Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1015
Stefan Viziru (shteh-FAHN vee-ZEE-rew), a tall, slender but sturdy, and handsome thirty-four-year-old political economist. He earned his doctorate in political science in Paris and is working for the Romanian Ministry of National Economy. Although happily married, with a young child, he is obsessed with his entrapment in time. He tries unsuccessfully to use his talents as a painter to project himself into cosmic time. He experiences cosmic time when he meets his ideal love, Ileana, in the Forest of Baneasa, the setting of his childhood; he spends the remainder of the novel searching for Ileana so he can reenact that timeless moment of bliss. He finally encounters Ileana in a forest near Paris, where they prepare to enter cosmic time together, through death.
Ioana Viziru (YWAHN-ah), the twenty-six-year-old wife of Stefan. Beautiful, intelligent in practical ways, and utterly devoted to her husband, she cannot understand his fixation with the burden of time. An excellent wife and mother, she dies with her baby Razvan during a bombing raid.
Ileana Sideri (eel-YAH-nah see-DEH-ree), a beautiful, tall, dark-haired woman in her twenties who falls in love with Stefan. Although she initially mistakes him for the famous author Ciru Partenie, they nevertheless have a brief but passionate affair. He then leaves her even though she begs him to stay; they meet later in Portugal, where they undergo another painful separation. He spends the remainder of the novel searching for her as the embodiment of ideal love. They enter into a final union, both actual and mystical, in the concluding scene of the book.
Petre Biris (PEH-treh bee-REEZ), an indigent, witty, and tubercular professor of philosophy and Stefan’s closest friend and confidant. He is preoccupied with the higher concerns of philosophy, particularly those of an existential nature, and considers himself a devoted disciple of Martin Heidegger. He is also the world authority on the works of Ciru Partenie, a famous Romanian novelist and dramatist whom he has never met. He, like Ileana, mistakes Stefan for Partenie but quickly indulges Stefan in his crisis over time, calling him a Proustian who cannot be an artist and a normal human being simultaneously. He loves to play intellectual games and falls passionately in love with the beautiful Catalina, but to no avail. He dies of tuberculosis.
Spiridon Vadastra (SPEE-ree-dohn vah-DAHS-trah), formerly known as Spiru Gheorghe Vasile (SPEE-rew GYOHR-geh vah-SEE-leh), a young, highly ambitious lawyer and one-eyed confidence man, an articulate and enormously clever picaresque character. He changed his name because he is ashamed of his destitute family background. He dreams of becoming Romania’s greatest pianist and writes outrageous letters to Henry Ford, hoping to curry his favor and become his country’s conduit to the American Dream. An obvious embodiment of Hermes the trickster, he supports whoever is in power, switching sides after the war from Communism to Anglo-American capitalism. Ostensibly killed in a bombing raid in London during the war, he reappears in Paris to spy on Stefan six years later.
Gheorghe Vasile, Vadastra’s father, a retired secondary school teacher of literature and history. A witty, pleasant drunk who misses nothing, he wants to preserve Romanian culture, especially from the barbarian Russians, so he hides his valuable books and art treasures in a tomb near his town just as the Russians are taking over.
Ciru Partenie (KEE-rew pahr-TEH-nee), a famous novelist and dramatist in his mid-thirties. Romania’s principal existential writer, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Stefan and is constantly mistaken for him. He is killed in a cross fire when mistaken for Stefan. The opportunist Bibicescu attempts to capitalize on his work by finishing his last play, The Wake.
Dan Bibicescu (bee-bee-CHEHS-kew), a brilliant, idiosyncratic playwright, actor, director, and opportunist in his thirties. He is a disciple of the famous British director Gordon Craig and wants desperately to become the director of the National Theater of Romania. He builds his career on the unfinished work of Partenie and is so driven by ambition that he casually switches political positions to attain his goal. He dies at the end of the novel.
Bursuc (BUR-suhk), a middle-aged, amoral, opportunistic theology student who will do anything to retain his favored position. Although he believes in nothing, he becomes a monk just before the Russians invade Romania as a means of furthering his career. He spends the majority of the novel exhorting people, especially Stefan, to repent of their sins and preparing them for the Second Coming of Christ.
Anisie (AHN-zee), an elderly spiritual guide for Stefan. Having had a near-death experience, he has devoted himself to menial tasks and has learned to live in the present moment without distraction from memory or desire. He teaches Stefan to begin to find a way out of profane time and into sacred, or cosmic, time.
