Characters Discussed

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Erick von Lhomond

Erick von Lhomond (loh-MOHN ) a Prussian soldier who fought with the White Russians against the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war. He later became a soldier of fortune, engaged in civil conflicts in central Europe, the Chaco, Manchuria, and Spain. Tall, lean, blue-eyed, and tanned,...

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Erick von Lhomond

Erick von Lhomond (loh-MOHN) a Prussian soldier who fought with the White Russians against the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war. He later became a soldier of fortune, engaged in civil conflicts in central Europe, the Chaco, Manchuria, and Spain. Tall, lean, blue-eyed, and tanned, he retains his youthful elegance at forty, his age when he narrates the story of his relationship with Conrad and Sophie de Reval twenty years earlier. His narrative begins when he returns to Kratovitsy, his boyhood home, after his training as a White Russian soldier. When he returns, he lives on an old, overrun estate that belongs to the de Reval family: Conrad de Reval; his retarded, unmarried aunt; a gardener; and Conrad’s sister, Sophie. He had lived with the family before, when he was sixteen years old. During that idyllic time on the estate, which was like paradise, Erick and Conrad became best friends. Since that time, Erick’s overriding passion has been his love for Conrad. He is indifferent to other people and to political causes and believes that this detachment is the primary reason for his effectiveness as a soldier. He is cold and detached, “morally impotent.” When Sophie, Conrad’s sister, falls in love with him, his unspoken love for Conrad dooms this relationship to a tragic denouement. After Conrad’s death, Erick’s rightist political affiliation forces a mortal confrontation with Sophie, who joined the Reds when she realized Erick’s feelings for her brother. Erick’s emotional and moral detachment determines the outcome of their final meeting.

Conrad de Reval

Conrad de Reval (reh-VAHL), a young Prussian aristocrat engaged in the cause of the White Russians during the Russian Revolution. He is physically very much like Erick, but his hair is fairer. He combines poetic sensitivity and boyish shyness with daredevil courage. It is his ardent desire to be a writer like Rainer Maria Rilke, but his main occupation in the novel is that of a soldier fighting on the side of the Whites against the Reds. Conrad’s primary importance in the novel is that he is a passive catalyst in Erick and Sophie’s story. It is Erick’s and Sophie’s separate and individual love for Conrad that is at the center of their own ambiguous and tragic relationship.

Sophie de Reval

Sophie de Reval, a young Prussian aristocrat who, dressed as a boy, fights with the Reds during the Russian Revolution. She is a romantic figure who possesses strange, wild grace. She is possessed by an obsessive love for Erick and is unaware that his feelings for her brother go beyond friendship. She is confused by his behavior toward her and mistakes his friendship for romantic love. When he rebuffs her, she enters into a series of sexual liaisons, and when she finally realizes that it is Conrad whom Erick loves, she is driven to flee her home and family and join the Reds. When Erick sees her for the last time, she has been taken prisoner by the Whites. She has been fighting for the Reds disguised as a boy, and in masculine garb she looks remarkably like Conrad. When Erick is ordered to execute Sophie, he is forced to confront his own feelings for both the brother and the sister.

Volkmar

Volkmar, a soldier fighting for the White Russian cause. He is Erick’s rival. He is in love with Sophie, and Erick has never liked him. After Erick rejects Sophie’s romantic advances, she becomes involved with Volkmar. Erick reacts violently to her public displays of affection for Volkmar, and these reactions mislead Sophie to believe that Erick is in love with her.

Gregory Loew

Gregory Loew, a Jewish bookstore clerk who also was in love with Sophie. He enables her to flee her home in Kratovitsy and join the Reds by lending her his clothes, in which she disguises herself as a man.

The Characters

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All the characters in Yourcenar’s Coup de Grace are peripheral to the complex relationship among Erick, Conrad, and Sophie, and, true to the style of the French recit, even the reader’s understanding of that relationship is carefully controlled by Erick’s highly subjective recounting of it. It is he who views Sophie as first innocent, then morally loose, enamored of him, and ultimately vengeful. The approximately fifteen years which intervene between the events and Erick’s recollection of them further serve to color his memories, and since all the principals are dead except himself, one has only Erick’s testimony that there is a likeness between himself and Sophie and that he feels a haunting but forbidden attraction to Conrad, one which he seeks to obliterate through his clumsy execution of Conrad’s sister.

Clearly the episode haunts Erick’s life, and he feels a need to recount the compromising story to present comrades-in-arms, despite what it reveals about his own ruthlessness and not least about his inner psychic state and predisposition. His obvious self-hatred results from his latent homosexuality, though he is completely unaware of the latter and so remains totally oblivious of just how personally compromising his story is.

Erick remarks repeatedly that he wishes his narrative to be uncompromisingly honest. This attempt to be dispassionate, especially about a situation whose essence is passion, causes him to present himself in a consistently unfavorable light, though he never judges his own actions as either justifiable or wrong. The perceptive reader, similarly, has difficulty assessing blame since everything Erick does, especially his coldness and cruelty, stems from abysmal ignorance of his inner self.

Sophie is also ignorant, though in a different sense. She never realizes why Erick repeatedly denies her advances. Indeed, every relationship she has had with men has been one of use or convenience. It seems she expects no more than this from Erick, even if he were to respond. Erick cannot countenance this moral standard in a woman whom he has preferred to view as a sister and in whom he sees an aspect of himself. Though he never consciously realizes it, his brutal execution of Conrad’s sister is a pathetic attempt to banish at once his feelings for Conrad and his inability to respond to Sophie.

Conrad is the most silent and enigmatic member of the trio. He withdraws from all action increasingly until he literally becomes inert in his rooms at Kratovitsy. He often witnesses Erick’s cruelty to Sophie, yet he never intervenes. The reader, always governed by Erick’s perceptions, never knows Conrad’s feelings about his cousin. Conrad, until the moment of his death, remains the essential ingredient as well as the most unknowable unknown of this relationship.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 52

Blot, Jean. Marguerite Yourcenar, 1971.

“Marguerite Yourcenar,” in Current Biography, 1982. Edited by Charles Moritz.

“Marguerite Yourcenar Will Be Honored at National Arts Club,” in The New York Times. CXXV (February 26, 1986), sec. III, pp. 22-25.

Yourcenar, Marguerite. The Dark Brain of Piranesi and Other Essays, 1984.

Yourcenar, Marguerite. With Open Eyes: Conversations with Matthieu Galey, 1984.

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