The Wapshot Scandal Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1964

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social satire

Time of work: Early 1960’s

Locale: St. Botolphs, Massachusetts; Proxmire Manor, a Westchester suburb; and Talifer, site of a missile research base

Characters DiscussedCoverly Wapshot

Coverly Wapshot Scandal, TheWapshot, who is younger and seemingly less agreeable and promising than his brother Moses. He is also “a model of provincial virtues” and as such seems both naïve and strangely noble. He is twenty-eight years old and lives in Talifer with his wife and son. Although trained as a computer taper, he has been assigned to the public relations department at the Talifer missile site and research center. When his marriage begins to sour, he develops the habit of “talking like a Chinese fortune cookie” and pretending that nothing unpleasant has happened. Wanting to be useful as a husband, father, and worker, he is repeatedly made to feel helpless and inconsequential. Despite the blows to his fragile sense of self-esteem, he remains both hopeful and dutiful to the end.

Betsey Wapshot

Betsey Wapshot, Coverly’s wife, who holds in her hands the raw material of his dreams. In unfriendly Talifer, the dark side of her personality emerges. As marriage to this “moon goddess” with her irreconcilable faces turns into a battleground, Coverly adopts the posture of a losing sexual combatant and Betsey seizes on every crumb of self-esteem that he drops.

Moses Wapshot

Moses Wapshot, Coverly’s older brother. Now in his early thirties, he works for a shady brokerage house and lives in affluent Proxmire Manor. When his aunt Honora’s monthly stipend stops, Moses, deeply in debt, departs on a frantic and unsuccessful effort to raise cash. His absence is the proximate cause of his wife’s adultery, which is in turn the proximate cause of his subsequent drinking and pessimism.

Melissa Wapshot

Melissa Wapshot, Moses’ bored and lonely wife. A mysterious illness makes her fearful of death and greedy for pleasure. She takes nineteen-year-old Emile Cranmer as her lover, but instead of being reinvigorated, she comes to feel old and “morally shabby.” Separated from her husband, she ends up in Rome, where she buys Emile in a beauty pageant/sex-slave auction. She lives with him unhappily ever after.

Emile Cranmer

Emile Cranmer, a nineteen-year-old grocery clerk who lives with his widowed mother in straitened circumstances. Although Melissa thinks him “divine,” the narrator judges him “pitiful, vain, and fair, a common young man trying to find some pleasure and adventure in life.” Always hungry but never greedy, he takes what Melissa offers but remains unsatisfied and disappointed.

Gertrude Lockhart

Gertrude Lockhart, a happily married mother of three. She suffers a series of domestic setbacks–frozen plumbing, an exploding furnace, an overflowing washing machine, and blown fuses–that take her from tears to promiscuity and drink, then to being ostracized and finally to suicide. Her comic predicament, minus her tragic end, anticipates Melissa’s downfall.

Lemuel Cameron

Lemuel Cameron, the imperious director of the Talifer missile site and research center. He has distanced himself from his Italian heritage and retarded son. Ending his affair with his greedy Roman mistress, he is rewarded with the discovery “that there was some blessedness in the nature of things.” Soon after, in a twist of irony, a congressional committee strips him of his security clearance.

Honora Wapshot

Honora Wapshot, Coverly’s aunt, the matriarch of the Wapshot family. When her eccentricity eventually gets her in trouble with the government, for failure to pay income tax, she flees to Rome, where she feels the full weight of homesickness. Returning to St. Botolphs, she promptly drinks and starves herself to death.

The narrator

The narrator, who enters the story at several points. Near the beginning, he recalls the pleasant times he spent with the Wapshots at their home as well as their power to make him feel alone and to make it painfully clear that he was an outsider. At the end, he bids farewell to St. Botolphs, a town he loves but to which he says he will never return.

BibliographyBosha, Francis J., ed. The Critical Response to John Cheever. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Sampler of reviews and critical essays on all Cheever publications. Reprints five reviews of The Wapshot Chronicle and includes a new essay by Kenneth C. Mason on “Tradition and Desecration” in the two Wapshot books.Bosha, Francis J., comp. John Cheever: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. Excellent discussion of the inconsistent critical response to Cheever’s fiction. Provides a comprehensive, fully annotated listing of works about Cheever, including reviews, articles, and interviews.Collins, R. G., ed. Critical Essays on John Cheever. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Good overview of the critical reception of Cheever’s fiction. Reprints many of the most important and influential reviews and essays (some in revised form), including Frederick Karl on pastoral, Beatrice Greene on Cheever’s vision as an effect of style, and Frederick Bracher on comedy. A new essay by Samuel Coale on Cheever’s “Romancer’s Art” is especially noteworthy.Donaldson, Scott. John Cheever: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1988. Fair-minded and richly detailed, this biography offers the fullest and most objective, but nevertheless sympathetic, account of Cheever’s life and work, including the publication and reception of The Wapshot Scandal.Hunt, George W. John Cheever: The Hobgoblin Company of Love. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983. Longer, more detailed, but more tendentious than the earlier book-length studies by Samuel Coale (1977) and Lynn Waldeland (1979). Hunt offers useful summaries of plot and criticism before offering his own critical reading in terms of Cheever’s Christian perspective.
Categories: Characters