The Horseman on the Roof Characters

Jean Giono

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Angélo Pardi

Angélo Pardi (pahr-DEE), a twenty-five-year-old hussar colonel making his way home from France to Piedmont, where he had been involved in the Risorgimento (Italian revolution) and from which he had fled after killing an Austrian spy in a duel. As the horseman of the title, Angélo has a “rooftop” view of life, suggested by his flight across the rooftops of Manosque (the author’s native village) from angry and panicked villagers who think he has poisoned the town well. As he travels down the cholera-ridden Rhone Valley, he has the habit of questioning his own actions and motivations in the middle of the epidemic. This habit, his fearlessness, and his tendency to describe the epidemic in military terms are complemented by his complete sincerity, selflessness, and idealism. He has an innate sense of justice and believes in the primacy of individual conscience. After descending from the rooftops of Manosque, Angélo continues his journey, successfully meeting challenge after challenge in this heroic tale of self-discovery, which pits him against angry mobs, French militia, a variety of strange individuals, and, ultimately, nature, embodied mainly by the cholera epidemic.

Pauline de Théus

Pauline de Théus (tay-YEWS), the young wife of the elderly Marquis de Théus, who does not appear in the novel. She is the perfect complement to Angélo. It is she who helps him escape from Manosque. Described only as having a face like a fer-de-lance (a venomous tropical American snake or a spearhead), she is his equal in their shared journey, whether scaling walls, handling heavy military pistols, crawling on all fours, or examining her conscience. Like Angélo, she feels compelled to involve herself in the challenges of...

(The entire section is 750 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

There is almost no development of character in The Horseman on the Roof, nor is there any attempt at complex psychological realism. The reader’s experience of characterization, then, becomes largely a matter of getting to know the two principal figures, who carry the symbolic weight of Giono’s meaning. The main character, Angelo, is young, wealthy, charming, generous, idealistic, quick to defend himself and others from injustice, and proud of his military skills and idealistic values. His generosity is most evident in his willingness to care for victims of cholera and in his absolute lack of fear that he might die of the disease himself. On the other hand, his spirits rise highest whenever he is given an opportunity to demonstrate his horsemanship and swordcraft. One admires Angelo, but at times he seems like a proud child, eager to show off his skills. His pride is balanced throughout the novel, however, by his cheerfulness and high spirits, and in the end, he is thoroughly likable.

Even though she has an important role only in the last part of the novel, Pauline is clearly also a major character. In many ways she is like Angelo: young, intelligent, capable of taking care of herself. She is high-spirited and proud of her ability to handle the pistols she carries. Pauline appears in the other novels which make up the “Hussard Cycle,” particularly Mort d’un personnage (1949); it seems clear that Giono modeled her on his own mother.

Several minor characters deserve mention, not only because they make very effective foils to set off the character of Angelo but also because Angelo himself thinks about them during moments of crisis. Giuseppe, for example, is important because, unlike Angelo, whose idealism drives him to kill the Austrian spy Baron Swartz in an open duel, he is practical: Giuseppe would have killed the baron with hired assassins. The altruistic are also important. Angelo admires the young doctor’s zeal, his hopeless devotion to curing. He also admires the nun who takes the washing of the bodies of the dead to be her holy duty. Ironically, she seems to have no interest in saving the lives of the victims but insists instead that she is preparing their bodies for the last judgment.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Chabot, Jacques. La Provence de Giono, 1980.

Goodrich, Norma L. Giono: Master of Fictional Modes, 1973.

Nadeau, Maurice. The French Novel Since the War, 1967.

Peyre, Henri. French Novelists of Today, 1967.

Redfern, W.D. The Private World of Jean Giono, 1967.

Smith, Maxwell A. Jean Giono, 1966.