The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

This novel is a combination of three forms: fictional narrative, documentary, and drama, with the occasional intrusions of a fulsome, theatrical interlocutor who has a hand in shaping an ironic point of view.

The characters are less important than the nature of the action, perhaps not surprisingly so, given the historical importance of the signing of the cease-fire agreement in November of 1918. That event, however, is seen in the context of the personalities involved, and Keneally has used biographical materials from the real lives of the participants as well as fictional embellishments on the same to flesh out the dramatic implications of the brief, chilly confrontation which was to end World War I.

Most of the characters function within the ambit of stock typology, but Keneally allows them, through the use of personal rumination and dreams, to be modestly individual within their functions as representatives of the military and political sensibilities. Count Maiberling, for example, has a thrusting, lively personality which is interesting in itself, and his friendship with Erzberger goes beyond any use that is made of it in the workings of the German peace delegation.

Erzberger is the most obvious exception to stock characterization. Coming from modest peasant stock and having established a reputation for second-guessing the mad chauvinism which has pitched Germany into the tragic mess of the war, he is always aware of his...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Gossip from the Forest Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch

Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch (fohsh), commander of the Allied armies and head of the Allied armistice delegation in November, 1918. A small yet physically imposing man of sixty-seven, with disproportionately large head and hands, he is “monumental.” The son of a provincial civil servant, educated by Jesuits, he rose quickly through the military, achieving the rank of captain at the age of twenty-six and that of major ten years later. A professor and then director of the École Supérieure de Guerre, he is well known as a military theorist; his teachings and writing stress morale as the greatest strategic and tactical determinant in warfare. Marshal Foch is extremely strong-willed, convinced of his own correctness in every question; he believes that he is the most powerful man in the world. His determination and the sheer power of his will force the Germans to swallow whole the humiliating terms of the armistice.

Plenipotentiary Matthias Erzberger

Plenipotentiary Matthias Erzberger, the head of the German armistice delegation. A liberal politician and idealist with reformist instincts, he leads the left wing of the Catholic Center Party and serves as a cabinet member. Forty-three years old, a happily married family man of country stock, he is big-boned, with delicate eyes behind his pince-nez. He feels inadequate to the task of leading the armistice delegation, believing that there is nothing in his background to qualify him for the endeavor. He is also plagued by visions of his own death, seeing would-be assassins at every turn. Fearing that Germany is on the brink of revolution, he knows that peace is imperative if his country is to survive. His only hope as leader of the German delegation is...

(The entire section is 726 words.)