Study Guide

A Change of Heart

by Michel Butor

A Change of Heart Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Léon Delmont

Léon Delmont (lay-AHN dehl-MOHN), the director of the Paris office of the Scabelli typewriter company. He is successful and well off, but at forty-five years of age, his hair is getting thin and gray. He is a smoker and wears tan shoes and a luminous watch with a purple leather watchband. He is intellectual and anticlerical (he readsLetters of Julian the Apostate on the train) and has strong views about what is good and bad art. He is concerned about his family’s material welfare, but his relationship with his wife has gone sour, and he yearns for a new life on a new footing—in Paris, but with his Italian mistress, Cécile. He is on a train to Rome to tell Cécile that he has found her a job in Paris and is leaving his wife for her. During the train journey, however, he has dreams, nightmares, and reminiscences. Shortly after noticing a sign saying “It is dangerous to lean out,” he has a dream in which, for the first time, he has a negative image of Cécile, who wears a look of mistrust similar to that so often worn by his wife, Henriette. This thought creates his first doubts and sets in motion his eventual change of heart. He realizes that Cécile, once in Paris, would be different, more like Henriette. the similarity had become apparent during a brief trip to Paris, when she had seemed to share Henriette’s contempt for him. If she comes to Paris, he realizes, he will lose her. He decides against following through on his plan.

Henriette Delmont

Henriette Delmont, his wife and the mother of their four children. Her hair, like his, is no longer black. She despises him for letting his professional contacts degrade him, and he perceives her as contemptuous, critical, and petty. Almost three years earlier, she insisted on going with him to Rome, but it was winter and the trip was a failure, possibly making him more open to the affair with Cécile that developed subsequently. She has become suspicious and resentful.

Madeleine Delmont

Madeleine Delmont, their eldest child, age seventeen....

(The entire section is 882 words.)

A Change of Heart The Characters (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Readers of A Change of Heart receive the impression that the unidentified narrator has described the thoughts and opinions of the principal characters in a highly subjective manner, and they come to distrust the narrator. In addition, the basic narrative technique in this novel permits and even encourages widely different reactions to the three principal characters. A Change of Heart is a second-person narrative, but readers never know who is addressing whom. The narrator may be an omniscient novelist talking to Leon, Leon’s conscience or subconscious addressing him, or perhaps even Leon himself, who is writing the description of his trip for the reader.

Butor maintains an extraordinary degree of ambiguity throughout A Change of Heart. The opinions of Henriette and Cecile are always presented from the subjective viewpoint of either the narrator or Leon, and readers eventually conclude that neither woman is as self-centered as portrayed. The criticism directed against Henriette and Cecile tells readers nothing about the true feelings of these women but does reveal much about the frustration and sense of inadequacy felt by Leon.

Although Leon enjoys good health and a comfortable life-style, he is very unhappy. Neither his wife nor his mistress can determine how to satisfy his unpredictable emotional needs. Ironically, when Henriette and Cecile finally meet, they quickly become good friends and clearly prefer each...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

A Change of Heart Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Alberes, R. Michel Butor, 1964.

McWilliams, Dean. The Narratives of Michel Butor: The Writer as Janus, 1978.

Mercier, Vivian. The New Novel from Queneau to Pinget, 1971.

Roudiez, Leon S. Michel Butor, 1965.

Spencer, Michael. Michel Butor, 1974.

Sturrock, John. The French New Novel: Claude Simon, Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1969.