The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although the details of Monet’s life are historically accurate, in Light, Eva Figes is dealing with the obsession of an artist, not with history or biography. The overriding desire of Monet is to show in his paintings “how light and those things it illumines are both transubstantial, both tenuous.” His goal is to capture the shifting and disappearing substance of this world both natural and human substance to see through the luminous cloud which envelops each person and part of nature. Only in the early morning hours can he seize, he believes, the actual tone and color of earthly life. Ultimately, Monet knows, he will die before he can complete his quest, but with each new day, he is reinvigorated with the challenge of trying.

Monet, in godlike fashion, has designed his estate at Giverny, with the lush gardens and the lily pond, as his own natural world. Yet the isolation of the characters in Light is inescapable. Alice talks to voices in her head at night; she and Monet have no mutually sustaining words or conversation. When there is something to see, Monet cannot hear. Marthe has felt closer to some of the servants than she has ever felt to members of her own family. Jean-Pierre can no longer get Michel to say anything.

The other members of the household recognize themselves in relation to the artist but not to one another. In their isolated inner struggles, Monet believes that the spiritual is omnipresent, while...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Claude Monet

Claude Monet (klohd moh-NAY), an Impressionist painter and architect of the gardens at Giverny. Grizzled but vigorous, Claude retains his appetite for life and light. He seduces, tracks, and hunts his quarry of light through the day. A delicate perceiver, Claude believes that sight is born again each day and that people live in a luminous bath of light. The serpents in his lovely gardens of blossom and water are machines, progress, and even war. As creator of his own Eden, Claude rules his gardens and his household, peopled by less powerful beings who are careful to bow to his moods.

Alice Raingo Hoschédé

Alice Raingo Hoschédé (ray[n]-GOH oh-shay-DAY), Claude’s second wife. Old in spirit and appearance, Alice is oppressed by a sense of sin and punishment. Her life stopped with the death of her daughter Suzanne a year earlier; now she feels that the walls between past and present, visible and invisible, are collapsing. Claude thinks that his second wife has always harbored complex and unhappy feelings, but she finds that some vital link with her husband was never forged. The two are in part divided by shadows from the past—Suzanne; Claude’s first wife, Camille; and the memory of Alice’s bankrupt first husband. During a year of mourning, much of the management of the domestic household has passed to Alice’s daughter Marthe.

Marthe Hoschédé

Marthe Hoschédé (mahrt), Alice’s elder daughter. Like the biblical Martha, Marthe is a solid domestic support in her household. Her virtues are hearth ones: a sense of duty, practicality, dependability, and responsibility. Solid and thick in appearance, Marthe sees herself as a woman who has never come first with another person. Claude relies on her to run the household and stay with her mother, and much of the care of Suzanne’s children falls to her as well. Theodore Butler’s proposal of marriage allows her a measure of happiness; her sister Suzanne’s...

(The entire section is 858 words.)