The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The figures in Peter Handke’s texts are not traditional novelistic characters with well-defined personalities and emotional structures. Instead, they are philosophical schemata which serve as the starting point for the author’s reflections on art, existence, and his own past. To be sure, they are grounded in Handke’s autobiography but to a very distanced degree. In The Long Way Around, Valentin Sorger, for example, is a somewhat vague and abstract figure struggling with an existential crisis. In interviews, Handke has said that these are his own personal concerns. Sorger’s thoughts, however, reveal little of a personality in the typical realistic sense of the word. This holds true for the figures in the other two texts of the series as well.

The narrator of The Lesson of Mont-Sainte-Victoire is also somewhat of an intellectual construction; he is concerned with reflecting upon literature, art, and aesthetics. There is some discussion of his emotions and his past life but only in an abstracted sense. He needs to justify or establish his right to be a writer; his experiences require formulation in literary texts.

Child Story proceeds at an even more abstract level. Since the story is so clearly autobiographical—Handke reared his daughter as a single parent in Paris—this level of abstraction is a distancing device. The adult and child figures are never given names; thus, they have a kind of universal status. Although there is a definite emotional interaction between the two, it is depicted in a rather reflective manner.