(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Quest of the Absolute is the story of an obsession. At the beginning of the novel, Josephine de Temninck Claes is heartbroken because she believes that her husband, the magnetic Balthazar Claes, has ceased to love her after many happy years of marriage. Although he is not unkind, he ignores her and their four children, spending most of his time locked up in a laboratory.

Josephine feels even more insecure because, although beautiful, she is lame and deformed. She could hardly believe her good fortune when the handsome, wealthy young Balthazar, hearing of her virtue and beauty, sought her out and fell deeply in love with her. To Josephine, Balthazar is almost a god. Three years before the opening scene of the novel, however, Balthazar became preoccupied with a scientific quest. Shutting himself up in the laboratory with his valet-assistant Lemulquinier, Balthazar has deserted his family, which does not even know the object of his quest.

As the novel progresses, Josephine tries to be a loyal wife. Persuading her husband to explain his search, which is an attempt to find the single element which is the basis of all matter, Josephine reads scientific materials and pretends enthusiasm, concealing as long as she can the family’s desperate financial situation. When at last Josephine must tell her husband that they can no longer pay their debts, Balthazar repents and promises to give up his experiments. When his frustration and despair...

(The entire section is 440 words.)