The Cloven Viscount Characters
by Italo Calvino

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The Cloven Viscount Characters

The protagonist of Italo Calvino’s novel is, as the title indicates, one person who becomes two people. He begins as the Viscount Medardo of Terralba but, through a battlefield injury, is divided into good and evil selves. The first “half” who returns to his Italian home is the evil persona. The other half is rescued from the battlefield but remains there, a positive presence in everyone’s life. The “Bad ‘Un” in Terralba commits numerous sadistic acts; he especially enjoys bifurcating other things, includes plants and animals. His tactics while amorously pursuing Pamela, a lovely peasant girl, confirm his sadism. The Good ‘Un, having been healed by hermits, dedicates himself to the healing vocation. Inevitably he returns to confront his other, evil half, but his excessive virtue rubs some people the wrong way. The reunion of the opposing selves brings the story’s resolution.

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The narrator, a boy about eight years old, is Medardo’s nephew. His astute observations help the reader make sense of the confusing events. Allowed free rein through Terralba’s territory, he fills the role of witness more than active participant.

Trelawney is an English physician who had been shipwrecked on Terralba’s coast. The elderly doctor boasts of his earlier sailing on memorable voyages, such as that of Captain Cook. He retains older English styles, clothes, and accessories, and the accompanying manners. With his profession of physician eclipsed by his heavy drinking, he conducts dubious scientific research.

Ezekiel is the leader of community of Huguenots on Terralba’s outskirts. Along with their exile goes deprivation and poverty, echoed in his pessimistic views.

Esau is Ezekiel’s son. Decidedly impious, he counts among his vices smoking, drinking, and cheating at cards.

Galateo is one of many lepers in a nearby community; they who try to live to the fullest through constant partying.

Pamela is the object of Medardo’s affection. An innocent, lovely peasant girl, who enjoys caring for animals, her simple demeanor covers a perceptive nature. Hiding in a cave to escape the predatory Bad ‘Un, her meeting with the Good Un sets things in motion for their eventual reunification.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Viscount Medardo of Terralba

Viscount Medardo of Terralba, a young Italian nobleman from a small principality on the coast of Italy. Fighting against the Turks, he is split in two by a cannonball; one surviving half is saved by doctors, and he returns home. Once there, he displays a perverted and evil nature, shown especially in his penchant for splitting things—such as fruits, frogs, and mushrooms—into two parts. His courtship of the peasant girl Pamela further reveals his sadistic inclinations. The other part of Medardo, which also survived and was healed by hermits, returns to Terralba; this portion of the viscount is all virtue and makes his presence known by a series of good deeds, many of which inevitably require redressing the harm done by his evil half. The people of Terralba are oppressed and terrified by the bad portion of the viscount and soon find themselves harassed and limited by the good portion. These opposing parts become known to the people of Terralba as “The Bad ’Un” and “The Good ’Un.” Inevitably, the two sides come into a conflict that can be resolved only by their reunion.

The narrator

The narrator, Medardo’s nephew, seven or eight years old. A shrewd and observant child with much common sense, he serves as a generally accurate and unbiased witness of events. Left mostly to himself by his family, he is free to roam the hills and coasts of Terralba and so follow the other characters throughout the novel.

Dr. Trelawney

Dr. Trelawney, a shipwrecked English physician living in Terralba. In his sixties, Dr. Trelawney is a short man with a face lined like an old chestnut and long, thin legs. He wears an old coat with fading trimmings, a tricorn hat, and a wig. He has traveled the world, including voyages with the famous Captain...

(The entire section is 1,527 words.)