Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 835
Lafcadio Wluiki (laf-KAH-dee-oh lew-KEE), a charming nineteen-year-old, born a bastard, whose natural father turns out to be the dying Count Juste-Agénor de Baraglioul. Lafcadio is a free spirit, deliberately eschewing any kind of bond or constraint. His spirit of adventure and his obsession with the possibilities of his own nature lead him to test himself in a gamelike fashion, by pushing out of a speeding train, without any specific reason, Amédée Fleurissoire, whom he had never met before. This paradigmatic expression of the “gratuitous act” affects the lives of most of the characters. At the end, torn between conflicting tendencies, he tears away from Geneviève’s arms and seems ready to plunge into the unpredictable drifts of life.
Julius de Baraglioul
Julius de Baraglioul (zhew-LYEWS deh bah-rah-GLYEWL), a pompous, narrow-minded, pious writer of mediocre novels. He is Lafcadio’s half brother. His ultimate goal is to be elected to the French Academy. At one point, having realized that his writing system distorts reality, he undergoes an allegedly radical metamorphosis, sets up to attack logic and consistency, and conceives a young hero who will perform a “gratuitous act.” Faced with the reality of an unmotivated crime, namely Amédée’s murder, he refutes it with vehemence and is driven back to his old, narrow ideological system, his boldness surfacing only on paper. Through Julius, the author caricatures the figure of the novelist and calls into question the process of writing itself.
Juste-Agénor de Baraglioul
Juste-Agénor de Baraglioul (zhewst ah-gay-NOHR), a wealthy aristocrat, the father of Julius and Lafcadio. He never openly reveals that he is Lafcadio’s natural father, but he summons Lafcadio before dying and bequeaths him part of his fortune.
Marguerite de Baraglioul
Marguerite de Baraglioul (mahr-geh-REET), Julius’ wife, a surly, religious, middle-aged woman who complains about everything.
Geneviève de Baraglioul
Geneviève de Baraglioul (zheh-neh-VYEHV), the daughter of Julius and Marguerite, a beautiful, innocent, young volunteer nurse who falls in love with Lafcadio (her half uncle) and gives herself to him after his gratuitous murder of Amédée. She does not succeed, however, in making him reintegrate the world of conventional morality. She is a parody of the romantic heroine.
Anthime Armand-Dubois (ahn-TEEM ahr-MAH[N]-dew-BWAH), not only a pragmatic scientist but also a vehemently anticlerical, atheistic Freemason, suffering from acute sciatica. He is Julius’ brother-in-law. Converted to an ardent faith by a dream in which he is visited by the Virgin Mary, he is simultaneously cured from his sciatica and socially and financially ruined by the Freemasonry. The rumor that the pope residing in the Vatican is a false one restores him to his previous atheism and brings back his crippling disease.
Véronique (vay-roh-NEEK), Anthime’s pious wife, the sister of Marguerite and Arnica. She is a good-natured woman who puts up with her husband’s bad disposition with great patience.
Amédée Fleurissoire (ah-may-DAY flew-ree-SWAHR), Julius’ brother-in-law, united in an unconsummated marriage to Arnica Péterat. He is a pious, chaste, gullible, and ludicrous character who turns out to be the principal victim of Protos’ swindle. As soon as he hears the rumor that the real pope has been kidnapped and imprisoned in the castle Sant’Angelo, he sets out for Rome to attempt to deliver him. His falling prey to bedbugs in Marseilles, fleas in Toulon, and mosquitoes in Genoa constitutes the ironic prologue to his fatal involvement with Protos’ underground society. His senseless death epitomizes the absurdity of his whole life.
Arnica (ahr-nee-KAH), Amédee’s wife, the youngest sister of Marguerite and Véronique. After having suffered the rejection of her family and the mockery of her classmates, she kindles the love of two very close friends, Fleurissoire and Blafaphas. Almost by chance, she chooses Amédée, who, in turn, promises his friend never to exercise his conjugal rights.
Protos, also known as Defouqueblize (deh-fohk-BLEEZ), a former schoolmate of Lafcadio. He is a mysterious, fascinating, and highly resourceful character who revels in disguising himself and assuming various identities so as better to manipulate his victims. He is the mastermind of a vast swindle undertaken by a secret society, the “Mille-Pattes,” which collects funds to deliver the real pope, allegedly imprisoned in the cellars of the Vatican. His recourse to histrionic effects is counterbalanced by the excessive credulity of his dupes. At the end, he is arrested, not because of his swindle but for Lafcadio’s gratuitous crime, after Carola’s denunciation.
Carola Venitequa (veh-nee-tay-KAH), a prostitute with a big heart whose very name suggests sexual availability. Protos’ former mistress, she lives with Lafcadio for a while, returns to Protos, initiates Amédée to the pleasures of love, and is subjected to Julius’ clumsy advances. At the end, she denounces Protos to the police, believing that he was responsible for Amédée’s murder, and ends up being strangled by him.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 419
Most of the characters in this ironic novel of deception and betrayal are either simpletons or sophisticates. Chief among the first group are the “wise fools,” Amedee Fleurissoire and his friend Gaston Blafaphas. Because of their innocence, they are easy victims of knavery. Nevertheless, they are “wise,” for their simple piety protects them from cynicism in a world of ambiguous moral choice.
Similarly, most of the sheltered women in Lafcadio’s Adventures are innocent to the point of simplicity: Veronica Armand-Dubois, Marguerite de Baraglioul (and her daughter Genevieve), and Arnica Fleurissoire. All are conventionally religious, unimaginative, and complaisant in the round of their domestic obligations. They are also notably lacking in sexual passion, with the possible exception of Genevieve, who is romantic yet untried. More sexually experienced, though also inherently simple in spirit, is Carola Venitequa, who sacrifices herself in defense of her unlikely hero, Amedee. Also included, with some qualifications, among the wise fools is Anthime Armand-Dubois. A fanatic, whether of science or of religion, he is a true believer in absolutes. He sways back and forth between extreme intellectual positions, mistaking absolute reality for the temporary resiliency of his bones and joints. He muddles through life, never fully comprehending a reality apart from his own prejudices and superstitions.
At the opposite pole are the sophisticates, among them, Julius de Baraglioul, a novelist with a shrewd sense of human psychology who nevertheless cannot understand reality when he confronts it; Lafcadio Wluiki, the truly “free” man of the novel, capable of nearly every excess but also a victim of his own calculation; and finally, Protos, a confidence man utterly unscrupulous when he thinks logically but also careless in his passion. These sophisticates are thus “foolish” despite (or because of) their cunning. Masters of expediency, they are betrayed by inner weaknesses: Julius by vanity, Lafcadio by self-confidence, Protos by cruelty. In the end, the test of reality exposes their weaknesses: Julius, who steals Lafcadio’s concept of the “gratuitous crime” for the purposes of his fiction, fails to recognize in his half brother the actual criminal; Lafcadio, who has imagined himself to be superior to other men because of his disinterested isolation, finally recognizes that he is the least of men, a murderer; finally, Protos, who has always defined people as being of two types, the “slim” (the tricksters who carry no moral baggage) and the “crusted” (the tricked), ends up in the hands of the police, charged with a murder—that of Amedee—he observed but did not commit.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 30
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