Theophilus North Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Theophilus North

SUMMARY In the spring of 1926 Theophilus North, 29 years old, leaves his job at a New Jersey preparatory school and moves to Newport, Rhode Island, where his tutoring jobs, and other activities [many related to his ability as a problem solver], expose him to “…the nine cities of Newport…” which coordinate, nicely, with his “nine ambitions”. Theophilus North, the last novel written by Thornton Wilder, is partly autobiographical. Wilder had a stillborn twin brother and was fascinated by the subject of twins; they play a large part in many of his works. He saw the story of Theophilus North to be, in part, the story of his dead twin.
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In the spring of 1926 Theophilus North resigns from his job in a New Jersey preparatory school; he has, obviously, “burned out”, and is feeling great relief. “The first days following such a decision are like the release from the hospital after a protracted illness. One slowly learns how to walk again; slowly and wonderingly one raises one's head.”

He is not sure what he wants to do next. He has saved about $2,000., but that is to be used for his next trip to Europe or to pay his expenses at a graduate school in some university. However, the summer is before him….

At various times of his life he has had “Nine Ambitions”, not necessarily in consecutive order. Some of these ambitions are no longer valid or possible.

His first ambition was to be a saint. Sadly, he cannot be a saint because he no longer believes in God, and he doesn't think he could live up to “…the strictest demands of selflessness, truthfulness, and celibacy.”

His second ambition was to be an anthropologist among primitive peoples. He now discovers that one can be an anthropologist among modern, everyday people, so this ambition is not altogether closed to him.

His third ambition was to be an archeologist. Maybe, that's still possible.

His fourth ambition was to be a detective. “In my third year of college I planned to become an amazing detective…Chief Inspector North would play a leading role among those who shield our lives from the intrusion of evil and madness lurking among the orderly workshop and home.” Still possible, as he finds out.

His fifth ambition to be “…an amazing actor…” Could be.

His sixth ambition was to be a magician, but not of the stage performing variety. Rather, he feels that he has the ability to soothe – to mesmerize. While he is not entirely comfortable with that, sometimes the situation is thrust upon him.

The seventh ambition was to be a lover, the eighth, a rascal, and the ninth was, and is, to be a free man.

While Theophilus is not clear how he will spend the summer, he has heard that it is possible to live cheaply in Quebec. He buys an old car from a fellow teacher and plans to drive it through Boston and the northern states, arriving, finally in Canada. The only proviso is that Theophilus must pick up the car at his friend's house in Providence, RI. After paying for and picking up the car, he starts driving when he sees a sign “Newport 30 miles”. What a great idea – He had spent some pleasurable time in Newport previously and would renew his acquaintance with the city.

Of course, as soon as he gets to Newport, the car breaks down. He sees a sign saying “Josiah Dexter's Garage. Repairs”.   He sells the car to Josiah Dexter and buys a bicycle from him. He gets a room in the YMCA and decides to stay for awhile. If he earns enough money he will get a small apartment.

He thinks he could make a living tutoring. But how to get clients? He calls upon Mr. William Wentworth, superintendent at the Casino, a facility [designed by Stanford White] where tennis is played. Bill Wentworth, who coached Theophilus's brother in tennis, thinks his idea for tutoring is great and arranges for Theophilus to coach tennis and read to the blind and elderly. He lends Theophilus tennis togs and lets him use the Casino's typewriter for his newspaper ad. Theophilus thinks “Kindness is not uncommon, but imaginative kindness can give a man a shock.”

After some time in Newport he realizes that, like the ancient city of Troy, there are Nine Cities of Newport: the seventeenth century village; the eighteenth century town; the remains of prosperous seaports; the remains of the forts defending Narragansett Bay; intellectual NYC, Boston and Providence; the city of the rich; the vast army of servants; camp followers and parasites; and the American middle class. As he works his various jobs, and had his various adventures, he realizes that each experience takes place in one or more of the nine cities of Newport.

His first major adventure comes when he is asked to bring home Diana Bell, a rich young woman who is going to elope with her lover, Hilary Jones, a divorced man with two children. Her father is unhappy; he wants Theophilus to bring her back. After Theophilus gets all the facts, he picks up a car the father is providing, and gets on the same ferry as the young couple. She realizes, immediately, that he has been sent by her father and is furious. Theophilus, however, knows what to do. He tells the young couple how they can get the father to accept their marriage. In the course of the conversation, among other things, the young woman gets angry at her lover and slaps, his face and he realizes that she is a smoker. Ultimately, Theophilus [in his role as a magician?] leads the couple to realize that they do not want to marry each other. He returns the young woman to her father's house.

In another adventure, while looking for a small apartment for himself, he discovers a forging ring. The gang is not forging money but documents such as signatures, letters of historic figures, etc. The “talent” is Elbert Hughes who lives in his YMCA; Elbert wants to get out of the ring but the gang threatens to smash his right hand. With the cooperation of the YMCA doctor, Dr. Addison, Theophilus cooks up a scheme in which Elbert is said to have injured his arm, so he is wearing a cast. Since the gang is “…shipping fraudulent goods through the mail…” they get people impersonating Post Office Department employees to visit the place where the gang is living, frightening them. They get Elbert to forge a letter, ostensibly from the governor, ordering items from the gang; they hire a man to walk up and down on the street showing the gang that they are being observed.   Finally, the gang is frightened and moves away, Elbert is free from worry and Theophilus moves into the apartment the following week.

In two other adventures Theophilus restores the reputation of a house people think is haunted [it is not really haunted at all] and restores the confidence of a young man whose emotional development was stunted.

It is the end of the summer and Theophilus decides to move on. He goes back to Josiah Dexter, this time selling the bicycle back to him and buying a car. Just as Theophilus is leaving, Josiah says that he would like to make an apology. In the first car, his brother found an example of Theophilus's writing. Josiah thinks it's quite good.

Best part of story, including ending: I like the story because it is brilliantly written, humorous, fast moving, and observant.

Best scene in story: In my favorite scene Theophilus, who is tutoring Charles Fenwick in French [and helping with Charles's stunted emotional development], does a one-act role play in which Charles has an imaginary conversation with a prostitute.

Opinion about the main character: I like Theophilus North because he is honest, observant, compassionate and funny.

The review of this Book prepared by Maria Perper a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of Theophilus North

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   upbeat Time/era of story    -   1900-1920's Poverty, surviving    -   Yes Kind of living:    -   job hunting/hopping Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   teacher Age:    -   20's-30's Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American)


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   3 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast City?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   significantly more dialog than descript

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