Characters Discussed

Sir Andrew Marbot

Sir Andrew Marbot, a reserved and independent British aristocrat, aesthete, and art theorist. Despite extensive, seemingly authentic documentation from sources credited to a great number of European artists, writers, and thinkers at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Marbot is a fictitious character. A portrait, painted by Eugene Delacroix in 1827 and included in the novel, shows Marbot as a twenty-six-year-old attractive young man. His controlled posture and the skeptical expression around his mouth seem intended to make him appear distant and determined. His bushy, barely tamed black hair and his large, expressive eyes with slightly drooping lids give him a touch of melancholy. The full lips and the weak chin seem to suggest a strong sensuality. His biographer describes him as an inconspicuous and very private person. He was born in 1801 as the oldest of three children and grew up on his parents’ estate, Marbot Hall, in the north of Northumberland, England. Because there was considerable wealth in the family, Andrew lived without financial worries and never trained for a specific profession. There is evidence that he would have liked to be a painter but lacked the “gift of creation.” He could have chosen the life of an eccentric like Lord Byron but has a distaste for public display and makes efforts to remain within the confines of convention. He is, however, by no means a conformist. In his work as well as in his life, he is fiercely independent, and it is his independence in judgment that earns for him a place in the history of art criticism. It is also this radical independence, together with a coolness of composure, that leads to his undramatic suicide. Beyond this...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

The Characters

Sir Andrew Marbot never lived. The massive scholarly documentation—quotations, footnotes, index, interpretive digressions, refutation of Marbot’s previous biographer, announcement of a new critical edition of Marbot’s notes and letters—is merely the playful structure of what Wolfgang Hildesheimer called a “perfect biography,” that of a purely artificial figure. Marbot is the fictional counterpart of Hildesheimer’s Mozart (1977; English translation, 1982)—the similarity of the names is an indication of the mirror-like nature of the two projects—whose four essays deny any possibility of an understanding of the nature of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s genius. Other than establishing dates and facts, the biographer of a real person, Hildesheimer claims, can only speculate on the connections between his subject’s life and work. In the extreme case of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, there is an unknowable chasm between his stormy life and his sublime music.

In Marbot’s case, the biographer has no such scruples. Marbot’s own investigations into the souls of artists have but a single motivation: They are the sublimation of his sexual desire for his mother. Indeed, Marbot’s biographer so overinterprets his character that Marbot is reduced to little more than the Oedipal pawn of his creator, a schematic vehicle for numerous encounters with famous painters and writers of the time. Marbot’s biographer condemns “those terrible simplifiers, who draw lopsided and therefore false...

(The entire section is 621 words.)