Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Franz Horn

Franz Horn, a middle-aged business executive in the Chemnitz Denture corporation. An ineffectual but highly conscientious bureaucrat, he is in charge of the company’s personnel, taxes, and properties. He possesses a photographic memory, in which he documents the alcoholic shortcomings of his most serious rival, Liszt. Most of the novel consists of a letter—with nineteen postscripts—to Liszt, in which he reveals his authentic feelings of disgust toward him. A lonely and suicidal but highly sensitive man, Horn had planned to abandon the company and join its primary rival, Stierle Dentures, but Stierle’s suicide and subsequent events stopped him. Horn is pathologically suspicious of Liszt and is torn between admiration for his great talents and repulsion at his crass manipulation of his underlings. He decides at the novel’s conclusion not to send the letter and departs, after downing three bottles of wine, for his mother’s name-day celebration.

Arthur Thiele

Arthur Thiele (TEE-leh), the middle-aged head of the Chemnitz Denture and Fin Star corporation. Wealthy, self-reliant, and handsome, Thiele is the envy of both Horn and Liszt. He is completely relaxed in the world and enjoys all the privileges his wealth offers him. He saves Horn’s life after Horn’s suicide attempt yet keeps him employed. He is an inveterate womanizer and performs every action with an ease and assurance that drives Horn to despair. Wherever he goes, he is at center stage because of his charisma.

Dr. Horst Liszt

Dr. Horst Liszt (lihst), a tall, attractive, brilliant alcoholic whose fall within the company is inevitable. Liszt is the major rival of Horn, yet he is also his closest friend. He is well dressed and highly articulate but at heart a manipulative seeker of power and privilege. Liszt...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

As an isolated work, Letter to Lord Liszt will perplex most readers, for its main, in effect its only, character is briefly sketched here. In Walser’s earlier work Beyond All Love, Franz Horn’s personality was solidly established, his life and increasing difficulties thoroughly portrayed, including the unsuccessful suicide attempt. For a reader without benefit of the earlier novel, Horn’s present dilemma will require attention to detail and nuance; even then, its meaning may escape the reader’s comprehension, for the work is short and the narrative perspective enigmatic.

Franz Horn is a complex character, competent yet full of self-hate. As the product of an unsophisticated, petty bourgeois family, he inherited all the motivation for success but none of the requisite confidence in his abilities. His self-esteem is therefore nonexistent and must be created or substantiated through his work. That this approach has not been successful can be seen in his suicide attempt; on that fateful evening, he was, unfortunately, saved by his boss, Arthur Thiele, and thus is further in Thiele’s debt and in his shadow. In the intervening years since the suicide attempt, Horn seems to have mellowed somewhat, though he can no longer create a positive self-image through achievement. He is pushed aside in the firm, first by Liszt and then by the merger and impending reorganization of the firm; also, with Stierle’s death, a comparable and...

(The entire section is 545 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Doane, Heike A. “Martin Walsers Ironiebegriff,” in Monatshefte. LXXVII (1985), pp. 195-212.

Kaes, Anton. “Portrat Martin Walser,” in The German Quarterly. LVII (1984), pp. 432-449.

Parkes, K.S. “Crisis and New Ways: The Recent Development of Martin Walser,” in New German Studies. I (1973), pp. 85-98.

Parkes, Stuart. “Martin Walser: Social Critic or Heimatkunstler?” in New German Studies. X (1982), pp. 67-82.

Thomas, R. Hinton. “Martin Walser: The Nietzsche Connection,” in German Life and Letters. XXXV (1982), pp. 319-328.

Waine, Anthony Edward. Martin Walser, 1980.