Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 754
Urbain Grandier (ur-BAYN grahn-DYAY), the vicar of St. Peter’s Church in Loudun, France. Grandier is a brilliant, proud, and sensuous man who is obviously superior, intellectually and emotionally, to most of his parishioners, yet he is a persistently religious person as well. He struggles with his libertine impulses and passionate appreciation of physical beauty, which threaten to deify flesh over spirit. He makes powerful enemies in a deliberate attempt to bring about his own destruction, to test his capacity for suffering and as a way of doing penance to God for his rebellious spirit. Women are drawn to him, a fact of which he often takes advantage but that ultimately destroys him. When he is accused of witchcraft, he receives the excruciating trial he sought, enduring torture and painful death with a fortitude and grace equal to his former arrogance and sensuality.
Sewerman, a workman with whom Grandier often converses in the street. He is a foil for Grandier’s philosophic meditations on the nature of humanity, casting doubt on Grandier’s aspirations and comparing human beings to walking sewer systems. His is a materialistic and skeptical but honest voice that Grandier respects.
Sister Jeanne of the Angels
Sister Jeanne of the Angels (zhahn), the prioress of St. Ursula’s Convent, the ultimate weapon for Grandier’s destruction, though one he did not choose. He never meets the pathetic, hunchbacked mother superior, except to decline an invitation to be her father confessor. She has observed him longingly, however, from the grating of her barren room. His crime against her is the culmination of a more pervasive one to which she is particularly vulnerable—part of the cultural crime of keeping beauty and tender passion forever beyond her reach. She joins her special agony to the ugliness and ferocity of the rest of the world to blot out his careless affront to mediocrity and inferiority. Her claim that he possessed her sexually as a devil has elements of both hysteria and deliberate role-playing.
Mannoury (mah-new-REE), a surgeon, and
Adam, a chemist, who demonstrate the malice, envy, and small-mindedness of some middle-class persons who resent Grandier, as well as the gross sadism that permeates the examination of the nuns at Loudun for evidence of demoniac possession. Grandier is contemptuous of their pretensions to knowledge and importance.
Phillipe Trincant (fee-LEEP trahn-KAN), a young girl, the daughter of the public prosecutor. Grandier marries her in a secret ceremony, an action that he explains to the Sewerman as an attempt to find a way to salvation through commitment to another person. When Phillipe becomes pregnant, however, Grandier recommends to her father that he marry her off to an old man.
Louis Trincant (lwee), the public prosecutor, an enemy of Grandier because of his treatment of Phillipe.
Cardinal Richelieu (reesh-LYOO), a far more formidable enemy. Grandier opposes Richelieu’s project of tearing down the fortifications of Loudun as part of a campaign to reduce local sovereignty and unify France with a strong central government. This political motivation for the government’s part in Grandier’s conviction is further enhanced by an old insult Richelieu suffered at the hands of the insolent Grandier before Richelieu became virtually the ruler of France.
De la Rochepozay
De la Rochepozay (rohsh-poh-ZAY), the bishop of Poitiers, an ascetic who despises the senses and condemns all self-assertion.
Jean D’Armagnac (zhahn dahr-mah-NYAHK), the governor of Loudun, who, like Grandier, would like to preserve the independence of the city.
Prince Henri de Condé
Prince Henri de Condé (an-REE deh kohn-DAY), a decadent nobleman described as an “exquisite and handsome sodomite.” He comes, leaning on painted boys, to observe the nuns pretending demoniac possession. He is nobody’s fool and devises a clever test that reveals their fraud. He tells the commissioner to destroy Grandier for his opposition and his strength, not on such flimsy grounds as demoniac possession, of which he is innocent.
Sister Gabrielle, and
Sister Louise, who join Sister Jeanne in an obscene display of possession for the delectation of a prurient audience of townspeople.
The Demons, imaginary beings who obtain an almost existential reality as the projection of pain, malice, and lust in an atmosphere of hysteria. They speak through the women, and their laughter is heard in other volatile situations. Their “reality” is balanced by Grandier’s transcendent religious experience, after which he says he has “created God.”