He is alone among the major characters in being essentially described, rather than shown to be what the author wishes him to be. By description he is handsome, witty, and a powerful personality. However, he appears as a bit of a fop, a fine young gentleman who will be of account through his father's fortune, if at all. Stephen suffers from having to be the chosen object of the love of the main character in the novel. He cannot be developed at the expense of that character, and consequently he tends to be underdone.
He never quite measures up to Maggie's love. Stephen loves Maggie against his will and his judgment. There can be no doubt of the reality of his love, but he has not the self-sacrificing nature of Maggie and Philip. By contrast with them he appears selfish. Yet he cannot be considered a cad, for his love brings him real suffering.