Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jacques Revel

Jacques Revel, a Frenchman hired by an English export firm for one year. He arrives in the northern industrial city of Bleston knowing no one and speaking little English. He walks the cold, rainy streets of the ancient city and becomes obsessed with its strange power, afraid that it will swallow him up as it has so many others. To protect himself from its evil spell, he keeps a journal, describing the maze of streets in the main part of town, the two cathedrals, and the museum. He recounts the events that take place during his stay in a confused account that moves “through a labyrinth of time and memory.” Soon after arriving, he meets a fellow outcast, a black man, and together they roam the dreary streets and visit the dark, dirty pubs. He meets the author of The Bleston Murder and tries to solve the mystery of a near-fatal accident. He suspects, then absolves, a colleague of attempted murder, and he falls in love twice but is unable to declare himself. Finally, he leaves the city a year later, longing for its total destruction.

George Burton

George Burton, a detective-story writer who has used a pseudonym for his latest book, fearing the town’s hostile reaction to the murder scene that takes place in its new cathedral. Burton reveals his true identity to Revel and swears him to secrecy, but Revel betrays him to the Bailey sisters and to James Jenkins. Soon afterward, Burton is hit by a...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Passing Time The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Jacques Revel is Michel Butor’s masterfully produced central character,the diarist-narrator of the work, who records his impressions, meetings, and journeys in Bleston. Self-absorbed, he cannot go beyond himself to join in either a deep or a permanent way with any of the characters who befriend him during his yearlong confinement in the unreal city. Revel’s attempts at closeness, first with Ann Bailey and then with Rose Bailey, are awkward and superficial crushes he can communicate only imperfectly. His acquaintance with Horace Buck and with George and Harriet Burton never becomes real friendship. His companionship with Lucien Blaise, the only other Frenchman to arrive in Bleston, becomes strained when Lucien and Rose announce their engagement. His friendship with James Jenkins, uneasy from the first, cools when James begins courting Ann and breaks off when he suspects James of attempting to kill Burton in a fit of hatred for the writer. Revel himself remains enigmatic, largely because of his inability to overcome Bleston and his own isolation.

Jenkins is also enigmatic in his alternations between guardedness and openness with Revel. A self-described Blestonian who has never left the city, he both analyzes the superstitious nature of the inhabitants and shares that trait. He comments that detective writers avoid setting their novels in Bleston for fear that their make-believe may turn into grim reality. Jenkins is Revel’s chief suspect in Burton’s...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Passing Time Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Grant, Marian. Michel Butor: L’Emploi du temps, 1973.

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

Spencer, Michael. Michel Butor, 1974.

World Literature Today. LVI (Spring, 1982). Special Butor issue.