Baron Hector Hulot d’Ervy
Baron Hector Hulot d’Ervy (ehk-TOHR ew-LOH dehr-VEE), a councilor of state, an officer of the Legion of Honor, and a hopeless profligate whose rise in government circles has been accompanied by a series of scandals bringing distress to members of his family. After some years of happy married life, he turned from his beautiful, devoted wife and began to associate with the most notorious courtesans in Paris; now he is incorrigible. Not only does he dissipate the family fortune in his gradual degradation, but he also sullies the family honor and causes the deaths of his honorable brother and his wife’s uncle as the result of unwise speculations and the misappropriation of state funds. His great charm, wit, and good manners go for nothing finally; when he returns to his family, he seduces a kitchen maid and marries her after his wife’s sudden death. Within the course of the novel, his conquests number six—an actress, a singer, the wife of a vile traducer, two young girls, and the peasant whom he finally marries.
Baroness Adeline Hulot
Baroness Adeline Hulot (ahd-LEEN), née Adeline Fischer, Baron Hulot’s devoted, long-suffering wife. In spite of her husband’s many offenses, she trusts in God and the mystery of His ways. She maintains her dignity under compromising circumstances, even to the extent of enlisting the aid of one of her husband’s mistresses at a time of crisis. Her final blow is her discovery that her husband has promised to make a kitchen servant a baroness as soon as his ailing wife dies. The shock kills her.
Lisbeth Fischer (leez-BEHT), called Cousin Bette, the cousin of Baroness Hulot and the family old maid. Although envious of her cousin’s place in the world, she hides her avariciousness and resentment so well that the Hulots often turn to her for comfort in times of trouble. Although she insists that she is proud of her independence and financial security as an employee of a firm of embroiderers, she is nevertheless a lonely person, and she takes as her lover a talented young Polish sculptor, Count Wenceslas Steinbock, whom she has saved from suicide. When Steinbock falls in love with Adeline’s daughter, charming Hortense Hulot, and marries her, Cousin Bette plans a subtle revenge. Her malice leads her to introduce Steinbock and Baron Hulot to her friend Madame Valérie Marneffe. Her plan succeeds when both men become infatuated with that beautiful but heartless woman. Though her spite and scheming are undone in the end, Adeline and Hortense are never aware of the plot she has set in motion to destroy their happiness, and she remains good-hearted Cousin Bette, the family eccentric.
(The entire section is 1190 words.)