Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Rosalie von Tümmler

Rosalie von Tümmler (fon-TEWM-lehr), a widowed upper-class socialite of fifty who has settled in the city of Düsseldorf following her husband Robert’s “heroic” death in a car accident while serving in World War I. She and her two children, Anna and Eduard, live quietly and modestly together. She is a child of nature, a likable, happy, thoughtful, and slightly too chatty woman. She is a good friend of her daughter, Anna, who is unmarried. Rosalie is dismayed at the onset of menopause, saying she is “no longer a woman” but only “the dried out shell” of what she once was. She falls in love with her son’s much younger American tutor, Ken Keaton. She begins menstruating again; this is brought on by what her surgeon, Dr. Muthesius, says must be “some kind of stimulation” (though their affair remains unconsummated). She thinks her love of Keaton has rejuvenated her and that her menstrual blood is a sign of the power of this love; in actuality, she has advanced ovarian cancer. Following a massive hemorrhage and unsuccessful surgery, she dies amid narcotic visions of the symbolic black swan, true love, and nature.

Ken Keaton

Ken Keaton, an American veteran who stayed in Europe following World War I to pursue his amateur interests in history and folk customs. He sustains himself by teaching English to the children of well-to-do Germans. He has all-American good looks and a simple charm. Rumors of Ken’s amorous successes with both daughters and mothers in society circles do not dissuade Rosalie from falling for his good-natured manner. Ken has American attributes more connected to 1950 than to 1920.


(The entire section is 706 words.)