Balthazar Claes (bahl-tah-ZAHR klehs), the head of an old and respected family in Flanders who devotes his life and fortune to an attempt to discover the philosopher’s stone, the substance believed to have the power of transmuting base metals into gold. When the story begins, he is roughly fifty years old but appears at least ten years older: His tall figure is stooped, his unkempt hair falls to his shoulders, his cheeks are hollow, and his face is pale and wrinkled. His eyes betray a keen intelligence and long days and nights of work in his home laboratory. He believes that he is working for the glory and enrichment of his family, but most of the time he barely acknowledges their existence. To obtain material and equipment for his experiments, he squanders three huge fortunes. He dies a broken old man, only to cry “Eureka!” with his last breath.
Joséphine de Temninck Claes
Joséphine de Temninck Claes (zhoh-say-FEEN deh tehm-NEENK), the adored and adoring wife of Balthazar, about forty years of age. Despite her rich, aristocratic Spanish family and her exceptional beauty, she had not expected to find a loving husband because she limps and has one shoulder higher than the other. Balthazar sees only her beautiful face and beautiful soul. Although she always has been a submissive wife and has loved her four children less than she has loved her husband, she has qualms of conscience when she realizes that Balthazar will leave the children destitute if he continues to spend his money and her inheritance so recklessly. She extracts from him a promise to give up his research. His subsequent frustration and despair induce her to absolve...
(The entire section is 731 words.)