A Change of Heart

by Michel Butor

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 882

Léon Delmont

Léon Delmont (lay-AHN dehl-MOHN), the director of the Paris office of the Scabelli typewriter company. He is successful and well off, but at forty-five years of age, his hair is getting thin and gray. He is a smoker and wears tan shoes and a luminous watch with a purple leather watchband. He is intellectual and anticlerical (he readsLetters of Julian the Apostate on the train) and has strong views about what is good and bad art. He is concerned about his family’s material welfare, but his relationship with his wife has gone sour, and he yearns for a new life on a new footing—in Paris, but with his Italian mistress, Cécile. He is on a train to Rome to tell Cécile that he has found her a job in Paris and is leaving his wife for her. During the train journey, however, he has dreams, nightmares, and reminiscences. Shortly after noticing a sign saying “It is dangerous to lean out,” he has a dream in which, for the first time, he has a negative image of Cécile, who wears a look of mistrust similar to that so often worn by his wife, Henriette. This thought creates his first doubts and sets in motion his eventual change of heart. He realizes that Cécile, once in Paris, would be different, more like Henriette. the similarity had become apparent during a brief trip to Paris, when she had seemed to share Henriette’s contempt for him. If she comes to Paris, he realizes, he will lose her. He decides against following through on his plan.

Henriette Delmont

Henriette Delmont, his wife and the mother of their four children. Her hair, like his, is no longer black. She despises him for letting his professional contacts degrade him, and he perceives her as contemptuous, critical, and petty. Almost three years earlier, she insisted on going with him to Rome, but it was winter and the trip was a failure, possibly making him more open to the affair with Cécile that developed subsequently. She has become suspicious and resentful.

Madeleine Delmont

Madeleine Delmont, their eldest child, age seventeen.

Henri Delmont

Henri Delmont and

Thomas Delmont

Thomas Delmont, their sons, about twelve years old. They are rascals, distrustful of him and aware that their parents’ relationship has deteriorated.

Jacqueline Delmont

Jacqueline Delmont, their youngest child.

Cécile Darcella

Cécile Darcella (say-SEEL darh-seh-LAH), Léon’s mistress, a secretary to an attaché at the French Embassy in Rome. She has jet-black hair and wonderful skin with a smooth, silken glow. She shares Léon’s anticlericalism and his love for art. To him, she seems like youth preserved; she finds him too bourgeois, anxious, and fettered. She went with him to Paris once, but the trip was a failure: She complained continually of how little she saw him.

Alexandre Marnal

Alexandre Marnal (a-lehk-SAHNDR mahr-NAHL), an employee of Léon.

Jean Durieu

Jean Durieu (dyuh-REEYOO), the director of the Durieu Travel Agency, who has promised a job for Cécile in Paris.

The Intellectual

The Intellectual, possibly a law professor. He is tallish, pale, and not over forty. He has gray hair and nails that are bitten and tobacco-stained, and he wears thick-lensed glasses and a wedding ring. His forehead is prematurely baldish, with three deep furrows. He looks timid. He may be going to give a lecture at Dijon. He carries a dark red, ink-stained briefcase.

The Young Marrieds

The Young Marrieds, probably honeymooners. They are perhaps in their twenties. He is fair and she is darker, gracious, and considerate, even apologetic....

(This entire section contains 882 words.)

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They eat at the first sitting, as Léon does. They carry large, twin suitcases made of fine pale leather. On their way to Syracuse, they embody the theme of marriage that preoccupies Léon.

The Priest

The Priest, a man of about thirty or thirty-five, already plumpish, with nicotine-stained fingers, though he is otherwise meticulously clean. He is calm but vigorous, even impulsive. He looks bored, discontented, tense, and dissatisfied. He may be contemplating abandoning his present life, as Léon is. He is associated with the sign “It is dangerous to lean out.”

The Englishman

The Englishman, a short, very clean man with a rosy, even florid complexion and small, greedy, fishlike eyes. He may be slightly older than Léon, because he is even more bald. He wears a black raincoat and a derby hat. He is possibly the agent for a London wine merchant.

The Traveling Salesman

The Traveling Salesman, a man with a coarse profile and huge hands. He appears to be very strong and wears a wedding ring. His suitcase is made of cheap, reddish-brown, imitation leather.

The Italian

The Italian, a man of about forty-five who wears a wedding ring, a cobalt-blue scarf, and pointed black-and-white shoes splashed with mud. He carries a traveling bag and is perhaps a salesman representing French products in Italy, the reverse of Léon, for whom he represents an alter ego.

The Worried Little Woman

The Worried Little Woman, who has a lined face and is wearing a hat trimmed with a net and big hatpins. She is accompanied by a ten-year-old boy who reminds Léon of his son Thomas when younger.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442

Readers of A Change of Heart receive the impression that the unidentified narrator has described the thoughts and opinions of the principal characters in a highly subjective manner, and they come to distrust the narrator. In addition, the basic narrative technique in this novel permits and even encourages widely different reactions to the three principal characters. A Change of Heart is a second-person narrative, but readers never know who is addressing whom. The narrator may be an omniscient novelist talking to Leon, Leon’s conscience or subconscious addressing him, or perhaps even Leon himself, who is writing the description of his trip for the reader.

Butor maintains an extraordinary degree of ambiguity throughout A Change of Heart. The opinions of Henriette and Cecile are always presented from the subjective viewpoint of either the narrator or Leon, and readers eventually conclude that neither woman is as self-centered as portrayed. The criticism directed against Henriette and Cecile tells readers nothing about the true feelings of these women but does reveal much about the frustration and sense of inadequacy felt by Leon.

Although Leon enjoys good health and a comfortable life-style, he is very unhappy. Neither his wife nor his mistress can determine how to satisfy his unpredictable emotional needs. Ironically, when Henriette and Cecile finally meet, they quickly become good friends and clearly prefer each other’s company to that of Leon. Henriette is a considerate and patient wife who does not understand Leon’s obvious indifference to their family life. Cecile tries to please Leon both sexually and emotionally. She, however, is confused and hurt by his insensitivity to her feelings. Cecile has rejected Catholicism, and for this reason she does not wish to visit the museum at the Vatican. Nevertheless, she does not object if Leon goes on his own. The result of this arrangement is that Leon complains repeatedly and irrationally that he cannot appreciate the art in the Vatican unless Cecile is at his side. Because of his selfishness, readers feel little sympathy for his emotional problems, which he has created for himself. Leon is also bored with his well-paying position as an office manager. He never wonders, however, whether Henriette and Cecile are satisfied with their jobs. Since Leon is so egotistical, readers do not truly care about the possible causes for his profound unhappiness. At the end of A Change of Heart, Leon affirms that he can love Cecile only in Rome. Were they to live together in Paris, their affair would soon end. Leon may well be sincere, but he is clearly superficial and self-centered. In Leon Delmont, Butor has created a marvelously ambiguous and unsympathetic character.


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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 45

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McWilliams, Dean. The Narratives of Michel Butor: The Writer as Janus, 1978.

Mercier, Vivian. The New Novel from Queneau to Pinget, 1971.

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