Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431
The Prostitute, Leocadia, who begins and ends the sexual roundelay. She loses what little dignity she has left when she gives herself, free of charge, to the uncaring Soldier on the banks of Vienna’s Danube Canal. In a later sexual encounter with the Count, she is more self-assured, more hopeful, and more “professional.”
The Soldier, Franz, an unfeeling, swaggering macho type. He treats his second sex partner, the Maid, no better than his earlier one as he takes her on a meadow at an amusement park.
The Maid, who surrenders herself to the Soldier. She finds that yielding to the blasé young gentleman of the family she works for produces no change in the master-servant relationship.
The Young Gentleman
The Young Gentleman, Alfred, who turns out to be quite an aesthete as he prepares the seduction of a young married woman. He finds himself temporarily impotent, possibly because she is “respectable” and his socioeconomic equal.
The Young Wife
The Young Wife, Emma, the quintessential unfulfilled woman. Yearning for a son, in addition to her daughter, she wistfully remembers her wedding night in Venice as she listens to her husband smugly moralizing about the unhappiness of unfaithful wives.
The Husband, Karl, a domineering philistine who priggishly preaches the virtues of morality and the benefits of carefully rationed conjugal intercourse even as he prepares to commit adultery.
The Sweet Girl
The Sweet Girl, called in various translations Sweet Young Lady, Sweet Young Thing, Sweet Young Miss, Little Miss, and Little Darling, an earthy, naïve, pleasure-loving girl from the lower class who is by turns prudish and promiscuous. She is always eminently realistic.
The Poet, a pretentious, pompous man convinced of his own sophistication and superiority. Having failed to impress the Sweet Girl with his complexity and celebrity, he gets his comeuppance from the Actress, who does want him as a sex partner but ridicules the fanciful vaporings of this poseur.
The Actress, a worldly, hard-boiled, capricious, cynical, rather misanthropic woman. She is a take-charge type who uses sex for her enjoyment and prestige and to cement professional and social relationships.
The Count, a hedonistic but inhibited aristocrat. When he calls on the Actress one morning, he soon finds himself drawn into her bed. He again becomes a reluctant sex partner after following the Prostitute to her shabby room in a drunken stupor, but the next morning he is revealed as a kindly person and sensitive soul as he muses about the meaning of life, permanence, and happiness.