Bluebeard Summary (Max Frisch)

Max Frisch


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

This short, tantalizing novel is an adaptation of the tale of Bluebeard, a villainous knight who had seven wives and killed six of them. The hero in this modern rendition is Felix Schaad, a fifty-four-year-old Zurich physician accused of strangling Rosalinde Zogg, a call girl and his sixth wife.

Unlike typical murder mysteries, the suspense in this masterpiece does not lie with the jury’s verdict, for the novel begins with the doctor having been acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence. Instead, the drama revolves around a second, private trial within the courtroom of Schaad’s own conscience. Confused and distraught by the jury’s inconclusive verdict, Schaad relives the painful ordeal of his trial in an attempt to ascertain his own guilt. The narrative consists largely in remembered excerpts from the testimonies of Schaad’s accusers, interspersed with comments and embellishments from the accused.

Although Schaad is legally acquitted, his attempts to return to the routine of his former life prove unsuccessful. With his once-thriving medical practice in ruins, Schaad finds himself alone in his office—a physician with few patients but with an abundance of time to think about his tragic past. Tormented, yet unable to silence the voices in his mind, Schaad seeks relief in drink, travel, and billiards. Such diversions, however, offer only momentary escape. Inevitably, Schaad’s thoughts return to the testimonies of his accusers....

(The entire section is 576 words.)