinn, and others. He is also basically ignored by the other members, except when they are escaping his advances.

BibliographyIngram, David. “Thomas McGuane: Nature, Environmentalism, and the American West.” Journal of American Studies 29 (December, 1995): 423-469. Ingram examines McGuane’s focus on the old mythologies of the frontier in the ecology and politics of the modern American West. Ingram concludes that McGuane’s position of these issues is complicated and unclear, alternating between the liberal, radical, and conservative.McCaffery, Larry, and Sinda Gregory. “The Art of Fiction LXXXIX: Thomas McGuane.” The Paris Review 27 (Fall, 1985): 35-71. Illuminating and immensely readable, this focuses on McGuane’s style, themes, and comic vision.McClintock, James. “ Unextended Selves’ and Unformed Visions’: Roman Catholicism in Thomas McGuane’s Novels.” Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 49 (Winter, 1997): 139-152. McClintock examines the Roman Catholic themes in McGuane’s works. McClintock asserts that although McGuane’s works are not Catholic in an orthodox sense, he often investigates Catholic themes, topics, and use of language that specifically refers to Catholic matters.Morris, Gregory. “How Ambivalence Won the West: Thomas McGuane and the Fiction of the New West.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 32 (Spring, 1991): 180-189. Excellent discussion of McGuane’s use of the “New West.” Argues that while both the language and the action of the novel illuminate Lucien’s attraction to the landscape and to the myths of the Old West, his efforts to find a place for himself in the New West require him to deny acceptance of the old.Neville, Jill. “Getting Away from It All.” The Times Literary Supplement, May 17, 1985, p. 573. An interesting discussion that focuses not on the disappearance of the Old West but on Lucien’s “odyssey,” as he moves from being the son who refuses to put away childish things to the man who ceases being self-destructive and yearns for “health, emotional stability, and Nature.”Wallace, Jon. The Politics of Style. Durango, Colo.: Hollowbrook, 1992. Argues that McGuane finds language “an end in itself.” Although McGuane’s characters’ words and thoughts often seem incoherent or meaningless, Wallace claims, the mixed codes in his language reflect their fragmented sense of being and their attempts to bring themselves into being in a world without style or unity. Includes a useful bibliography.
Categories: Characters