Study Guide

The Spell

by Hermann Broch

The Spell Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a country doctor, formerly an obstetrician and deputy director on the staff of a large urban hospital. This aging physician has settled in Kuppron, a remote Alpine village, to get over a failed love affair with a fellow doctor named Barbara (about whom he reminisces at length) and in search of a purer lifestyle. He is fascinated by the archaic mountain madness that he witnesses and by the atavistic surfacing of primal drives and delusions among the inhabitants. In various ways, the doctor attempts to atone for a certain guilt incurred by allowing himself to get caught up in the mass hysteria.

Marius Ratti

Marius Ratti, a mysterious stranger in his thirties whose appearance one spring marks the beginning of something sinister, barbaric, and demonic in the isolated mountain community. The embodiment of a malevolent mysticism, this Pied Piper with Italianate curly hair and mustache is a curiously charismatic catalyst as he inveighs against the corrupt capitalistic cities and preaches a primordial purity, chastity, misogyny, metaphysical machismo, and regressive social structure based on hate-filled power. Ratti urges the abandonment of such devilish devices as radios and assures the impoverished villagers that gold may once again be mined from the mountain. After civilization reasserts itself, Ratti extends his triumph by becoming a member of the municipal council.

Wetchy...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

The Spell The Characters (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Many of the characters in The Spell seem to be modeled on figures from classical myths and fairy tales, particularly Mother Gisson, who represents Demeter, the spirit of the earth. She stands against Ratti’s bullying insistence on change and sacrifice. In fact, it is she who has been responsible for training the next mother figure, Irmgard, taking her to look for herbs and teaching her the ancient healing ways. She is also one of the people whom Ratti cannot abide, as he knows that she represents a true union with the powers of nature. It is no coincidence that Mother Gisson dies shortly after the fall harvest, since in the Greek myth, Demeter must return to the underworld for the six months of winter.

Ratti is a classic outsider who corrupts the village. His ideas of right and wrong contradict the established norms of the poor townspeople, who, until he appeared just after spring planting, had lived together in relative harmony. Ratti operates under the mistaken assumption that technology is evil and that only by returning to the old ways of doing things can the villagers prosper and find happiness. Ironically, Ratti is impotent, unable to consummate any physical relationship and thus unable to participate in the very natural cycle to which he insists that the villagers atune themselves. Despite the fact that he himself is an outsider, he also fosters in the villagers an irrational fear of difference in his insistent persecution of the homely...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

The Spell Bibliography (Great Characters in Literature)

Arendt, Hannah. “The Achievement of Hermann Broch,” in The Kenyon Review. XI (1949), pp. 476-483.

Herd, Eric. “Hermann Broch and the Legitimacy of the Novel,” in German Life and Letters. XIII (1960), pp. 262-270.

Schlant, Ernestine. Hermann Broch, 1978.

Sparks, Kimberly. A Geometry of Time: A Study of Hermann Broch’s Prose Imagery, 1964.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. Hermann Broch, 1964.