The Battle of Pharsalus Characters

Claude Simon

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


O., the narrator and principal character in a series of events that are not told chronologically but are instead presented as the free play of his memory, which acts as a kind of “mobile,” circling and changing position around a few fixed points, the most important events of his life. O.’s profession is never stated, but he is a classical scholar of sorts, and he is fascinated by the Battle of Pharsalus, about which he read as a schoolboy and the exact location of which, as an adult, he has tried to find in the north of Greece. His translations of Caesar, however, are awkward, and his interest in Roman history is limited to this battle and to Caesar’s profile on the coins and bills of the countries he visits on a train trip through Europe. O. is not a writer, but he is interested in the multiple meanings of words. Lists of Latin words, with their French meanings, are scattered throughout the narrative. the visual possibilities of letters fascinate him—the A in the word pantalon in an advertisement for a clothing store becomes a pair of pants. O. is not an artist, although he is writing an essay on a painting in a German museum and greatly admires battle paintings by Nicolas Poussin, Piero Della Francesca, and Paolo Uccello. Only briefly is O. seen in an office, which is probably in the old home on the family estate in southern France. He counts out small piles of money in it, just as Uncle Charles...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As is the case with Simon’s shifting of scenes in this novel, so his characters vary and merge somewhat from time to time. The two most clearly defined characters are Uncle Charles and O., the narrator (his nephew).Uncle Charles is now deceased; when he was alive he had a job in banking or accounting, for O. recalls his large desk full of money. Uncle Charles is intelligent and kind; he helps the young O. with his homework. In particular, Charles assists his nephew in translating Latin passages about Caesar’s battle with Pompey at Pharsalus in Greece. After Charles’s death, O. remembers these childhood lessons and sets out to see the actual battlefield at Pharsalus. Charles’s life, unfortunately, had its unhappy aspects. He fell in love with the artist’s model, Odette, who is unfaithful to him. Charles is not alone in his anguish over Odette, for the painter, Van Velden, also loves this beautiful young woman.

The narrator, who rather late in the novel refers to himself as O. for the first time, is a complex character. He most often represents Charles’s nephew, but he sometimes becomes a female persona as well. For example, when O. attempts to break into his lover’s apartment, he feels that he is both O. and the woman lover inside making love to another man. Similarly, at a few points in the book, O. seems to become Charles, as the distressed, jealous lover of Odette. Such character mergings in this novel can confuse the reader, yet they...

(The entire section is 571 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Gould, Karen. Claude Simon’s Mythic Muse, 1979.

Jimenez-Fajardo, Salvador. Claude Simon, 1975.

Loubere, J.A.E. The Novels of Claude Simon, 1975.

Roudiez, Leon S. French Fiction Today: A New Direction, 1972.

Sturrock, John. The French New Novel: Claude Simon, Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1969.