Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Édouard Surin

Édouard Surin (ay-DWAHR sewr-AHN), a handsome, elegant, irresistible man who divides his time between running the textile factory he inherited from his wife’s father and getting away from the boredom of the country to the excitement of a big apartment in Paris. There, he keeps a mistress while maintaining his affectionate feeling for the wife and many children he leaves behind. Outwardly happy and content with his double life, he secretly longs for a heroic end to it all. As an infantry captain in World War II, he leads an assault on a Belgian town held by the Nazis but is afterward captured. In prison, his health worsens, and he is diagnosed as a diabetic and dismissed from the army. In Paris, he finds a resistance group to join, and his dream of a heroic death is revived, but it is his wife who is recognized as a resistance fighter and sent away by the Germans. Édouard wanders through the displaced persons camps of Europe looking for her and wearing a sandwich board with her picture on it. Four years later, he dies quietly, nearly blind.

Maria Barbara Surin

Maria Barbara Surin, Édouard’s wife and mistress of the big family house, La Cassine. She is the mother of a large brood, the last of whom are identical twin boys that only she can tell apart. Motherhood for Maria Barbara is a blissful state, and into her happiness she incorporates...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The most immediate defining feature of all the characters is their paradoxical sexual status. Edouard is the straight man of the novel, the only married heterosexual male with children. He is likably polygamous but feels redundant in the all-female group of mill workers. Maria-Barbara is first described as an alma genitrix, or pure womb. Later, she symbolically castrates her husband by stealing his glory in the Resistance. Paul is specifically sexed—a monogamous homosexual unique to his type, with the important exception that he once acts as incubus to Sophie. Jean is nervously sexed. He sleeps with Denise out of spite, because she is a wayward aristocrat stooping to common labor, and becomes engaged to Sophie after one party favor. After Sophie, there is no one, implying that Jean is a kind of stillborn heterosexual. Sophie knowingly acts against her own feminine interests in attaching herself to a male whose “matrimonial prospects” are “nil.” Alexandre is the prototypical male predator. His holy trinity is “an erect penis and two testicles.” He considers himself to be a sort of superman, with eyes and ears like radar for the detection of suitable young men. The only woman who smites him is Fabienne de Ribeauville, a lesbian amazon who, like Alexandre, excretes tapeworms in public. She dances the first dance with Alexandre at her travesty wedding to a homosexual fop.

The characters’ names are usually a form of wordplay. Alexander the...

(The entire section is 466 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Cloonan, William. “Les Meteores,” in Michel Tournier, 1985.

Koster, Serge. Michel Tournier, 1986.

Redfern, W.D. “Approximating Man: Michel Tournier and Play in Language,” in Modern Language Review. LXXX (1985), pp. 304-319.

Rushdie, Salman. “The Stuff of Marvels: Gemini,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI (October 4, 1981), pp. 12, 31-32.

Sud. January, 1986. Special Tournier issue.