Stella Zissu (STEH-lah ZEE-zew), Anisie’s Dionysian counterpart. She becomes the sexual temptress of Stefan and helps to release him from his inhibitions. Stefan recognizes her as the embodiment of Circe or Calypso because she is young, tall, and red-haired, and she possesses alluring forest-green eyes.
Catalina (kah-tah-LEE-nah), an attractive young actress who is in love with Bibicescu. Although the object of Biris’ devoted attention, she shares in the pseudomythic roles that Bibicescu mistakes for life. She takes him to task when he misuses Partenie’s final, unfinished play for his own advancement. She dies of a hemorrhage at the end of the novel.
Irina Ivascu (ee-REE-nah ee-VAHS-kew), the young, dark-haired, attractive, and dedicated wife of Vadastra. Unlike her amoral husband, she is a highly moral and devoutly religious woman who is helpful and caring toward Stefan. Possessing prophetic powers, she warns Stefan that he must live life fully and drop his obsession with time and death.
Misu Weissman, a middle-aged, wealthy Jewish supporter of Bibicescu’s plan to establish a National Theater of Romania. A practical but intelligent man, he helps Stefan during his final journey to Paris but dies shortly thereafter.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 447
While Mircea Eliade on several occasions cautioned readers against identifying him with Stefan, it is clear that the hero’s experiences at many points parallel those of the author. Eliade was interned in 1938 for Guardist associations, he went to London in 1940 on government service and experienced the blitz, he spent 1942 through 1945 in Lisbon, his wife died in 1944, and he became a refugee in Paris after the war. More important, Stefan’s apolitical nature, his longing to escape history and experience another dimension of time, his agony over Romania’s fate, his optimistic faith that for the individual “an exit exits,” and his certainty that life has a transhistorical meaning were Eliade’s as well. Moreover, several characters are modeled on persons of the author’s acquaintance. Nevertheless, Eliade felt free to invent most of their biographies, even as he did that of Stefan.
The novel is populated with a large cast of finely drawn characters who play important, supporting roles in the labyrinthine plot and whose own stories are engrossing in themselves. Vadastra, whom Eliade took from an earlier, aborted novel, is one of several humorous personages. His vanity and bombast, his grandiose ambitions, his pitiful efforts to impress others, his bungling attempts to gain wealth and power, capped with his surprising “return from the dead” as an apparently successful secret agent, mark him as an archetypal trickster. His father, Gheorghe Vasile, the semicultured village schoolmaster, retired, is equally comical as he sells precious Romanian antiques to buy booze and popular books to furnish a “great library” that he intends to found for the common folk of his village. Dan Bibicescu, a third comic egotist, is, however, more pitiful than amusing in most of his appearances.
Petre Biris, the philosopher with whom Stefan holds many lengthy and profound discussions, emerges as the most memorable of the secondary male characters and is, perhaps, more likable than is Stefan. A stoic and a historicist, he nevertheless becomes the recipient of a “revelation” (in a dream) while being tortured in a Communist prison and thus is able to die serenely, quoting from the Miorita (a classical Romanian folk ballad). Catalina, his sweetheart, also undergoes an impressive character development in the course of the novel. Irina (Vadastra’s wife) and Colonel Baleanu are “near saints,” gifted with suprahuman spiritual qualities. In contrast, Bursuc, the “unworthy monk,” who readily cooperates with the Communist government (though rumored to be a double agent), remains an enigma: Does he perhaps, after all, truly believe? In part 2, the secondary characters and their stories come to the forefront, while Stefan is reduced to the role of “witness” up to the time when he leaves to seek Ileana.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 83
Calinescu, Matei. “Between History and Paradise: Initiation Trials,” in Journal of Religion. LIX, no. 2 (1978), pp. 218-223.
Calinescu, Matei. “The Disguises of Miracle: Notes on Mircea Eliade’s Fiction,” in World Literature Today. LII (Autumn, 1978), pp. 558-564.
Girardot, Norman, and Mac Linscott Ricketts, eds. Imagination and Meaning: The Scholarly and Literary Worlds of Mircea Eliade, 1982.
Kitagawa, Joseph, and Charles H. Long, eds. Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade, 1969.
Ricketts, Mac Linscott. “Fate in The Forbidden Forest,” in Dialogue. VIII (1982), pp. 101-119.