The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Each of the major characters in Distant Relations carries the burden of representing an era, a nationality, or an attitude toward the past. Rather than shy away from this symbolic tendency, Fuentes indulges it by letting the characters make elegant pronouncements about themselves and one another. Distant Relations is as much a work of cultural criticism as it is a gothic fantasy, and the reader never forgets that the conversation he is reading takes place in Paris between two cultured and erudite men enjoying a leisurely lunch.

The Comte de Branly is responsible for the encyclopedic quality and tone of the novel. Knowledgeable in literature, painting, film, and music, he represents the high achievements of French culture, with its emphasis on order, reason, and refined manners. When he recites the poem by Supervielle, he is “exercising the supreme gift of selection, synthesis, and consecration that France has reserved for herself through the centuries.” Although he traces his family back nine centuries, his father’s early death cut him off from his immediate past, and he identifies himself more with twentieth century culture than with the French historical tradition.

Hugo Heredia is a more complex character. Branly sees him, a Mexican whose family goes back to the sixteenth century, at first as a universal man of the century of the founding of the New World. His arrogance, however, reveals the presence of a patriarchal...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Comte de Branly

The Comte de Branly, a wealthy French aristocrat whose primary interest is foreign travel. At the age of eighty-three, this highly intelligent, cultured man is emaciated and nearly bald but still retains a rigid military bearing. Most of this complex novel of parallel lives and reincarnations concerns the Comte’s surrealistic adventure in a strange mansion outside Paris where he is confined as the result of an auto accident. Because of his advanced age, however, it is probable that much of what he believes to have occurred was in fact hallucinations. Although he is the viewpoint character, he is the passive victim of circumstances throughout the novel.

The narrator

The narrator, a Latin American author who has taken France as his adopted country. Only at the end is it revealed that this character is Carlos Fuentes himself. Characteristically, Fuentes has chosen a complex manner of telling his tale: The narrator supposedly is writing out an account of incidents described to him by his friend Branly, and parts of what Branly tells him were narrated to the Comte himself by others. By this device, the author is able to maintain a distance from the events described and is therefore not committed to vouching for them. This complex method of developing the story creates a multidimensional, hallucinatory effect. Readers are forced to make their own interpretations and thus become involved as active participants in the events.

The Mexican Victor Heredia

The Mexican Victor Heredia, (heh-reh-DEE-ah)a twelve-year-old upper-class Mexican student. This handsome and aristocratic youth has been badly spoiled by a...

(The entire section is 707 words.)