Sylvain Pons (seel-VAN pohns), usually called Cousin Pons but sometimes referred to as “The Parasite,” an elderly musician whose twin passions are art and food. Born ugly, with a massive head and a huge nose, he was at one time a composer of popular songs and several operas; he now makes a modest living as an orchestra conductor and music teacher. He dresses shabbily and constantly dines out at the tables of his distant relatives in order to save money for the purchase of new objects for his valuable art collection. Naïve, greedy in his love of food, perfectly harmless, and shyly affectionate, he plans to leave his collection to Cécile Camusot, the daughter of a cousin-in-law once removed. Denied his relatives’ house after he proposes an unfortunate match for his favorite, he takes to his bed, never to recover. While dying, he learns the ways of the world. He tries to thwart his selfish relatives and grasping housekeeper by making a false will leaving his entire collection to the state, with a provision that Schmucke, his only true friend, will receive from the government a lifetime pension. His plans fail because Schmucke, who by another will is his only heir, innocently allows himself to be defrauded of his inheritance. A brilliant collector and amateur art connoisseur, Cousin Pons is the victim of a campaign carried on by his doctor, a rascally lawyer, his relatives, his housekeeper, and a rival art collector.
Herr Schmucke (shmewk), a pianist, the only close friend of Cousin Pons. Unselfish in his devotion, he becomes the victim of the greedy Camusots, who, bringing a suit to break their relative’s will, break the old musician’s spirit also and put him in his grave. Schmucke possesses such delicacy of manner and personal integrity that he will not fight to claim the fortune that is rightfully his.
Monsieur Camusot de Marville
Monsieur Camusot de Marville (kah-mew-zoh deh marh-VEEL), Cousin Pons’s cousin-in-law and one of the presiding judges of the Royal Court of Justice in Paris, who has added the name of the family estate to his own in order to distinguish him from his father. A just man, he is ungenerous in his treatment of his distant relative only because his wife, who detests Cousin Pons, blames the old musician for their daughter’s loss of a suitor. He willingly joins in the plan to get possession of Pons’s estate because it will provide a handsome dowry for the daughter and add considerably to the family fortune. He is one of the few who understands the true nature of Cousin Pons, and on one occasion he attempts to effect a reconciliation after his wife, daughter, and servant have insulted the elderly musician.
Madame Amélie Camusot de Marville
Madame Amélie Camusot de Marville (ah-may-LEE), an ambitious, socially proud woman who receives Cousin Pons at her table with great reluctance. During one of his calls, she and her daughter plead a previous engagement and insultingly tell him that he will be compelled to dine alone. Her attitude toward the old man softens somewhat when Cousin Pons introduces to the household a wealthy German banker, Frédéric Brunner, whom he has proposed as a possible match for Cécile Camusot; however, the banker, who considers Cécile a nonentity and her mother a dry stick, is not impressed by the Camusots and refuses to consider an alliance with them. Mme Camusot, convinced that Cousin Pons has planned the whole affair to humiliate his relatives, becomes more virulent than ever in her attitude toward him and forbids him her house.
Cécile Camusot (say-SEEL ), the red-haired, plain-spoken, but not unattractive daughter of the Camusots, still unmarried, to her mother’s distress, at the age of twenty-three. In an attempt to please his relatives, Cousin Pons suggests a match between her and Frédéric Brunner, a young millionaire banker of German descent, but Brunner is cautious and critical and refuses to consider Cécile as his wife....
(The entire section is 1,454 words.)