Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 785
Anatol Ludwig Stiller
Anatol Ludwig Stiller (AN-ah-tohl LEWT-vihg SHTIH-lehr), a sculptor. The novel begins when the protagonist returns to Switzerland after a seven-year disappearance. He claims to be an American, James Larkin White, but is thought to be a missing Zurich artist, Anatol Ludwig Stiller. On the request of his defense counsel, Stiller writes seven notebooks recording his life. As a young man, Stiller fought in the Spanish Civil War, but he believes himself to have acted in a cowardly manner. He wants to be someone he is not and is plagued by an uncertain sense of identity and an inability to accept himself. He is imaginative, insecure, talkative, capricious, and charming. He and his cronies spent countless hours discussing art, but the art he produces is mediocre. His greatest challenge is his marriage to the dancer Julika, a doll-like and aloof woman whose distance and reserve he fails to broach. After a brief affair with Sibylle, he flees to America to begin a new life, but seven years later he returns to Switzerland and reluctantly accepts his old identity. He and Julika move to a farmhouse, where he works as a potter. Two years later, Julika dies, and Stiller lives quietly and alone in the countryside.
Julika Stiller-Tschudy (YEW-lih-kah SHTIH-lehr-TSHEW-dee), a ballet dancer and Stiller’s wife. Julika has the lithe and trained body of a dancer, more boyish in its impression than womanly. She is coolly beautiful, with “bluish-green eyes like the edges of colorless window-glass.” Her lips are rather thin, and her plucked eyebrows give her a perpetually surprised expression. She has luxurious red hair and an alabaster complexion. She values her dancing, at which she is very successful; she is the primary supporter in the Stiller-Tschudy household. Julika is taciturn, practically unable to express herself verbally and unwilling to reveal anything about her inner life. She keeps her serious illnesses from her husband until the last moment and then withdraws into quiet suffering. Following an apparent cure at Davos, Julika, who appears to be a beautiful object, a work of art rather than a flesh-and-blood woman, succumbs to tuberculosis two years after Stiller’s return to Switzerland.
Rolf, Stiller’s public prosecutor. As a sensible person who diligently performs his duties, Rolf is Stiller’s opposite. During their conversations in Stiller’s prison cell, he and Stiller become friends and remain so after Stiller’s release. The prosecutor reveals to Stiller that his coolly theoretical view of marriage, that spouses must give each other a great deal of privacy and freedom, collapsed in the light of his wife’s confessed infidelity. Ironically, his wife had fallen in love with Stiller, although the prosecutor and Stiller did not meet until after Stiller’s reappearance seven years later. In a sense, the prosecutor is both the public accuser and the accusing husband; he is, however, completely nonjudgmental and is more understanding than Stiller’s appointed defense counsel. He becomes Stiller’s good friend. The prosecutor seems to have acquired a level of equanimity and tolerance that eludes Stiller. In a postscript to Stiller’s notebooks, he records the events occurring after Stiller’s release from prison.
Sibylle (sih-BIHL -leh), Rolf’s wife. The dark-haired Sibylle, in her late twenties, is the mother of a little boy, Hannes. She reluctantly accepts her husband’s infidelities, which occur when he is on business trips and are said to have nothing to do with his relationship to her. She retaliates through flirtations at social events. She lacks fulfillment in her marriage, and her interest in Stiller, which began as a provocation to her husband, evolves into a love affair. When she understands...
(The entire section contains 1205 words.)
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